Iris Mini: 7 Strategies for Adapting Your Thinking

How you think about something affects how you feel emotionally and vice versa. While some thoughts are rooted in fact, many stem from internal worries over the future. As a cancer diagnosis can stir up feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness, it is not uncommon to experience unhelpful, negative thoughts.

This exercise may help to identify unhelpful thought patterns and to provide an alternative lens from which to reframe your thoughts.




What are the facts?

Knowledge is power. It is not uncommon for our beliefs and ideas about a situation to influence how we look at the world. Before making a judgement about a situation, it’s important to examine all the evidence. Try to gather and examine the necessary facts to make a thorough evaluation of a situation.


You are concerned about cancer recurrence and assume it will happen to you. Instead, try focusing on factual evidence about your health from blood work, scans, and other tests.

Be your best friend

How you talk about yourself impacts how you feel about yourself. Try to take a step back and consider how you would speak to a loved one who is in a similar situation as you. Then, practice speaking to yourself in a similar, compassionate way.


You find yourself judging yourself about not being able to contribute to household tasks. You realize you would have compassion for a friend in this situation and try to offer that for yourself.

Be aware that emotions can distort thoughts

Cancer can bring uncertainty and fear, and intense feelings can cloud thinking. It can be tempting to jump to conclusions about a situation based on feeling, not fact. Try to be mindful of your emotional state and how it may be impacting your thinking.


You are worried about the side effects of chemotherapy to the point that you are contemplating not pursuing treatment. You realize your emotions may be impacting your decision-making with regards to cancer treatment.

Notice thinking extremes

It is easy to get trapped in rigid and extreme forms of thinking, also known as black and white thinking. Try to be mindful of extremes and look for thoughts on a spectrum, like a rainbow.

You are concerned about getting an infection with a compromised immune system and conclude you cannot do anything outside of the house. You then try to think more broadly about activities you can continue to engage in safely and identify new interests to explore.


Ask your support system

It can be helpful to use your support system as a sounding board. Let them know the negative thought you are struggling with and ask them for support. Sometimes they can help you to see the situation from a different angle.


You are ruminating on a thought that you were rude to a medical assistant. You ask your friend who was there with you if that was true and realize she did not see it that way, so you are able to be more flexible in your thinking.

List pros and cons

Identify the ways in which your thoughts and behaviors can be helpful or unhelpful to you as you cope with cancer. Try to focus on those thoughts / behaviors which promote a healthy quality of life.

You have been researching your cancer online and talking on cancer forums each night for an hour. You notice you are having trouble sleeping. Make a list of the potential pros and cons of your online searches.


Can you control it?

While cancer can represent a loss of control, it can be helpful to evaluate those aspects of your life that are within your control and those that are not. When it comes to problem solving, focus on what is within your control to influence the process or outcome.

You are upset over a loss of independence and having to rely on others to bring you to medical visits. While it may be difficult to accept this type of support, try to consider whether there are other aspects of your life and cancer experience where you feel as though you have control.



Adapted from Copyright © 1989 David D. Burns, M.D., from The Feeling Good Handbook.