Background Self-management may help cancer survivors to better deal with challenges to their physical, functional, social and psychological well-being presented by cancer and its treatment. Nonetheless, little is known about how people integrate cancer self-management practices into their daily lives. The aim of this study was to describe and characterise the processes through which head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors attempt to integrate self-management into their daily lives following primary treatment. Methods Using a purposeful critical case sampling method, 27 HNC survivors were identified through four designated cancer centres in Ireland and participated in face-to-face semi-structured interviews. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis. Results Six themes describing HNC survivors’ attempts to integrate self-management into their lives following treatment were identified: grappling with having to self-manage, trying out self-management strategies, becoming an expert self-manager, struggling to integrate self-management strategies into daily life, avoiding recommended self-management and interpreting self-management. Conclusions This is the first study to describe HNC survivors’ attempts to integrate self-management into their daily lives following primary treatment. The findings indicate that HNC survivors exhibit highly individualised approaches to self-management integration and abandon self-management strategies that fail to meet their own specific needs. Implications for Cancer Survivors Survivors may benefit from skills training and structured support to assist their transition between in-patient care and having to self-manage after primary treatment, and/or ongoing support to deal with persistent and recurring challenges such as eating difficulties and fear of recurrence.