Understanding and managing anger after a cancer diagnosis

Understanding and managing anger after a cancer diagnosis

Anger is a common reaction to a cancer diagnosis. You may feel it isn't fair that you have cancer or that your body has betrayed you.

The key to handling anger after a cancer diagnosis is acknowledging that the anger exists and learning how to manage it, says Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.

Acknowledging anger

Acknowledging you are angry can actually be beneficial to your health.

"Anger is a normal, appropriate response to a cancer diagnosis," says Buttimer. "We want to acknowledge it, not suppress it, because stifling anger can have a negative impact on our health. From research in integrative oncology, we know that suppressing emotions compromises the immune system."

Working through anger

Once you have acknowledged you are angry, it is time to move forward.

"It's important to recognize how you're feeling, but don't live in the anger. Move through it. Staying in a place of anger is not good for your immune system functioning either," she says.

Find a counselor, coach or support group to help you work through it.

"In psychology, anger is recognized as a secondary emotion," Buttimer explains. "Underneath anger is often fear or sadness. Sometimes working through those primary emotions helps dissipate the anger."

Working through feelings of anger is often a recurring process. Even if you work through an episode, anger will likely pop up again – and that's okay.

"Anger may recur, but that doesn't mean you are living in it," says Buttimer.

Practical ways to manage anger

In addition to working with a professional counselor or attending a support group, there are ways you can manage your feelings of anger in a healthy, appropriate way, such as:

Buttimer says some people take a more physical approach to managing anger, such as:

  • Punching a pillow

  • Screaming in the car

"Doing something physical that doesn't harm yourself or others can help offset that anger," she explains.

How to handle a loved one's anger

If your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, they may be dealing with anger. Buttimer's advice for caregivers, family and friends:

"Understand that anger is a normal response to a cancer diagnosis. Let your loved one have some space with their anger. Don't try to fix it, minimize it or cheer them up. That can feel dismissive and abrasive. It's important for them to feel their feelings and work through anger in their own unique process."

She is also an advocate for caregiver support groups.

"When one person is diagnosed, the whole family is diagnosed," she says.

Please note: If your loved one's anger is harmful to his or her relationships, health or safety, seek help from a professional counselor or doctor.

To find a support group, check out this month's Cancer Wellness calendar.


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