A cancer diagnosis can turn your life upside down in a second due to the tragic implications it bears. The grim survival rates, the distressing side effects of chemotherapy, as well as the fact that cancer is responsible for the death of over half a million people every year in the U.S. are aspects most of us are well-aware of, but avoid thinking about unless they somehow relate to our life. It goes without saying that there is no right or wrong way of reacting to such terrible news. However, some emotional responses are more common than others. Anger is often the first reaction of cancer patients upon diagnosis and is also frequently experienced by individuals whose disease recurs.
There are plenty of reasons why a person may feel angry after they are told they suffer from cancer. While some people’s anger is directed at the heath care professional who delivers the news or at the family member who is in the room with them, others might be angry with God or even with themselves. Feeling angry with oneself is perfectly understandable if the patient strongly believes they did something to cause their disease or, on the contrary, if they perceive the situation as profusely unfair. Questions like “What have I done to deserve this?” or “Why me?” are very common among recently diagnosed people.
As previously noted, anger is not only experienced by patients who have just found out about their diagnosis, but can also arise at any time during treatment or even after cancer is long gone. It is important to remember that anger is felt differently by each person and can range from mild irritation to rage. Keeping this in mind will help you recognize anger when it crops up, which is essential to dealing with it effectively.
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Regardless of the reason why you feel it, anger is a powerful emotion and learning how to express it in a healthy way is crucial for your psychological wellbeing. For this reason, we have compiled a list of five tips which will hopefully help you cope with this otherwise natural feeling better during your battle with cancer.
1. Acknowledge your anger
Being in tune with your emotions is especially important when you struggle with a serious illness, as you will inevitably experience a lot of contradictory and overwhelming feelings along the way. Anger is very intense, often arising without warning, hence why we tend to act on it without even recognizing the emotion behind our reaction and behavior. The good news is that it is possible to become mindful of your anger before letting it cloud your judgment. You can start by answering the following questions, preferably in writing:
- How do I know I am angry?
- What exactly makes me angry?
- How do I react when I feel angry?
- How does my anger affect people around me?
To help you better identify the above aspects, here are some of the most common physical and behavioral signs of anger:
- rapid heart rate
- feeling hot in the face
- clenching your jaw
- raising your voice
- losing your sense of humor
- being sarcastic
- yelling, screaming or crying
2. Do not suppress your feelings
Pent-up anger is toxic both for your mental and physical health. If you keep suppressing your anger and refuse to let it out, your quality of life may decrease considerably. According to the National Cancer Institute, “distress has become increasingly recognized as a factor that can reduce the quality of life of cancer patients”. Because stress goes hand in hand with anger, you may start developing destructive habits such as smoking or self-medicating. Moreover, psychological studies suggest that unexpressed anger can significantly contribute to cardiovascular disease. Allowing yourself to feel angry and coming up with constructive ways of coping with this emotion will benefit you tremendously.