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Why Am I Feeling Angry After a Cancer Diagnosis?

Posted in: Articles May 31, 2017 By Stan Gottfredson Read by 1647 Users

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
  • headache
  • shaking
  • dizziness
  • stomachache
  • feeling hot in the face
  • sweating
  • clenching your jaw
  • pacing
  • 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.

3. Avoid taking your anger out on your loved ones

If you are dealing with a lot of anger and have difficulty keeping your emotions under control, chances are you have already directed it at the people around you on at least one occasion. While your family and friends will most likely be very understanding and supportive throughout your battle, you should refrain yourself from taking your anger out on them as much as possible, as your relationships may deteriorate over time. Instead, try to focus on the real cause of your anger and if you have trouble regulating your emotions, it is recommended to step away from the situation. This way, you can work through your anger without your relationships having to suffer.

However, you should not blame yourself if you still lose your temper from time to time. Managing anger is a lot more challenging in practice and your loved ones will certainly understand. It is also a good idea to openly communicate with your family in regard to how you are feeling, as well as discuss the reasons you are angry for so that they will be able to help you more.

4. Come up with healthy, productive ways of expressing your anger

After you identify what triggers your anger, what the true cause of it is, and how you usually react when you experience this emotion, it is time to start thinking of some positive coping mechanisms you can apply from now on. There are endless ways you can turn your anger into a productive force. In general, redirecting your anger to a creative or dynamic activity seems to be the most effective coping strategy. We suggest you make a list of 3-5 activities you enjoy the most and put it somewhere you can always see it. If you lack ideas, here are some hobbies and activities you can try out to manage your anger:

  • moderate-intensity exercise
  • writing your thoughts in a journal
  • a sport you can safely practice
  • painting
  • yoga
  • learning how to play a musical instrument
  • knitting
  • gardening
  • scrapbooking
  • cooking
  • pottery
  • drawing

Sometimes, you may feel too angry to focus on anything else, in which case releasing your emotions in a way which will not harm you or other people may help you calm down. You can try one of the following ideas:

  • punching a pillow
  • screaming as loud as you can in the privacy of your room or car
  • learning relaxation techniques you can apply before anger gets the best of you
  • taking a timeout the moment you feel anger creeping up on you

5. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you cannot manage anger on your own

Because anger is such a powerful emotion which can often take you by surprise, dealing with it in a healthy manner can be extremely challenging and can easily render you frustrated or even more angry. Discussing with a mental health counselor will greatly help you work through your anger, pinpoint what triggers it, as well as teach you useful coping skills and how to express it in non-destructive ways. Not only will seeking professional help benefit you emotionally, but it will also prevent you from developing chronic depression, which a lot of cancer patients are prone to.

Do you have questions? We can help, call us at:

(435) 200-5326