Coping with Anger

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2019

Many people living with cancer experience anger. Often, the feeling arises when receiving a cancer diagnosis. But it can develop any time throughout treatment and survivorship.

You may feel angry about:

  • The arrival of hardship

  • The way cancer and treatment changes your previous routine

  • The way family members and friends react to a cancer diagnosis

You may also struggle to cope with the side effects of cancer and its treatment, which may include:

  • Sleeping problems

  • Fatigue

  • Pain

  • Nausea

These can make even the happiest person feel irritable.

Coping with anger

Anger is a natural emotional response. You do not need to feel guilt if you experience it. Anger is not bad. But some people deal with it and express it in unhealthy ways.

Unhealthy expressions of anger

Unhealthy responses to anger include:

  • Avoiding expressing the difficult emotions

  • Behaving in ways that hurt others or yourself

  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

Unhealthy responses to anger can lead to depression. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of depression and how to find help.

Healthy expressions of anger

Healthy anger management involves identifying the emotion and expressing it productively.

When expressed in a healthy way, anger can produce positive change. For example, it may provide energy and strength to overcome the challenges of treatment.

Consider the following tips when you feel angry:

Recognize your anger. Sometimes people act out of anger without acknowledging the emotion's presence.

Consider which other feelings lie underneath the anger. Sometimes, people hide other painful feelings under their anger. And they might not even realize they are doing this. Some people feel more comfortable with anger than other feelings, like fear or sadness.

Avoid taking out your anger on others. Direct your anger at the cause of the feelings, not at other people.

Do not wait for anger to build up. Express your feelings as soon as you recognize them. If you hold them in, you are more likely to express anger in an unhealthy way.

Find safe ways to express your anger. You can express and release your anger in a number of healthy ways:

  • Discuss the reasons for your anger with a trusted family member or friend

  • Do a physical activity while feeling your anger at its full intensity

  • Beat on a pillow with your fists, or find a punching bag

  • Yell out loud in a car or private room

  • Explore complementary therapies, such as massage, relaxation techniques, music, or art

Considering counseling

Many people benefit from counseling, either on their own or in a group setting.

Things you can accomplish with a mental health professional include:

  • Finding out what triggers your anger

  • Avoiding destructive responses

  • Finding healthy ways to express your feelings

  • Learning valuable coping skills

  • Addressing related issues, such as addiction or relationship problems

A counselor can also evaluate whether chronic anger is contributing to clinical depression.

Learn more about counseling and how to find a therapist. Or explore other support resources.

Related Resources

How to Recognize Cancer Distress — and Cope with It

Managing Stress

Why People With Cancer Need to Be Taking Care of Their Mental Health

More Information

National Cancer Institute: Taking Time - Support for People with Cancer