How to Cope With Anger

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2022

It is normal to feel angry after a cancer diagnosis. The feeling may come up when cancer is found, or develop any time during treatment and survivorship.

You may feel angry about:

  • The difficulty and uncertainty of having cancer

  • How cancer and treatment have changed your routine or lifestyle

  • What having cancer will mean for you and your family, including different types of losses cancer can bring

  • Different ways that family members and friends have reacted since your diagnosis

  • Other things

You may also get angry about the need to cope with side effects of cancer and treatment. These may include:

Coping with anger

Anger is a natural emotional response. You do not need to feel guilty for having emotions. Anger and other emotions are not bad. However, you may feel overwhelmed by your anger and want to express it in healthier ways.

Healthy ways of expressing your anger include:

  • Identifying difficult emotions

  • Expressing them in ways that produce positive change

One example of anger leading to a positive change is that expressing anger can give you energy and strength. This can help you meet the challenges of treatment.

However, you may find yourself expressing anger in ways that are distressing to you or your loved ones. These can include:

  • Avoiding expressing your difficult emotions

  • Behaving in ways that hurt others or yourself

  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

Unhealthy ways of dealing with anger can lead to depression. Depression is common in those with cancer, and there is a lot that can be done to help. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of depression and how to find help.

How to manage anger when you have cancer

Recognize your anger. You may be acting out of anger without acknowledging that you are angry.

Consider which other feelings are underneath the anger. You might not realize you are hiding other painful feelings under the anger. Anger can be more comfortable to express than fear or sadness.

Avoid taking out your anger on others. Get angry at the cause of your feelings, not 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:

  • Talk with a trusted family member, friend, clergy, or counselor about why you are angry.

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

  • Yell out loud in a car or private room.

  • Explore complementary therapies, such as massage, music, art, and deep breathing or other relaxation techniques.

Can counseling help with anger?

Yes. You might benefit from counseling on your own or in a group. In counseling, you can:

  • Find out what triggers your anger

  • Learn how to avoid destructive responses

  • Discover healthy ways to express your feelings

  • Learn valuable coping skills

  • Address other possible issues related to your anger, such as addiction or relationship problems

A counselor can also help you learn if long-term anger is making you depressed.

Learn more about counseling and how to find a therapist. Or explore other support resources for people with cancer. This website also offers information on coping for family caregivers.

Questions to ask your health care team

Here are some questions you may want to ask your health care team about anger.

  • Is it normal to be this angry when you have cancer?

  • How can I express and cope with my anger in a healthy way?

  • I always exercised to burn off anger. Is it safe to do that now?

  • Do you think counseling would help my anger?

  • How can I avoid getting angry around my spouse, children, or others, when I am really upset at having cancer?

  • I got angry at my loved one, friend, doctor, or someone else on my health care team. How do I apologize?

  • My spouse or partner seems angry all the time since I have been diagnosed. What can I do?

  • My kids are angry about the cancer, and I don't know how to help them. What do you suggest?

  • Can you help me find someone else to talk to who has been through this cancer?

  • Are there other support resources that could help me and my family?

Related Resources

How to Recognize Cancer Distress — and Cope with It

Managing Stress

Grieving For Your Old Life After Cancer

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

Talking with Your Spouse or Partner About Cancer

More Information

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