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WOW, Am I Ever Angry!

7 Steps for Coping with Angry Feelings

by Gary McClain, PhD

Author of Article photo

Dr. Gary McClain

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get angry. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, anger is a basic human emotion, like sadness or happiness. Certain situations evoke angry feelings by reminding us that life isn’t always fair, that it doesn’t always go the way we think it should. No one knows this better than someone who is living with cancer.

In my job as a therapist, I work with people who are facing illness. Cancer survivors often talk to me about their angry feelings and the causes behind them. Some common complaints include day-to-day uncertainty, complications from treatment, unwanted lifestyle changes, financial issues, and stressors at home.

Our culture teaches us that we shouldn’t get angry; it won’t do us any good. Anger will cause us to lose con­trol, which will ultimately lead to disaster. Allow me to quash this mis­conception. Anger does have a pur­pose. It triggers the fight response from our fight- or-flight instinct, which motivates us to take action. Sometimes fighting – by defending or advocating for ourselves – is what we need to do.

While getting mad is a human reaction, holding on to anger can have a negative effect on your wellness and can contrib­ute to conditions like depression. Still, knowing how to release these feelings isn’t always clear, so here are seven steps to help you let go of anger.

1 Count to 10. Yes, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You’ve probably seen it used in a television sitcom or two. But I can tell you from personal experience that it works. Counting to 10 gives you a chance to calm yourself down before you react in a way you might regret later. As you count down, don’t forget to breathe.

2 Step out of the story. Ask yourself if there is a story behind your anger. If you’re thinking, “this always happens to me,” or “I never get what I want,” you may be setting yourself up to relive angry feelings from your past. Try to react to your current situation, not to a similar situation from the past. By staying in the moment, you’ll be less likely to blow your current situation out of proportion.

3 Reconsider your expectations. If you’re feeling angry about the outcome of a situation, ask yourself what you were expecting to happen. Were your expectations realistic? Remind yourself that you’re not in control of everything. (Isn’t that a relief?) Keeping realistic expectations helps you avoid disappointment that can lead to angry feelings.

4 Look for the humor. Finding the humor in a situation can go a long way toward diffusing the rage rush that anger can evoke and helping you keep your perspective. Give it a try. How about having a good laugh about the way life seems to get in the way of our plans?

5 Have a heart. Accept your feelings – all of them – and recog­nize that you’re only human. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself a break, and you’ll find it easier to give others a break too.

6 Reach out for support. Find a friend or family member who will listen to you without judging your feelings or trying to tell you what to do. Vent if you need to. Let those angry feelings out.

7 Take care of yourself. Are you placing the needs of others before your own needs? Has your self-care routine been neglected? Not taking care of yourself can leave you feeling emotionally and physically depleted and especially vulnerable to angry feelings, so it’s important to make some time for yourself every day. Take a walk, listen to music, do something you enjoy.

Remember, you don’t have to avoid feeling angry, but you don’t have to allow anger to control you either. Accept difficult feelings for what they are, and find positive ways to release them.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Gary McClain is a therapist, patient advocate, and author living in New York, NY, who specializes in working with individuals who have been diag­nosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. Visit his website at

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2015.