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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer CenterVanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center


Anger and Irritability

Anger, frustration, resentment, irritability, rage these are emotions that everybody feels from time to time. With cancer, many people have thoughts like This isnt fair or This shouldnt have happened to me, which can lead to feelings of anger and frustration. Also, they may have trouble sleeping, have decreased energy, and experience pain or nausea; these symptoms can make even the most patient person more susceptible to frustration, irritability, and anger.

Similarly, caregivers might have thoughts like I know shes sick, but I asked her to just do this one thing and she should have done it by now! Doesnt she know how hard Im working to keep things going? Again, these sorts of thoughts are common reactions to increased stress.

We may often feel angry when we think that something should or shouldnt have happened. When we have expectations that arent met, we may get resentful or mad. Its important to acknowledge angry feelings; they are a normal response to difficult circumstances. In fact, they can sometimes serve a valuable purpose by energizing us to change things that dont work.

However, there are three important ways anger may get us into trouble:

  1. Trying to stuff down or suppress angry feelings can be detrimental to our peace of mind and even to our health.
    There is evidence that suggests that chronic anger may cause increased health risks for our cardiovascular and immune systems, and make us more susceptible to other health problems like migraines, chronic pain, and depression.
  2. The way we behave when were angry may create more problems.
    Obviously, fighting with others or breaking objects can cost you money, the respect of others, and potentially your freedom (if you end up in jail!). Although yelling, being aggressive, saying mean things, or throwing objects might get us what we want for the moment, in the long run it makes people avoid us. Not saying anything until we cant keep it in anymore and we explode isnt helpful either, since people dont understand why were so mad over little things (when in fact were mad about the 12 things that happened earlier!).
  3. Finally, the way we cope with our anger (or the anger of others) can lead to more problems.
    Sometimes people try to lessen angry feelings by drinking or taking drugs to keep themselves calm. Sometimes people have so much trouble with anger that is directed at them by others that they will do anything to avoid conflict. Sometimes these people will say yes to things they really dont want to do, or theyll put up with unreasonable demands. Sometimes people will even displace their anger toward another person onto themselves which can then lead to increased guilt and the potential for a pattern of self defeating behavior.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are my angry thoughts, feelings or actions causing me any problems with my family, work, or my friends? (If you say no, would everybody else agree?)
  2. Is there anything about the way I attempt to deal with my anger that causes me, or the other people in my life, problems?

The Supportive Care Clinic offers individual counseling to improve anger management skills and help people develop more effective coping strategies. To contact us, call 615-322-6053.