Anger & Illness: Suggestions for Healthy Coping

Earlier this week, I shared a post about the varied types of anger that may come up while you are dealing with a serious illness.  That post was a prelude to a Twitter chat about anger and breast cancer.  During the chat, we discussed a wide range of experiences that participants had with anger.  In my first post this week, I promised that we’d talk more about how to express anger in healthy ways.

Why is it Important to Express Anger?

One of the issues that arose during the chat was whether or not to express or not express anger.  I am a huge fan of expressing anger–even thought anger sometimes gets a bad rap in the emotion rodeo.  I think that anger has a tough reputation because it is a painful emotion that is often layered on top of other emotions.  Anger can be expressed in some negative ways, and this often leads people to avoid expressing anger.  Many families really struggle with healthy expressions of anger.  I touched on some of this in an earlier post about conflict in relationships.

But I believe that, when we bury our anger, we just leave it to seep out later.  I sometimes compare anger to a physical wound.  If it is unexpressed, it can become septic.  If you are already ill, unexpressed anger can cause additional strain on your body.  This means that having healthy strategies to cope with your anger is hugely important.

Healthy Anger Strategies

Since a top reason to avoid dealing with anger is a lack of good strategies for expression, I have collected a short list of healthy ways to manage anger.

  • Use a journal to outline and describe your anger.
  • If it is helpful, give yourself permission to tear up or burn your writings–to release the emotion of anger.
  • Exercise: this can depend on your level of anger. Sometimes vigorous aerobic exercise will help you burn off the intensity of your anger.  You can walk or run and visualize your anger going through your feet and into the earth.  For some people, a yoga practice can help you ground and release your anger.
  • Use art, music or other expressive tools to describe and express your anger.
  • Talk with someone safe about what you feel and why.  This might be a friend, family member, therapist, pastor, or support group.
  • Develop a plan to act on things that are under your control.  This can reduce the feelings of helplessness that lead to anger.
  • In a safe space, yell, scream, or use volume to express your anger.

This is just a short list.  I’d love to hear your strategies as well.  In the end, I hope you remember that expressing your anger in healthy ways is a critical skill for emotional health.


Image Credit: Photo by angrymann via Flickr

10 thoughts on “Anger & Illness: Suggestions for Healthy Coping

  1. Ann, Rah! for anger! Some things, like cancer, abuse, death (especially an untimely death) are worthy of anger. Yet if we don’t handle it appropriately it can consume and destroy us. Thank you for validating the positive power of anger and sharing ways to express it in productive ways.

  2. Pingback: Anger and Illness
  3. I’m a huge believer in acknowledging all your feelings, including anger. Sometimes feeling angry is entirely appropriate and part of processing through difficult situations. Once you feel it, it’s easier to let it go or to find an appropriate means to channel it. Thank for this post.

  4. Hi Ann – Anger around chronic illness is so difficult to manage. It can go on and on, especially when one sees “normal” healthy people all around…and wonders “why me?”. I’m not sure this is ever “resolved” is more like the emotion of anger is revisited over & over again in different permutations.

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