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Coping With Difficult Emotions

Facing Difficult Emotions: Do You Stuff, Flee or Flip Out?

(The first in a two-post blog series)

What’s your go-to strategy when you’re feeling angry, sad, hurt, or afraid? Maybe you stuff these emotions down deep so they rarely surface. Perhaps you wolf them down with a supersize order of fries, or kill a few beers. Maybe you run, literally wearing down the tread on your shoes to escape. How about a Netflix™ binge, or gaming marathon?

When you’re living with cancer, you’ll probably spin through a wheel of emotions rivaling any amusement park ride. (Round and round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows!) During times of stress, some emotions (especially the more challenging ones) may seem more intense. We all find ways to cope, but not all coping strategies are healthy or helpful. While stuffing or ignoring unpleasant emotions may be a temporary avoidance tactic, in the long run, these behaviors will contribute to your distress. Over time, increased distress can take a toll on both your mental and your physical health.

Emotions are not positive or negative; they are simply different aspects of being human.

Emotions—what some might call the good the bad and the ugly—make life meaningful. That concept may feel strange to you. Many of us have been taught that such emotions as anger, fear and sadness are negative, unhealthy states, which is simply not true. Every emotion serves us in some way and adds to the texture of being fully alive. By providing us with important information about ourselves, our relationships and our surroundings, emotions help us to make decisions and take action. Studies show that pleasant emotions (happiness, surprise, joy) improve problem-solving skills, motivate us to learn and achieve more, and build resilience. Unpleasant emotions are equally as important as the pleasant ones. They cue us to take a closer look at matters that affect our well-being.

By learning to attend to your emotional well-being while living with cancer, you might shift the focus from fear and anxiety to peace and calm. For more information about

learning to self-manage emotional reactions to cancer-related stress using an innovative digital platform, visit CanSurround.


Firestone, L. (2016, January). Should you feel or flee your emotions? [Web log comment.] Retrieved from, December 12, 2016.

Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychology, 56(3): 218-226.

Greenberg, L. S., (2004). Emotion-focused therapy. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 11, 3-16.

Maisel, E. R. (2016, January). Day 8: Henry Shukman on Buddhism and healing. [Web log comment.] Retrieved from, December 8, 2016.

Rodriquez, T. May 1, 2013. Negative emotions are key to well-being. Retrieved from, December 9, 2016.

Shpancer, N. (2010, September.) Emotional acceptance: Why feeling bad is good. [Web log comment.] Retrieved from, December 13, 2013.

Staik, A. Emotion checklists: Identifying your feelings—pleasant or not. [Web log comment.] Retrieved from, December 8, 2016.

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