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Sitting With Tough Emotions

It takes courage to work with uncomfortable feelings

(The second in a two-post blog series)

Fear, joy, anger, surprise, shame. Each emotion in this list is important and necessary when it comes to the human experience. There is no such thing as a good or bad emotion. Each serves a purpose. Yet frequently, we tend to ignore, deny or avoid emotions that cause discomfort. When you become aware of a difficult emotion, rather than dwelling on or avoiding it, consider these steps, which may help you to become more skilled at processing and regulating the emotion in a beneficial way:

  • Sit with the emotion and feel it fully.

  • Don’t judge or label the emotion.

  • Let the emotion wash through you. Its intensity many diminish as you do so.

  • Try to identify where you are feeling physical discomfort while being with this emotion. Can you soften those areas of your body and release some of the tension?

  • If the emotion deepens or adds to your distress, take a break. Don’t feed the intensity.

  • If you feel stuck and cannot stop ruminating while sitting with the emotion, try journaling about it. This form of self-expression might help to shift your outlook.

  • If you feel overwhelmed, you may find it helpful to ask your medical team for a referral to a mental health professional who can help you work through your feelings and thoughts.

While living with cancer, you may encounter heavy emotions more frequently and with greater intensity than you did before your diagnosis. By simply giving yourself permission to sit with an uncomfortable emotion, you might come to realize you can live through this moment into the next moment, then the next, and beyond. Sometimes, facing painful emotions helps you to see you need to make some changes in your life. Discomfort will not break you. In fact, by simply learning to sit with it, you build the skills you need to handle the next challenging emotion you face, one moment at a time.

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


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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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