Clinically reviewed by Dr. Chris Mosunic, PhD, RD, CDCES, MBA

You're angry, and that's okay. Here's how rage journaling could help

by Kells McPhillips

“The initial response to a cancer diagnosis is f*cking fear,” says Lynda Levy, LMFT, a therapist at Southern California Counseling Center. As a cancer “thriver” herself, Levy says that many emotions come in tandem with cancer diagnosis and treatment, including panic, frustration, and anxiety. But as you begin planning your treatment and considering the future months, yet another feeling may crop up: pure, unbridled rage.

Anger and cancer go hand-in-hand. For many, that rage manifests as questions like, Why? What did I do to deserve this? "Anger is a normal, appropriate response to a cancer diagnosis,"said Angela Buttimer, LPC, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. "We want to acknowledge it, not suppress it, because stifling anger can have a negative impact on our health. From research in integrative oncology, we know that suppressing emotions may compromise the immune system."

That said, Levy believes that having an outlet for your frustration can help you release at least some of the burden of all that anger. “At some point, you have to just give it up and let it go so that you can move on,” she says. “Anger creates stress that isn't good for healing.” While activities like walking, meditating, and painting are all great conduits for healing, all you need is a simple pen and pencil to start rage journaling today.

Anger and cancer: Rage journaling after your diagnosis

Research shows that journaling about your emotions can reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Even if you’ve never had a journaling practice before, Levy says that starting one now can be immensely helpful.

The idea behind rage journaling is to write everything you’re feeling without pausing or hesitating, so that your conscious and subconscious thoughts pour onto the pages. “Start with, ‘I don't know what to write,’ and let your free association go. Don't even think about what you're writing. Just keep writing. Don't even punctuate anything. This can be incredibly cathartic,” says Levy.

Keep in mind that there’s no “wrong” or “right” when it comes to the sentences and paragraphs on the page. Whether you run through your grocery list or scrawl out all the reasons why your diagnosis was unfair, know that you’re doing something positive and caring for yourself.

Of course, if your emotions become overwhelming at any point (and all the writing isn’t helping), seek out a loved one or find connection elsewhere. A therapist or support group can be a game-changer at this time.

More prompts for coping with cancer

If the idea of rage journaling doesn’t call to you right now, consider following your own prompts (or pulling one or two from the internet). Below, we’ve included five to get you started.

1. List out five people you’re grateful to have in your life. What makes them special, and why do you love them?

2. What lessons (good and bad) has your cancer diagnosis taught you so far?

3. What are five things that bring you joy? Write a plan for how to incorporate each into your everyday life.

4. What can you control about your cancer journey? What can’t you control?

5. What coping mechanisms do you have at your disposal? Maybe it’s… baking? Meditation? Running? Something else? For each one, briefly describe why it makes you feel better.

Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.

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Our programs are created by licensed psychologists, and you can explore them at your own pace, in any order you like.

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