Emotional Wellbeing


Mandy Kloppers

Can suppressed anger increase likelihood of cancer?

Intense, persistent, and suppressed anger may have a connection to cancer

Can suppressed anger increase likelihood of cancer? we;;, with sayings such as ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘no worries’ part of our daily vernacular, it seems that our society rates positivity highly. But if you’re having a tough time, stifling negative emotions doesn’t make them go away and could actually be unhealthy.

Groer, Davis, Droppleman, Mozingo, and Pierce (2000) made the following general statement: “Extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer. Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger. There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis.” Notice that their conclusion centers on a certain type of anger, that which is not overtly expressed but instead, to use a common expression, is bottled up.

So, it would appear that bottling up anger and frustration can have a very negative impact on the body. I certainly believe that emotions carry energy. negative energy that is kept inside and not released acts as a toxin in the body. The mind and body are interlinked and people underestimate the link between the two.

Bottling up negative emotions is an unhelpful and harmful behaviour that needs to be addressed. Do you sit with anger and resentment yet put a smile on your face? Do you do this regularly? If this sounds like you – it might worth considering whether you have had any physical illnesses – such as headaches, general aches, tiredness or IBS. All of these have been linked to mental health stress.

A series of studies over the past few decades show that suppressing your emotions can and does affect your body and your mind. In fact, a 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester showed people who bottled up their emotions increased their chance of premature death from all causes by more than 30%, with their risk of being diagnosed with cancer increasing by 70%.

A study from the University of Texas found that by not acknowledging our emotions we’re actually making them stronger.

“For example, you might be angry at your brother and after stewing in your anger, not saying a thing, you could encourage an emotional outburst,” says Tarratt.

“So when you’re driving the car a few weeks later and someone cuts you off, you can get all-out road rage, causing an accident. That explosion and overreaction to a situation is your body’s way of releasing that pent-up emotion.”

Coping with strong emotions

Learning how to deal with strong emotions can be challenging. Tarratt recommends the following 4 steps if you’re feeling emotional and don’t know how to cope.

1. Acknowledge the emotion

Recognising you’re feeling a particular way is important. You don’t have to do this verbally, as long as you acknowledge it internally.

“We often might think we feel anger, but sometimes it’s more complex,” explains Tarratt. “We might feel sad, for example, but we’re reverting to anger to deal with the feeling.”

She suggests finding and understanding the core emotion behind how you’re feeling. Ask yourself “why am I acting this way? Why am I feeling this emotional reaction?” Even the act of identifying and describing the feeling can have a beneficial effect.

2. Confront the cause

If you’re able to, confront the person or situation that’s triggering the emotion with the goal of resolving the problem. If this isn’t possible, Tarratt advises becoming an ‘observer’ to the situation and empowering yourself in the process.

“‘Observing’ is basically taking yourself out of the equation and trying not to take things personally; looking at your situation as if you’re not a part of it. Try to calmly understand what the other person’s perspective is and what might make them behave in a certain way.”

She explains that observing is an opportunity to learn about the person, rather than taking their actions personally and getting angry or frustrated.

If confronting the situation isn’t possible, talking to another person about how you’re feeling can make the emotion less intense and can have a therapeutic effect on the brain.

3. Owning your response

In order to understand what you’re feeling, reflect on the way you reacted and dealt with the situation.

“Think about what has got you to this point,” says Tarratt, “and how you can prevent that in future. If it’s unavoidable, such as grief, think about your behaviour and how you could have perhaps handled the emotions better.”

4. Make time for self-care

Any self-care activities you find effective, or that calm and relax you, will be beneficial. Studies have consistently shown that exercise is beneficial to emotional stress, including a 2015 study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion which found people experiencing difficult emotions regulated those emotions better after moderate aerobic exercise, such as jogging.

Practise forgiveness and gratitude towards the situations and people surrounding you.

If you feel like you have trouble expressing or controlling your emotions, it may be helpful to speak to your GP or call The Samaritans on 116 123 (UK) 




Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash





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