Coping with difficult emotions

Dealing with someone’s emotions, including sadness, fear and anger can be hard. You may also be trying to cope with feelings of your own.

If your loved one is distressed, reassure them that it’s okay to cry. Hugging or holding hands may help too. Be honest about your feelings but remember to focus on your relative or friend’s feelings.

Your friend or relative might be angry or frustrated at times, and sometimes this could be directed at you. Try not to take things personally. It’s best to let go of small arguments and try to understand the other person’s feelings. Talk about the argument when you are both calm and avoid using ‘all or nothing’ words like ‘always’ ‘or never’. Get support for yourself if you need to.

If you or your relative or friend are struggling with anxiety, depression or anger you GP may be able to offer support. You could also talk to a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you both find ways of coping.

Difficult emotions

It’s natural for people with cancer to have a mix of emotions. These can include sadness, fear and anger. These emotions can also come and go at different times.

Be aware that you may also be coping with strong emotions of your own. If this is the case, it’s important that you have other people you can talk to and get support from. This will help you, and help you be a support to your relative or friend.

We have more information about support for you.

If your relative or friend is distressed

It can be upsetting to see someone we care about crying. But crying is a natural response to distress and it can be a helpful release.

Some people don’t want to cry because they feel that once they start, they won’t stop. This is not true, as feelings can come and go.

Responding to distress

If your relative or friend cries, reassure them that it’s okay to cry. This will let them know that you’re not put off by their tears. Touching, holding hands or giving them a hug may help too.

You might want to try to ‘stay strong’ for them, but it’s okay if you need to cry too. Being honest about your feelings will help develop trust between you. It will also make it easier for the other person to be honest about their feelings.

If you are upset, you can tell your relative or friend you are okay with feeling that way. This lets them know they can open up to you, rather than try to protect you by keeping their feelings from you.

Although it’s good to be honest about your feelings, try to keep focused on the feelings of your relative or friend. This doesn’t mean you don’t need support. It’s really important that you also have people you can talk to about how you are feeling.

If your relative or friend is angry

If you are very close to your relative or friend, there may be times when their frustration or anger with the situation is directed at you. They may be irritable or critical of your attempts to help. They might be angry about the cancer, but this can be hard to put into words. So they may take out their feelings on those closest to them. This can be hard to take, especially when you are doing your best and are also coping with your own feelings.

We have a video about Ron and his wife Linda, who talk about how their relationship changed after Ron was diagnosed with cancer.

Responding to anger

Be ready to let go of minor arguments and offer forgiveness, understanding and support.

If your relative or friend is irritable or critical, try not to take it personally. Remember, anger and irritability are common reactions to being diagnosed with cancer. It’s best not to respond angrily. If you feel upset or angry, give yourself time to calm down.

After a disagreement, find a time when you are both calm to talk about what happened and how you both feel. Instead of saying ‘You’re always criticising me’ or ‘You make me feel sad’, try to say something like ‘I felt upset when we disagreed today. Can we work this out together?’.

In most disagreements, both people have some degree of responsibility. Listen to what your relative or friend tells you and ask yourself ‘Do they have a point?’ and ‘Could I do anything differently?’. Talk about what both of you could change to make things work better.

Aim to make up and forgive each other at the end of your talk. A hug or a kind word can help to put the disagreement behind you and make you feel closer. However, this doesn’t mean you should put up with an abusive relationship. If your relative or friend is being consistently verbally abusive or physically abusive, seek help and advice from your GP or someone else you trust.

Here are some tips on coping with anger:

  • Try not to take it personally – remind yourself they may be upset because of the cancer, rather than with you.
  • Find a time when you are both calm to talk about it.
  • Look for solutions you can both agree on.
  • Get support for yourself from someone outside of the relationship.

Sometimes I could have screamed because he was ungrateful for ordinary things I did for him. Afterwards he knew how he’d made me feel so he’d apologise. I know he didn’t mean it.



Most of the time people with cancer, and those close to them, adjust and finds ways to cope with feelings of anger or anxiety. But sometimes people need outside help to deal with the strong emotions they have.

If you or your relative or friend is struggling with anger, anxiety or depression, it may be hard to share this with family or friends.

A GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse may suggest professional support. Seeing a trained counsellor or psychologist can give you or your relative or friend an opportunity to talk to someone who is outside the situation. They can also help explore feelings and find ways of coping.

We have a video about counselling that you can watch.

Back to If someone has cancer

Keeping in touch

There are lots of ways you can keep in touch with your loved one.

How to be a good listener

Listening carefully to your relative or friend will give them support and help you understand their needs better.

Things to avoid saying

Understanding things that might be unhelpful to say can make you more confident about talking with someone who has cancer.

Looking after yourself

Supporting a person with cancer can be both rewarding and demanding. Make sure you have the support you need.