What’s Your Emotional Response to Breast Cancer Diagnosis?

Fascinating information about how anger, sadness and joy affect the body, and how best to handle them.

What’s Your Emotional Response to Breast Cancer Diagnosis?

Emotions, such as the emotional response to breast cancer diagnosis, can be seen as energy forms that flow along our internal electrical system, which is regulated by our breathing patterns. Emotions are a normal, physiological reaction to thoughts.


According to the theory of bioenergetics analysis and other somatic forms of psychotherapy, in which psychological issues are understood and treated through the body, each of the four basic emotions is expressed along its own physiological pathway.


When dealing with breast cancer diagnosis, your grieving process could be blocked because of a lack of emotional development. With this in mind, it is important that you become knowledgeable about the basics of how emotions operate in the body.


Common Emotional Responses to Breast Cancer Diagnosis


Feeling Mad

One possible response, anger, typically moves up the back of the body along the spine, over the top of the head, and out through the eyes and mouth. As anger tends to move along the back side of the body, it is reflected in expressions like “a pain in the neck”.


If you closely monitor your body before you make an angry statement, you are likely to sense a surge of energy coming through your eyes and a tightening of your jaw.


All emotions follow a pattern of build-up and natural discharge within the body. Saying that you are angry, blowing out air while making a groaning sound, and smacking your fist into the palm of your other hand are examples of anger.


As with all other feelings, anger is felt in various degrees. On one end of the continuum is mild anger, which might be described as irritation or annoyance. At the opposite end of the continuum is rage.


When you’re feeling angry, altering your thoughts in order to perceive the situation differently may help you to not produce any additional anger, but you will still be left with the original anger-energy.


If your anger is mild, simply saying you are angry may be enough to let it go. If you have a lot of anger, you may feel a need for a complete release. Releasing anger in a healthy, productive way allows the whole emotional response process to become easier.


Because anger is an emotion that women have been socialized to repress, many women find anger distasteful or frightening. Women often keep a tight lid on their anger, which creates tension headaches and frequently painful knots in their upper back muscles.


Managing anger carefully and productively

Women need to learn that they have a right to be heard and anger is a part of having a voice and asserting ourselves. Anger can energize us and give us the inner strength to tackle a problem.


It was my anger and frustration with the post-mastectomy supplies available at the time, which energized me to find new ways to alter my clothes after my mastectomy. Releasing anger in a healthy, productive way lessened the emotional response to my breast cancer diagnosis.


It is important that the physical release is performed while thinking of the reason you are angry in order to integrate the experience. You’ll understanding why you are angry, and then release the anger. This prevents overwhelm and helps you start to heal emotionally.


Standing up while angry makes some people feel more at risk of losing control, so one option is to lie on your bed with your eyes open (so the energy has an outlet for discharge). Allow your fully extended arms to alternate going up and down onto the mattress forcefully.


Note: Pounding your fists on the bed is only an option before surgery or after you have healed from your mastectomy. Remember that you will not be able to do this with your affected arm soon after surgery.


Other controlled anger responses


A variation on this approach involves using an old tennis racquet to hit a pile of pillows stacked on the floor or on a mattress while you kneel on the floor. Let your head and neck move to be at the same level as your arms.


Keep your eyes open at all times when releasing your anger emotions, or you will get a splitting headache. If you should forget to open your eyes and develop a headache as a result, simply open your eyes and hit a few more times.


If some of your anger is coming from thoughts about how your early childhood years repressed and stunted your emotional growth, releasing the anger as a child may feel very fitting. You have to learn how to tailor your emotional response to suit your experiences.


If you have children, you can teach them how to release anger in a healthy way. If you have exposed them to safe, nonviolent anger release, it will make it easier for everyone when you find you have to release your anger.


Then, as soon as you have moved beyond your anger, it is a good idea to reconnect with your children, so they can see for themselves that everything is okay really. Having a strong family support network will always help.


Feeling Sad

Sadness is another emotional response to breast cancer diagnosis, a tender emotion that comes up the front of the body, through the throat, into the face, and up to the eyes. It is released through crying.


The flow of sad energy is most frequently blocked by restricting the breathing, so the diaphragm muscle (the essential muscle for breathing) constricts, thereby holding the sadness in the gut, or by constricting the throat muscles.


An effective way to correct blocks to sadness is by taking a slow, deep breath through the nose and down into the abdomen, filling the chest to expand the diaphragm, then exhaling through the mouth.


Some people are more comfortable expressing sadness than anger. They find that they start to cry as soon as they try to release anger; it is important to push forward despite this.


After you have cleared out the angry energy and reached your sadness, allow yourself to curl up and sob like a baby while holding onto someone, or something soft and nurturing such as a soft blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal to help process your ‘sadness’ response.


An Unexpected Response to Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Feeling Glad

As with sadness, joy is experienced primarily on the front side of the body, running up and down the full length of the torso. Dancing, singing, smiling, and jumping are all outlets for the feeling of joy (“jumping for joy”). Sometimes the energy of joy is also released through tears, which can happen when a person feels intense happiness. Joy can be experienced as sexual energy in the genital region, or it can be experienced elsewhere. This is likely your most complex emotional response to breast cancer diagnosis.


The emotions resulting from breast cancer diagnosis are varied; accepting kind gestures and gifts from those who support us is likely to create feelings of joy. Being told by the doctor that the cancer has not spread will result in a feeling of relief, which is a form of joy.


Throughout a breast cancer journey, many people tend to block or hold in joy if, like many children, they were constantly instructed to “settle down” as kids. Kids love to jump, sing, and dance — it releases their joy.


Regular deep breathing will allow joyful energy to move through the body.


Feeling Scared

Fear is typically felt in the pit of the stomach. It can move along the front side of the body, or it can travel along the spine. Naturally, this is a common response to breast cancer diagnosis and feeling “tight” is a normal physical reaction.


Stiffening the body is an attempt to avoid feeling fear, which is released through trembling or shaking. Think about a child giving her first book report in front of the class. She might experience the embarrassment of shaking, trembling legs and hands that can’t keep the paper still.


As a result, she will learn to keep her breath shallow and to tighten her muscles to prevent the trembling. Fear is a very common emotion that will surface many times for women going through the breast cancer journey.


Fear will actually pass more quickly if you allow the energy to be released through the trembling, as long as you are in a safe situation. If you are still in a frightening situation, you will continue to experience thoughts that tell you that you are not safe, thereby generating new fear.


Once your thoughts are consistent with being safe, the terror or fear will pass much more quickly if you take some slow, deep breaths. Permit your body to shake out the fear by not tightening your muscles. This can help anytime you’re fearful; during procedures related to your breast cancer diagnosis, or emotions that continue long afterward.


By telling myself I was going to be ok, I released the fear that had already been generated. I also prevented additional fear by putting comfortable, positive thoughts in my mind.


Embrace and Experience Your Emotional Response

When you have developed the skills of recognizing your emotions and deep breathing, you will understand that, although your thoughts create emotions that your body needs to release, you’re in control.


For clients who have trouble processing their feelings, I often recommend setting aside a certain amount of time each week to focus on the emotional self. This allows for deepening feelings while also creating freedom from the constant intrusion that can come from unwanted negative emotions.


If you are at work and sad, angry, or scared thoughts keep intruding into your concentration, they’ll interfere with the task at hand. Say to yourself, “I have set aside Tuesday from 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. for this. I’ll think about it then.” This will allow you to cordon off your feelings, making them more manageable.


If you fail to follow through, distracting thoughts and feelings will continue to creep into your mind. It’s your psyche’s way of forcing you to deal with your emotions. You’ll be amazed at what happens if you stay faithful to your routine.


The price we pay for holding in our emotions is shutting out our joy. Opening up your breathing will give you access to your entire emotional self. Avoiding your emotions will limit your ability to express yourself.


We may find ourselves taking our anger out on the doctor or our partner by being sarcastic, or hiding our fear or sadness by being evasive. Learning to express my emotions as intended enabled me to release the tension in my social and family life.


I now think of my emotions like waves I have had to learn how to ride as they come and go. The more we learn to accept, experience, and release our emotions without judgment, the more we will feel whole and complete and find the inner strength and optimism to move on — and the less we will suffer.