Skip to main content
An official website of the United States government

Your Emotions and Feelings

A daughter talking to her mother, who holds a cane

Strategies to manage your thoughts and feelings can help you stay positive and live meaningfully.

Credit: iStock

Coping with a brain or spine tumor diagnosis can cause a variety of emotions that affect the way you think and feel. Positive coping strategies may help you get through each day so you can continue to live fully. By checking in and managing your thoughts, stress, and feelings, you can cope with your emotions in a healthy way.

Checking In

Checking in with yourself involves asking yourself questions about what you need and want. By doing this throughout the day, you can manage how you feel at any moment. If you feel anger, anxiety, or stress, checking in with yourself may help you identify healthy techniques to cope with those feelings. 

Steps to Check In with Yourself

  • Find a quiet area where you can focus.
  • Be still. Tune in to your thoughts.
  • Ask yourself the following questions: 
    • How am I feeling? 
    • What is causing these feelings? 
    • What do I need in this moment to manage how I feel? 
    • Is there tension anywhere in my body that I can release? 
  • Have a list of coping techniques available to manage your feelings. This may include deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery, walking, being still, or listening to music. 

Checking in with yourself is being mindful of what your body is telling you. The more you check in with yourself, the more aware you’ll be that you need a break. Sometimes, rest and quiet time is all you need to feel rejuvenated. 


Managing Thoughts

A brain or spine tumor can affect how you think about situations and your ability to cope. You may feel negative or angry because of your diagnosis. You may feel isolated or depressed because you’re unable to relate to the people around you. You may also feel anxious about taking part in social activities. 

Strategies to help you manage your thoughts and feelings can help you stay positive and live meaningfully. Positive thoughts can also help alleviate many symptoms you may experience.

Tips to Manage Thoughts

  • Seek out a local or online support group to connect with others. 
  • Focus on the present moment and what you can control. 
  • Try not to compare your current self to your past self. 
  • Try to focus on the activities that you can participate in. 
  • See if you can replace negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, instead of saying, “I will never get better,” say, “I will have ups and downs, but all I can do is take things day by day and do my best to manage my symptoms as they come.” 
  • Surround yourself with friends and family who can help you stay positive. If you feel lonely, call on them for support. 
  • Try to challenge any unhelpful thoughts by asking: 
    • What evidence do you have for your thoughts? 
    • Can you look at the situation from a different perspective? 
    • What advice would you give a friend experiencing this thought? Take your own advice. 
  • Express yourself creatively through writing, art therapy, or an adult coloring book. 
  • Stop when you have overwhelming thoughts and take a deep breath. Make a list of things you’re grateful for. 
  • Be aware of your thoughts and how they can make you feel. Tune in to them and note how they can guide you to take control and feel better. If you need to, find a mental health professional (such as a social worker, counselor, or psychologist) to talk to about your concerns and worries. 

For months after surgery, I shut down mentally. Simple tasks like getting out of bed to brush my teeth or to take a shower were challenging. Talking with other patients helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.

 Dunamis, PNET Survivor


Labeling Your Psychological Distress Video

Managing Feelings

Challenges with your feelings can arise when you’re diagnosed with a brain or spine tumor. It’s common to feel nervous about your treatments or worried about your outcome. 

Managing your emotions can help you shift the way you think and behave so you can react to situations in a healthy way. Use these tips to manage your feelings and take control of your life. 

Tips to Manage Your Feelings

  • Change how you look at things to help your outlook. If you can, change negative thoughts to positive ones. 
  • Create a coping skills box filled with things that make you feel like yourself again. For example, you can add a journal, pictures that make you smile, puzzles, adult coloring books, cards with positive or funny quotes, or a stuffed animal. 
  • Pay attention to what triggers negative feelings. Think about ways you can either avoid or deal those triggers. 
  • Learn to recognize and address extreme emotions or thoughts. For example, feeling that you are never going to have something good happen to you is extreme. Work to change your thoughts. 

One of the most important things you can do for your mental health is recognizing when you’re not yourself. When you don’t find joy in the things you used to—or you feel overwhelmed or burned out—it may help to take an active approach to managing your feelings. If you need to, find a therapist to talk to about your thoughts and emotions. Doing so may help you understand and work through your feelings. 

Face whatever challenge is in front of you mindfully. Find the positive. You will have moments of disappointment, depression, anger, and sadness. But accept them, let them go again, and get support.

José, Midline Glioma Tumor Survivor


Managing Stress

A brain or spine tumor diagnosis can lead to many emotions, including stress, feeling uncertain about the future, accepting role changes, and feeling vulnerable. Stress interferes with our ability to both think and act clearly. This can be harmful to your physical health and could also affect relationships with people close to you. 

Relaxation and stress-relieving techniques can help ease anxiety about your diagnosis or treatment. If you can, use the below techniques daily. 

Tips to Manage Stress

  • Do breathing exercises. One easy one to try is Square Breathing. 
    • Imagine a square. For each breath, imagine yourself moving along each side of your square. Start on one “side” and inhale for four seconds, hold at the top for four seconds, exhale on the next “side” for four seconds, then hold at the bottom for four seconds. 
    • Write in a journal to express stressful emotions and feelings. 
    • Make a list of goals, write a positive message to yourself at the end of each day, or list steps you can take to resolve any concerns. 
    • Meditate for five to ten minutes. Use an app or practice sitting in a quiet room to free your thoughts. 
    • Build your support network. Cancer support groups can be helpful, but also explore church groups, exercise groups, and book clubs. 
      • You can also spend time with friends or family members. Meet friends for coffee or games, visit with family, or use online resources. 
      • Talk to a friend or loved one. 
      • Assign tasks to those who offer help. These tasks might include driving, cooking meals, cleaning your house, or providing child or elder care. 
      • Set small goals and reward yourself for completing them. For example, doing physical therapy exercises for the day can be rewarded. 

Remember that, as different stressors arise, your levels of stress will vary. Find ways to reduce stress that work for you and that you can stick with. Doing so may improve your health and wellness. But always talk with your doctor or therapist if you feel overwhelmed by anxiety or depression. 

When negative things happen around me, I fight them with positive thinking. I work around my problems and do things to occupy my mind to relieve the stress, like volunteering to speak to others.

Anonymous, PXA Survivor


Illustration of Alvina's head

Alvina's Quick Tip:

Wellness Toolbox

To help you mentally cope, NCI-CONNECT Health and Wellness Counselor Alvina Acquaye-Mallory says create your own wellness toolbox. Watch the video 

  • Updated:

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “Your Emotions and Feelings was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”