Emotional Intelligence in Cancer

What is EI (Emotional Intelligence)? It is the ability to recognize our own feelings as well as the feelings of others. EI is essentially our ability to manage our emotions well, in both ourselves as well as in our relationships, and the ability to use this to motivate ourselves and others to build a more positive and fulfilling life.

But how is this relevant in cancer?  Research in the cancer population has shown that a greater ability to perceive, assimilate, understand, and regulate emotions is associated with a better quality of life, less anxiety and worry, and better perceived social support.

Is EI an innate ability that some people have and others don’t (like maybe IQ)? No! We can all improve our EI through awareness and some simple steps.

Here are some simple steps to increase your EI:

  1. Observe your emotions and how you feel:
    • Step 1: Set 3-4 times of the day aside where you sit down and notice how you are feeling emotionally. Just observe and make a note of it, without judgement. This could simply be a 3-minute period of time.
  2. Observe how you respond:
    • Step 2: Expand the above exercise to begin to realize what your immediate impulse/response to the emotion is. Write it down with the emotion, reflect on it, see if you need to change it (write the alternate emotion you would like to see instead) or if you are happy with it, note if it is leaving you with a positive feeling and mindset.
  3. Understand and take ownership of your emotions and behaviours:
    • This involves beginning to be aware of, and non-judgementally accept and take responsibility for your emotions and behaviour. People with high EI choose to learn from the past and mindfully live in a new positive now.
    • Step 3: See whether the emotion and your response creates a positive environment or motivational or creative outcome for you and others. Draw a happy face 😊 if it does and a sad one ☹ if it doesn’t. At the end of the day count the number of 😊 and ☹ faces. Treat yourself to an extra iced green tea, for a net greater number of happy faces 😊!
    • Step 4: Now note what you think might be causing these emotions and behaviours, whether your response is appropriate for the circumstance, or if there are some past occurrences and patterns which you may need to change (or 😊 outcomes that need enhancement), that are playing a role (in your emotion and behaviours).
  4. Manage and regulate your emotions:
    • Apart from the new awareness you may have created by using the above exercises (and which needs work to enhance your EI), some regular relaxation and rejuvenation can do wonders towards regulating emotions and preventing emotional outbreaks or disproportionate responses.
    • Step 5: Take things easy. Create time out to slow down, take time for yourself, give yourself a break, make a conscious effort at some relaxing activity like yoga or meditation, reading, journaling or some simple mindful walking, or any mode type of escapism that appeals to you. Write down at least one relaxing thing you can do at least once a day and practice it 3-5 days a week. See and note down if anything changes in your emotions or behaviours. 
    • Step 6: Slow down and breathe. When stress happen, when an emotional outburst appears imminent, slow it down. Take a few deep breaths, splash some water on your face, get some fresh air, or go to your preferred relaxation technique – this gives you the chance to keep your cool and get a hold on your emotions before a disproportionate response kicks in.
    • Step 7: Do something new. Pick up a practice that is motivational or creative, exciting, positive and rejuvenating to you. Consider joining a support group or social group like Toastmasters/Dance /Music groups/Conversation/Bilingual groups (many free and online options available – look up Meetup or other similar apps/sites) where you can express your emotions, meet new people, speak freely, practice your feedback skills, and maybe even your emotional responses, in a fun, safe and supportive environment.

Emotional intelligence is a continual process – don’t rush it and try not to stress about it! There are no failed attempts here, only learning and growing steps. Try it out one step at a time, absorb and apply your inputs and insights slowly and steadily, and watch your wellbeing improve.

Author: Arvind Tuteja, CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre Intern


Megías JL, Romero Y, Ojeda B, Peña-Jurado I, Gutiérrez-Pastor P. Belief in a Just World and Emotional Intelligence in Subjective Well-Being of Cancer Patients. Span J Psychol. 2019;22:E28. doi:10.1017/sjp.2019.28

Rider Mundey K, Nicholas D, Kruczek T, Tschopp M, Bolin J. Posttraumatic growth following cancer: The influence of emotional intelligence, management of intrusive rumination, and goal disengagement as mediated by deliberate rumination. J Psychosoc Oncol. 2019;37(4):456-477. doi:10.1080/07347332.2018.1514449