When emotions run high, the body does too. In fact, older people with higher levels of anger also tend to have higher levels of inflammation, which can contribute to chronic illnesses, like heart disease, arthritis, and cancer, according to a new study from the American Psychological Association.
The study, which was published in the journal Psychology and Aging, looked at whether sadness or anger led to inflammation such as infection or tissue damage. They asked 226 adults ages 59 to 93 from Montreal complete short questionnaires about how sad or angry they felt and compared the results with blood samples that measured inflammation. They also asked participants whether the had any age-related chronic illnesses.
"We found that experiencing anger daily was related to higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness for people 80 years old and older, but not for younger seniors," said study co-author Carsten Wrosch, Ph.D., of Concordia University, in the press release. "Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness."
Partners may die, activity may become more limited, and sometimes people just can’t do the things they once loved. Any of those situations can fuel anger, according to lead study author Meaghan A. Barlow, a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University in Montreal.
So is it better to be sad than angry? Well, maybe on some level, the study authors said; sadness may help older folks step back from goals that are no longer realistic, protecting them from the frustration and anger that may result otherwise and adjust to age-related challenges. So perhaps not all negative emotions are all bad, they said. And the same goes for anger:
"Anger is an energizing emotion that can help motivate people to pursue life goals," Barlow said. "Younger seniors may be able to use that anger as fuel to overcome life's challenges and emerging age-related losses and that can keep them healthier. Anger becomes problematic for adults once they reach 80 years old, however, because that is when many experience irreversible losses and some of life's pleasures fall out of reach."
How to Manage Your Anger
Worried about your emotions getting the best of you in old age? Seeking therapy and learning more about your emotions can help you better understand how to control them, the study authors said. A therapist will be able to help you develop coping strategies to help you deal with the often stressful and difficult-to-process changes that come with aging.
"If we better understand which negative emotions are harmful, not harmful, or even beneficial to older people, we can teach them how to cope with loss in a healthy way," Barlow said. "This may help them let go of their anger."
Want to start managing your anger right away? Here are some more helpful tips to keep things in check, per the Mayo Clinic:
Channel your emotions into something healthy. Starting to feel the heat rising? Consider taking a brisk walk or hitting the gym for some exercise. Exercise is proven to help reduce stress. By the time your workout’s done, you’ll likely feel much calmer.
Take time to think before you speak. If something is angering you, try not to respond impulsively. Instead, take a few deep breaths, maybe take a break from whatever you’re doing if you can, and come back to respond to the situation when you’re not so heated.
Learn relaxation techniques. If you’re finding yourself frequently quick to anger, adding some regular relaxation techniques into your day can help. Practice deep breathing exercises, do a few yoga poses, or spend some time in nature to help calm yourself.