Search our Blog

Search our Blog

Monday, December 23, 2019

Anger Worse for Health Than Sadness

Older adults who are angry have worse health than older adults who are sad. 

About one quarter of people age 65 and over feel clinically depressed. More than half of visits to the doctor by older adults involve complaints of emotional distress. And depression is a primary cause of decline in quality of life related to health for older adults, according to a recent study. You might assume that being sad is causing health issues in the over-65 population. However, new research published in Psychology and Aging suggests that it’s not sorrow that’s the culprit, but anger.

"As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility and they can become angry," said Meaghan A. Barlow, MA, of Concordia University, lead author of the study. "Our study showed that anger can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, whereas sadness did not.”

10 Tips to Reduce Anger

Anger is linked to depression along with sadness. While it’s important to understand when medical intervention is needed to quell anger, there are a variety of tactics that can be useful for people of any age to rein in their rage. Often, it’s a matter of getting out of the moment and giving yourself time to reflect instead of simply reacting.
  1. Change your breathing. When you’re angry, your breath becomes shallower and your breathing rate speeds up. Try closing your eyes and breathing in deeply and slowly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth for several minutes.
  2. Recite a mantra. Deflect your angry response by repeating a word or phrase that helps you calm down and focus on something else. “Take it easy,” “Let it go” and “Breathe” are all examples of calming mantras.
  3. Journal. Writing down your emotions can help you calm down, as though they’re flowing out of you and onto the paper. Journaling also takes you away from the immediate situation and gives you time to process events.
  4. Laugh. Using your smile muscles, even when you don’t feel happy, is proven to lighten your mood. You may find relief by listening to comedy, watching a funny show or sharing jokes with a friend.
  5. Be grateful. Take a timeout to remember how many things are going well. Practice gratitude for a roof over your head, a soft bed, a stranger’s smile.
  6. Set the timer. Rage can come on suddenly. Thankfully, it can also dissipate quickly. Set the timer for ten minutes and it’s likely you’ll be much more in control.
  7. Take a walk. Physical exercise can be a great antidote to anger and stress. Go for a walk, do some sit-ups, stretch out your muscles.
  8. Count to 10. It’s hard to stay really mad for long. Try counting slowly to 10, or even 100. It may help to walk in a circle while you count, releasing your anger.
  9. Listen to music. Whether you rock out to Iron Maiden or destress with “Claire de Lune,” music can calm the savage beast within.
  10. Create. Finding a way to make something productive out of your anger can help it go away. Try picking up a paintbrush, weeding the garden or penning some poetry.

Study Compares Anger and Sadness

Researchers collected data from 226 older adults in Montreal, Canada. Participants were in the early old age group (59 to 79 years old) or advanced old age group (80 years old and up). They completed surveys asking how angry or sad they felt over a week. At the same time, researchers were able to measure inflammation from blood samples and gathered information about chronic, age-related disease.

"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., also of Concordia University. "Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness."

The authors theorize that anger in the younger cohort was an impetus driving people to pursue goals and overcome challenges, whereas the older group may have experienced a greater number of irreversible losses and feel that many of life’s pleasures were no longer possible to experience.


Anger creates inflammation, an immune response that can help the body heal short-term. However, long-lasting inflammation can trigger chronic illness, especially late in life. Unhealthy anger happens when people hold in their feelings over time, turn frustration in on themselves, or burst out in rage. This sort of anger can hurt your heart, increase your risk of stroke, weaken your immune system and increase anxiety.

“In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles,” says Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“Repressed anger — where you express it indirectly or go to great lengths to control it, is associated with heart disease.”

Anger is a factor in stroke incidence, as well. One study uncovered a three times higher risk of stroke from a blood clot to the brain or bleeding in the brain in the two hours following an angry outburst. People with an aneurysm suffered a six times greater risk of bursting this aneurysm after an angry episode.

People who are often angry may find they feel sick more frequently than those who aren’t. A study by scientists at Harvard University revealed that healthy adults who simply recalled an angry experience had a six-hour repression of antibody immunoglobulin A, the first line of cell defense against infection.

Finally, anger can increase anxiety levels. A 2012 study correlated anger with worsening symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Hostility was also a contributing factor to increased severity of the disorder’s symptoms, including excessive and uncontrolled worry that interferes with daily life.

There is hope, however. The Canadian study authors suggest that education and therapy may be the answer to help older adults take control of their emotions. Coping strategies can help people of any age calm their inner rage. Below, find 10 helpful strategies for defusing anger and improving your health.

Print Friendly Version