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.
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.
Click below for the other articles in the December 2019 Senior Spirit
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