Letting Go of Anger May Reduce the Risk of Chronic Illnesses for the Elderly

Anger is a normal response to stress, but it may also be detrimental to our well-being. 

Negative emotions are part and parcel of life. While anger may motivate us to do better, sadness and grief aid in processing trauma. But, as they say, excess of everything is bad. And it turns out, daily encounters with anger are associated with poor physical health in elders. 

A study published in the American Psychological Association revealed that anger in the elderly may make them more susceptible to higher than usual levels of inflammation and long-term ailments, such as arthritis and diabetes.

Although inflammation helps to fight off infections and wounds, the same may result in chronic illnesses if it outstays its welcome, according to the authors. The age analysis of the study, conducted on 226 adults between 59-93 years, showed that the relationship between anger, inflammation and sickness was more evident in advanced old-age; in individuals above the age of 80.

“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 co-author Carsten Wrosch.

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Old-age is often associated with irrevocable and profound changes in one’s life, for example, loss of a spouse or the untimely death of a child coupled with diminished physical ability. The elderly may further face social isolation and political disturbances plaguing a modern capitalist society such as Hong Kong. Sustained feelings of anger may thus become inevitable. Now anger does not act as a quick fix to one’s issues, but further prolongs the experience of stressful situations and may lead to physiological imbalances which could potentially elevate inflammation levels. 

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,” said lead author Meaghan A. Barlow.

Photo by Olia Nayda

We are living in tough times as social unrest may compound personal issues. Here are 5 ways to regulate our levels of anger:

1) Exercise daily

Researchers suggest that exercising every day is a natural and effective way to manage our emotions. 

2) Practice Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a low-cost method that aims to relieve muscle tension – an indicator of anger, by slowly focusing on relaxing each muscle and letting the intense emotions dissipate. 

3) Practice Yoga

The American Psychological Association proposes that stress-relief practices such as yoga helps in working through anger through asanas or yoga postures.

4) Keep the environment as stress-free as possible

The American Institute of Stress proposes that keeping house plants and flowers at your home or workspace is an effective way to keep the stress at bay. Declutter and clean your surroundings regularly as this seemingly petty thing can aggravate stress, and eventually ignite anger. 

5) Use rational speech (think before you speak)

Anger is a strong emotion which could lead us to say things or use words we do not necessarily mean. Do not be in a hurry to simply reply to the other person. Listen carefully, use measured speech and calmly respond to the person lest both parties get provoked.

Finally, one must keep in mind the limitations of the research. The study used a small sample size and did not account for individual differences or the circumstances that preceded the surveyees’ angry emotions. Moreover, since the research is based in Canada, cultural differences may arise in addressing issues relevant to human behaviour.