Occasional anger is a normal part of the human experience. We all find ourselves in frustrating situations from time to time, and feeling angry about an unfair, hurtful, or stressful situation is to be expected. Anger shouldn’t be our baseline emotion, though. Chronic, intense anger can have a severe impact on your overall health, especially if you’re in your senior years.
Anger in old age happens for a number of reasons, and it has serious health consequences. When anger starts to become a habit, you may find it difficult to break free from the feeling. It is possible to reduce your anger and manage frustrating situations without lashing out, though. To enjoy your retirement years in peace, you should understand the link between anger and age and develop strong anger management skills.
Why Anger May Increase With Age
Not all seniors are at risk of developing an anger problem, but there are some circumstances that may lead to anger issues in older adults. For example, physical health problems can affect your overall mental and emotional state. If you feel frustrated, trapped, or out of control because of your health issues, anger at your situation might start to creep into your life. Then, when you already feel so stressed and anxious, it doesn’t take much to set you off. A small obstacle or inconvenience can feel absolutely infuriating when you’re dealing with so many other frustrations at the same time.
Sleeping problems can affect your mood as well. Some older adults struggle to get adequate deep sleep every night. Lack of quality rest can make you feel irritable, impatient, or on-edge throughout the day. You may lash out at others for small mistakes because your brain hasn’t gotten the rest it requires to withstand stress.
The social and emotional challenges that come with age may affect your levels of anger, too. Feeling lonely or isolated can be very frustrating, and you might experience anger if you feel like no one is listening to you. Anger is a common response to grief and loss as well. Although your retirement years can be an incredibly meaningful time, there are also some common hardships that happen at this stage in your life.
Effects of Increased Anger With Age
Not only is anger an uncomfortable and exhausting feeling, but it can also affect your physical health. When you’re angry, your body releases cortisol and norepinephrine, two hormones that activate your body’s fight-or-flight state. This causes a physiological response in your body that involves an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, muscle tension, and other intense symptoms. If you experience this reaction too often or for a prolonged amount of time, you may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular damage.
One study from the American Psychological Association found that anger in old age is linked to increased inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, heart disease, and other health problems. Although more research is needed into the association between anger and inflammation, the study suggests that anger can make you more vulnerable to chronic illness.
Anger Management Tips for Seniors
If you notice yourself lashing out in response to minor issues or feeling extremely tense and frustrated most of the time, you might have an anger management issue. Fortunately, if you’re willing to put in the work, it is possible to get your anger under control. Here are five suggestions for how to manage stress and anger as you age:
1. Communicate before a problem escalates.
Confrontation can be challenging, so we often avoid calling attention to an issue until it escalates. However, if someone is doing something that upsets you, they might not be aware of it until you point it out. Before your anger escalates, have a respectful conversation with the individual. Tell them why you’re frustrated, and work together to come up with a solution. Not everyone will be receptive to this type of discussion, but clear and open communication can prevent a great deal of anger and frustration.
2. Focus on the issue, not on the person.
It can be easier to feel angry at a person than at a situation. Anger toward others can affect your relationships and lead to serious conflict, though. One of the best ways to overcome your anger is to find a new perspective. Instead of focusing your anger on a person, allow yourself to feel frustrated about a situation. This will reduce the risk of you lashing out at someone who may not deserve it, and it can help you find effective solutions to challenging circumstances.
3. Practice mindfulness and deep breathing exercises.
Calming exercises can be a great tool when you feel your anger start to bubble up to the surface. For example, mindfulness meditation is one of the best mental health practices for older adults.
To practice mindfulness, find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Then, focus your attention on your breathing, and try to allow you thoughts to pass through your mind without judgment. Whenever your mind wanders away from your breathing, gently direct your attention back to the meditation. Practicing this technique while you’re calm can make it much easier to access when you’re angry, so try including a short mindfulness meditation in your daily routine.
4. Increase your activity level.
Exercise provides an outlet for you to release some of your stress and anger. When you feel frustrated, the physical tension can build up until it becomes uncomfortable. Exercise is a safe, healthy way for you to regulate your mood.
Talk to your doctor before you start a new exercise regimen to make sure it’s safe and sustainable. Even if you have limited mobility or chronic pain, there are plenty of exercise options for seniors. Some of the most popular activities for older adults include chair yoga, pilates, swimming, and walking.
5. Speak with a therapist.
Sometimes, older adults can manage their anger with lifestyle changes. In other cases, the anger feels so intense and unmanageable that support from others is necessary. If you’re struggling to get your stress under control, it might be time to talk to a counselor.
Therapy is a safe and supportive environment for you to explore and express your anger. You and your counselor can figure out the root cause of your emotions and discover ways to cope with frustrating situations. Many seniors struggle with negative self-talk or unhealthy thinking habits that affect their opinions of themselves and the world. In counseling, you can learn to break these unhelpful habits and replace them with more constructive thoughts.
Increased anger with age is a common problem, but you don’t have to feel angry all the time. Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for anger management, stress, anxiety, and other common problems affecting older adults. If you or an aging loved one is struggling with mental health, please reach out to us today to learn more about how therapy can help.