Chronic anger linked to chronic illness in older adults, suggests Montreal-based study

There’s no reason to feel guilty about feeling negative emotions like anger, but people should be aware of the long-term impact they can have on health, say Concordia researchers.

Anger isn't inherently negative, but can become unhealthy over time, say Concordia University researchers

Sadness doesn't have the same negative impact on health that anger does in older adults, according to new research. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

There's no reason to feel guilty over being angry sometimes, but the public should be aware of the impact such feelings can have on a person's health in the long term, say Concordia University researchers.

"We're bombarded with these messages of how bad [negative emotions are] for us, and how we should change, and how we should be happy all the time," said PhD candidate Meaghan Barlow, lead author of the new study.

However, consistently being angry could make a difference in your health, the study says. It concludes that that anger, but not sadness, is associated with chronic health issues.

The team of researchers were able to show that feelings of anger held over a long period of time can lead to chronic inflammation and chronic illness.

Barlow said that it's important to know the difference between anger directed at a passing situation — which can serve to energize the individual to take action — and anger that is chronic.

She said the study, published by the American Psychological Association, might serve to help people take control of their negative emotions to become more active participants in their emotional, and physical, health.

"I think there's an important impact in people being educated and aware of what their emotions are supposed to be," she said.

PhD candidate Meaghan Barlow is the lead author of the study. (Submitted by Concordia University)

To reach their conclusions, researchers met with more than 200 adults ages 59 and older.

Three times in a week, participants were asked about any chronic health issues they have, and a small blood sample was taken to measure inflammation, to give an overall picture of their health.

They were also asked to rate their level of anger and sadness on a scale.

Barlow said she wasn't surprised with the findings, but found them "intriguing." 

"We were able to show effects of anger and sadness and show just how different of an impact they can have."

She said the research built on a larger study on aging and health that has been going on for more than a decade.

For those who struggle with chronic anger and are worried about their health, Barlow said anger is notoriously difficult to deal with — but there are still options.

"If people are having a hard time dealing with anger on their own, seek help from friends or a professional," she said.