Of all the emotions linked to negative health conditions, a small new study points out that anger is the worst, potentially contributing to inflammation and chronic disease. The new research was borne from a theory developed by two of the study’s co-authors, psychologists Carsten Wrosch and Ute Kunzmann. The theory posits that all emotions — even negative ones — play an important, evolving role throughout a person’s life. Anger may motivate people to push through tough circumstances, for example, while sadness can kickstart the healing process after trauma. But when people get older and face age-related problems, like the deaths of loved ones and the onset of physical and cognitive decline, some negative emotions may take a toll on physical health.
Wrosch and Kunzmann analyzed data from the Montreal Aging and Health Study, which surveyed more than 200 adults ages 59 to 93 about their emotions three times over one week. People also reported their diagnosed health conditions and gave blood samples that researchers tested for markers of inflammation. When people ages 80 and older regularly felt anger, researchers saw a link to elevated levels of the inflammatory marker IL-6 — perhaps because anger can throw off stress hormone levels.
But researchers didn’t observe the same link between sadness and health issues, suggesting that anger plays a heightened role in our health. This also tells us that letting go of anger can be key for a long, healthy life. Of course, letting go of anger is no simple task, but there are a few ways to do it, such as through breathing exercises and yoga.