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How Do Emotions Affect the Body?

How Do Emotions Affect the Body?

Find out how intense emotions like anger and sadness can alter your health.

If you type “angriest” into Google search, you get: Angriest Man in Brooklyn (a 2014 Robin Williams movie); “Angriest Dog in the World” (a comic strip by David Lynch, creator/writer of Twin Peaks); and Angriest Whopper (a fast-food burger with a bright red bun).

Clearly, people spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about (and with) anger. That’s not surprising since it’s an intense emotion, unleashing a cascade of hormones, like epinephrine and cortisol, that can both stimulate action and, if chronic, cause disease-promoting inflammation.

Recently, researchers wanted to find out how anger and its sort-of-opposite, sadness, affect the health of folks ages 59 to 79 and those who are 80-plus. Their study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, found that if you’re chronically angry at 80 or older, you’re setting yourself up for serious health woes.

But anger in 59- to 79-year-olds could (although sometimes not) serve as fuel for positive changes in habits or circumstances. Sadness didn’t stimulate inflammation (they measured it), and they conjecture that it lets folks recognize and deal with what they’ve lost over time—for example, a loved one.

Our takeaway? At any age, you want to manage anger so it fuels smart action (not nastiness or rage) by doing mindful meditation, anger-dispersing exercise, and finding someone to talk with about your feelings. Sadness may be justified, but if it fuels depression, then it too should be addressed with therapy—and by helping others through volunteering.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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