Thursday, May 29, 2014

Anger Management in Older Men

Man hit girlfriend with anger management book, both arrested.
From the News Feed

The movie Grumpy Old Men and its sequel Grumpier Old Men are comic portrayals of anger in older men. The reality, however, is far from funny. The stress chemicals that are released during anger episodes can speed the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease, and contribute to a faster-than-normal reduction in lung function due to aging.

While anger is an important and natural emotion that we all experience from time to time, an anger disorder such as intermittent explosive disorder, or chronic or volatile anger can be destructive and unhealthy and lead to impaired judgment and irrational behavior. For anger in older men this can be even more the case as it can exacerbate other health concerns that are more prominent for older demographics. Problems involving the human circulatory system such as heart disease, angina, blood pressure, cholesterol and strokes are all more common as we get older as well as being worse in males. This means that older males are already at greater risk of such conditions, as anger can also affect them this makes chronic anger in older men particularly dangerous.

Causes of Anger

Lifestyle Factors

Older men may have a difficult time adjusting to retirement. For many older men, a career was not just a job but a way of defining themselves. They may struggle with the lack of structure that comes with retirement, and a lack of a sense of self. Financial stress may also be a factor after retirement, since living well on a fixed income can sometimes be difficult or even impossible. This increased stress can translate into a high level of irritability, and may increase the number and intensity of anger episodes in older men. Chronic anger and stress can also lead to the beginning of a drug and alcohol problem, or exacerbate substance abuse that was already occurring. Substance abuse can cause erratic behavior, including anger or irritability. With the loss of inhibitions due to drugs and alcohol, this anger can quickly spiral out of control into physical violence or emotional abuse of a spouse or caregiver.

Physical Factors

Anger in older men may also have its roots in biological disorders. Depression doesn't just present as apathy and inactivity, but can also cause severe irritability. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), depression is becoming more common among older adults. Depression also has other hallmark symptoms, such as a depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness, and even suicidal thoughts or actions. Anyone experiencing these or similar symptoms should immediately see a physician. Older adults may have particular difficulty getting help for their depression, as there is still a stigma associated with any type of mental illness, but it is especially important for older adults who are depressed to seek help, as untreated depression can have serious consequences on emotional health.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease can cause changes in mood or behavior, including an increase in irritability. The increased confusion that Alzheimer's patients suffer can make them very sensitive to small changes in routine, or any type of new experiences or surroundings. If The Alzheimer's Association offers a list of ten common signs of Alzheimer's, and anyone believing that they or a loved one might be showing symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Controlling and Reducing Anger

The first key to controlling anger in older men is to identify it when it occurs. This can be achieved by paying attention to the physical symptoms of anger – increased heart rate, rapid breathing, perspiration and clenching of the knuckles among others. If you notice these symptoms then you know that you are getting angry and need to take measures to get your heart rate and breathing back under control. If you find it difficult to notice these signs on your own then you should invest in a biofeedback device that can make it easier. ‘Biofeedback’ simply refers to any device that gives you current information regarding your biology – in this case a heart rate or blood pressure. You can get heart rate monitors that you slip onto your wrist or in your pocket that alert you when you’re getting elevated meaning that you’ll always get a warning when your anger levels are rising.

Ways you can then control your anger include going to a ‘happy place’ (an imagined location or scenario where you feel completely calm and at ease), counting to ten, removing yourself from the situation or controlling your breathing – anything that focuses your attention away from the stimulus that’s getting you angry and helps make you calm and collected. Watching your breathing can be particularly effective as this will slow your breathing (obviously) and heart rate on its own. Eventually by using such techniques and carefully monitoring its effect on your heart and breathing, you can essentially learn to indirectly control your own heart rate and ensure that you remain relaxed at all times (at least this is the idea anyway…).

If your anger is chronic and you feel under constant stress from it then you need to address it in a more permanent manner. This can be achieved through making a few lifestyle adjustments that will address anger in older men at the same time as helping other aspects of their health and mood.

First of all it is important to make sure you get lots of sleep – as a lack of sleep can leave people feeling irritable. Again if you suffer from chronic pain or a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea (or your partner does…) then you should have this addressed by a medical expert. Similarly you should also seek medication and treatment for the causes of pain. Anger in older men can also be abated through the practice of relaxing activities and hobbies – anything that focuses the mind, gives a sense of achievement and relaxes the body. Popular activities include gardening or golf and either of these will help leave you feeling calmer during the day.

Exercise and diet are also key areas to address as both can raise mood and help lower cholesterol. Exercising results in the release of the hormones known as endorphins which result in feelings of euphoria and pain relief (this is known as the ‘runner’s high’) so it can also make a great natural antidepressant. Lowering your intake of saturated fats and carbohydrates while increasing consumption of fiber will also help lower cholesterol – which will both improve your mood and prevent the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke should you still experience an angry outburst.

What Steps Can I Take to Help Manage Anger?

* When you start feeling angry, try deep breathing, positive self-talk, or stopping your angry thoughts. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax" or "take it easy." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply until the anger subsides.

* Although expressing anger is better than keeping it in, anger should be expressed in an appropriate way. Frequent outbursts of anger are often counter-productive and cause problems in relationships with others. Anger outbursts are also stressful to your nervous and cardiovascular systems and can make health problems worse. Learning how to use assertiveness is the healthy way to express your feelings, needs, and preferences. Being assertive can be used in place of using anger in these situations.

* Seek out the support of others. Talk through your feelings and try to work on changing your behaviors.

* If you have trouble realizing when you are having angry thoughts, keep a log of when you feel angry.

* Try to gain a different perspective by putting yourself in another's place.

* Learn how to laugh at yourself and see humor in situations.

* Practice good listening skills. Listening can help improve communication and can facilitate trusting feelings between people. This trust can help you deal with potentially hostile emotions.

* Learn to assert yourself, expressing your feelings calmly and directly without becoming defensive, hostile, or emotionally charged. Consult self-help books on assertiveness or seek help from a professional therapist to learn how to use assertiveness and anger management skills.

Sources and Additional Information:

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