In a Psychology Today article and blog, Morton Shaevitz notes the old saying: “You’re only as old as you feel.” Then, he adds: “Yet, to the outside world, you’re only as old as you behave.”
“Being grumpy, negative, judgmental, critical, rigid, and complaining doesn’t really feel very good, and guess what? It doesn’t make the people around you feel good, either.”
A recent “anger management” survey found that Georgians (in general) were angry about six times per week during 2020 (comparable to our national average). The survey (from Alcohol.org) included 3,003 Americans.
Many said that spending more time at home for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic was a major contributor. A slow WiFi connection or an excess workload can add to one’s irritability. The pandemic brought with it a wave of negative emotions, such as fear, stress, anger and frustration at these unprecedented circumstances, according to the survey.
The survey also found that 68% of the Georgians who have anger based on the pandemic have used alcohol as a coping mechanism, and two of three of them admit that alcohol only makes them angrier.
So, in these angry times, here are some thoughts on getting mad as you grow older.
Grumpy Old Men
Here’s what Jim Kershner, in The Spokesman Review, suggests to aging men: “Do not turn into a ‘Grumpy Old Man’ — shift your still not-inconsiderable energies into new, constructive pursuits, [the] ones that make sense for a 60-year-old man.”
There’s little reward for yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off your property.
“Otherwise, you’ll waste all of your energy patrolling your yard and yelling at kids to get the hell off it,” Kershner wrote.
Closer to home, 80-year-old Dunwoody resident Barry (I’m using first names only, at the request of the interviewees) agrees. “Many of my retired male friends find they have time on their hands and say they will take a closer look at their daily surroundings and voice opinions on what they see.”
To others, this may seem like criticism and may be viewed as “grouchy” behavior. But Barry sees it as leading to “the popular description of ‘grouchy old men.’”
Jim (also in his 80s) and a long-time friend of Barry’s said, “In recent years, I have become more ‘grouchy’ or impatient. This has only been exacerbated by the arrival of COVID last March!”
Jim and Barry both say their activity since retirement includes keeping healthy and being involved with non-profit groups. It has been very rewarding. In asking about Jim’s opinion of women and irritability, he indicated their “forbearance has improved by several degrees,” and he says he is thankful for that.
Paul, a colleague and editor on aging issues says, “I’m always on the lookout for ageist stereotypes, of course, and have had my aging self as a primary source. I do find that in some ways I’ve become less patient with things I used to let slide — with a bit of subvocal grousing — ‘Good grief, Charlie Brown, who’s got time for that?’”
“I think that’s true of many men and women as we look back on what we had to put up with before. But if one can learn not to take it out on people — store clerks, loved ones, politicians and their office staff, and mainly on yourself — you can possibly realize the challenge of making a point more creatively.” Paul calls this strategic impatience.
Senior lecturer Louise Brown Nicholis wrote in a 2019 article that “not all negative emotions are necessarily bad. If you’re stuck in traffic and running late, anger with the situation might motivate you to find an alternative route, which will then relieve your stress. But anger is less useful if you’re in the same situation but stuck on a motorway with no option to divert.”
However, Nicholis also reminds us that, “Emotions have physiological effects, such as raising the level of cortisol in your bloodstream, and can affect your health. Indeed, a study, (published in a Canadian Psychology and Aging article) shows that high levels of anger are associated with poor health in older people.”
According to Nicholis, “[N]ew research shows a link between emotion and health in older age — we do not know whether anger causes inflammation and illness or whether health problems make people angrier.”
Grouchy old women
“A major study of cultures all over the world identified six basic human emotions—and not surprisingly, anger was one of them,” Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers state in a 2020 Psychology Today article. “Girl babies may scream until their little faces grow red with rage. But the older they get, the less such behavior is tolerated.”
“As adults, women get the message that anger is alien to them. We simply have no script for female anger that does not involve such words as “crazy,” “out of control,” or simply “bonkers,” state Barnett and Rivers.
Writer Ann Richardson says she has a “… good life and little to complain about.” She believes most people who know her see her as a cheerful older woman. Yet, at the same time, Richardson says she feels herself turning into a Grumpy Old Woman.
“I don’t know whether I am more annoyed by other people or by the increasing presence of modern technology,” Richardson writes. “All I know is that sometimes all my good cheer gets taken away.”
Bonnie Marcus, who coaches executives, talks about a woman’s “double whammy” in the workplace. These are items that can add to a woman’s grumpiness, she explains in a Forbes article. “What’s clear from my conversations with women over 50,” says Marcus, is that the majority are still ambitious and don’t want to retire.”
“Their motivation is not always financial,” states Marcus. “They‘re seeking fulfilling work and have the desire to utilize their skills and experience and remain in the workplace as long as possible.”
These women have a lot to contribute and want to be productive. If that’s your case, Marcus says to “declare your ambition and let others know that you have no intention of slowing down.”
Anger Doesn’t Discriminate
If you find yourself feeling angry when you’d rather not, there are plenty of ways to help control and manage the emotion, from journaling feelings, to meditation, to exercise, or to talking things over with a trusted friend, loved one or professional.
Some “silver lining” ideas for all of us come from Shaevitz (and others). Over the next week or two, be enthusiastic and see what happens. Text your grandchildren and reconnect. Don’t try to win every argument — instead, listen to what the other person is saying.
But most of all, don’t be a grouch.
This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations and The John A. Hartford Foundation.