Everyone feels irritable sometimes. But, if you’re not careful, your irritability could cause some bigger problems in your life. Whether you say things you don’t mean and it harms your relationships or you struggle to stay productive at work because you’re annoyed by people around you, it’s important to address your irritability.
These strategies can help reduce your irritability so you can feel better.
Acknowledge Your Irritability
When someone asks why you’re so grumpy, it’s tempting to snap at them and say, “I’m not grumpy!” You might even blame everyone else for being too sensitive, too loud, or too annoying.
But denying your irritability is likely to make you feel worse.
When you notice that you’re feeling annoyed with everything and everyone around you, acknowledge that you’re irritable.
You don’t necessarily have to announce that you’re feeling irritable. You might just acknowledge it to yourself.
Studies show naming your feelings can take a lot of the intensity out of them. You might even rate your irritability on a scale of 1 to 10. One study found that when individuals ranked their anger on a scale, their physiological symptoms declined and they felt calmer. So take a minute to label your emotions when you’re feeling irritable. And you might notice you start to feel just a little better right away.
Determine if There Is a Clear Source
Sometimes, the source of irritability is obvious. Screaming children who won’t listen to your directions, for example, can ignite some irritability after a long day.
At other times, you might just feel like you “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” You may feel angry and frustrated without really knowing why. A little self-reflection might help you recognize that you’re stressed out or that you haven’t spent much time caring for yourself lately.
You might also consider if you need to get something to eat. Being “hangry” is a real thing. A drop in blood sugar might cause a spike in irritability.
If you can determine the source, you might be able to solve the problem. But keep in mind that sometimes, irritability isn’t caused by anything external. Sometimes, it’s just a normal human experience. Or it may stem from something internal, like a hormone shift or a mental health issue like depression.
Take a Few Deep Breaths
Thoughts like, “I can’t stand to be here one more minute,” will feed your irritability. Your body will respond accordingly by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone.
Then, your heart might beat faster. Your palms might grow sweaty. Your blood pressure might rise.
Taking a few slow, deep breaths can calm your physiological response. When your body grows a little calmer, your brain might grow calmer too.
When you’re feeling stressed and irritable, try inhaling slowly to the count of three through your nose. Hold your breath for just a second and then exhale slowly through pursed lips for a count of three. Do that three times and see if you feel a little better.
Take a Break
When you’re working on a frustrating project or when you’re in an environment that is increasing your stress level, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break.
Walk away for a minute and take an adult-sized time-out.
Think of your irritability as a sign that you’re running low on batteries (similar to the way your digital devices do). Taking a quick break might be all you need to charge your batteries again so you can re-enter the situation feeling refreshed.
Whether a break for you means a quick walk around the building or it means a few minutes of listening to music in your bedroom with the door shut, find something that can help you calm down fast.
Get a Healthy Dose of Physical Activity
Research shows that getting exercise can be good for your mental health. Physical activity has been used as an effective treatment for anxiety, mood disorder, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. So if irritability stems from a mental health issue, working out can help.2
On the flipside, however, too much exercise may increase irritability. This may be especially true if you’re dieting or overtraining.
So make sure you’re getting healthy doses of physical activity but not too much. If your exercise regimen seems to be worsening your mood, talk to your physician.
Chewing gum might be a quick way to relieve stress, which may be helpful in reducing your irritability. A study found that people felt less anxious and less stressed when they were chewing gum. It also improved their focus and attention.
So the next time you feel a little irritable, reach for a piece of gum. You might find it helps you feel a little calmer and a little happier.3
Reframe Your Negative Thoughts
When you’re dealing with an inconvenience, like a traffic jam, you might start thinking thoughts that fuel your irritability. Thinking something like, “I hate wasting my life in traffic!” will cause you to feel worse.
When you catch yourself dwelling on the unfairness of a situation or thinking about how much you dislike something, reframe it.
Stick to the facts, rather than your judgments and emotions surrounding those facts. In the case of a traffic jam, you might remind yourself that there are millions of cars on the road every day and traffic jams are bound to happen.
Get Professional Help
Irritability can be a sign of a mental health issue, like depression. So if your irritability lingers for a couple of weeks or you are concerned about it, talk to your physician or reach out to a mental health professional. Treating an underlying mental health issue may help resolve your irritability so you can feel better.
By Amy Morin, LCSW