Irritability is something all people experience. What sets it apart from other emotional states is the extent to which it pollutes the emotional atmosphere.
Irritability is the carbon monoxide of emotional pollutants. One person’s irritable mood can release negativity and stress-inducing vibes that negatively impact an entire office, household, or classroom.
Feeling irritable means feeling on edge, grumpy, cranky, and sour. A person’s tolerance is lower and the minor frustrations that are usually shrugged off are bothersome. The reactions to irritants are likely to be much more aggressive than usual, leading to a person to snap, bark and chastise others.
When the boss is irritable, word quickly spreads around the office to stay out of the way. When mom or dad comes home from work in an irritable state, it takes all of a few minutes for the kids to exchange knowing glances and quietly withdraw into their rooms (or put on the earphones).
Irritability is no treat for the person experiencing it, either. Stress hormones surge into action and with the same fight-or-flight mentality as the caveman had when they were on bear-watch duty at their cave entrance. The slightest movement or noise can cause jitteriness and people to feel they are under attack, with nary a threat in sight.
Most people would happily snap their fingers and rid themselves of this toxic emotional state if they could. Alas, finger snapping is not an effective treatment. But there are seven key things that can be done.
1. Figure out the source
The best way to reduce irritability is to figure out where it is coming from—and then address it. Identify when the irritable feelings first started and consider what may have set them off. It is also important to remember that while the reactions might feel complex at the moment, the issue that triggered them might be simple.
2. Reduce caffeine and alcohol
Too much caffeine during the day and too much alcohol at night are frequent sources of irritability for many people. So consider cutting back.
3. Consider the little things
Often people dismiss considering things that shouldn’t make them irritable even if they actually do. For example, a competitive person might become irritable when they lose at Scrabble. Since they know that’s silly, they ignore the fact that their mother’s triple word score vaulted her into the lead and triggered their internal sourness.
Being honest and simply acknowledging that something is irritable is that often enough to take the edge off.
4. Be compassionate
Being compassionate towards oneself can be a powerful way to calm churning emotions.
Acknowledge the irritable feelings and how unpleasant they are.
Then imagine getting a hug from a caring someone.
Use that compassion and consider how a person with an irritated mood affects others and how important it is to not take it out on them.
5. Take perspective
People usually feel irritable about small-to-medium size annoyances—the kind not remembered in a few days or weeks. Take a few minutes and think about of the larger picture.
Consider things that are going well and the things to be grateful about.
6. Calm nervous energy
Since irritability activates the fight-or-flight response, taking a quick walk or run, or doing some quick push-ups/crunches to rid the excess energy that might be fueling the irritability might be helpful. Fresh air on a leisurely walk could do wonders as well.
7. Find quiet or alone time
For those who cannot use exercise to calm nervous energy, the entirely opposite approach works as well. Find a quiet place to think things through, or to disengage from the commotion and activity.
Irritability can be the mind’s way of alerting a person to needing a break, so take one. Listen to music, do some stretching or yoga, meditate, or take a bubble bath. When done, take a deep breath and prepare to re-engage so the system isn’t shocked back into irritability upon re-entry into the fray.
Irritability is treatable and speaking with your doctor (GP), medical health professional or a therapist/counsellor might also be helpful..
Pamela Ana MA – CCC, owns Wellness Matters Counselling and Psychotherapy 250-723-9818.