It’s always the little things that make me snap. A spouse breathing too loudly, a dish left in the sink, a stranger’s bad parking job: Suddenly my whole day is ruined, and everyone I know is lucky enough to be subjected to my Larry David-like rants.
With the holidays upon us, there is no shortage of “little” things to spike our collective irritability levels. Many factors can lead to increased irritability, including a lack of sleep, low blood sugar levels, or beloved family members overstaying their welcome.
Even when your triggers seem small, overcoming your irritability is no small feat. According to Psychology Today, your frustration stems from the same stress hormones that surge into action when we enter fight-or-flight mentality, where the slightest stimulant can make us jump and react as if we are under attack. But instead of a caveman using fight-or-flight instincts to avoid serious predators, you find yourself freaking out over the way your father-in-law chews his food.
If you’re at your wits’ end with how irritable you’ve been lately, here are techniques to try and get your frustration in check.
Acknowledge that you’re annoyed
Don’t try to push away your frustration in the hope that it fades on its own. Even when all you need is a little time and space, you don’t want to stew in your unresolved emotions. In fact, verbalizing the fact that you’re frustrated can significantly help take the edge off. Especially if you’re prone to regretfully lashing out at those around you, consider acknowledging the situation with a line like, “I’m sorry, I’m feeling irritable today, I think I need [a snack, to take a walk, or any of Lifehacker’s other tips below].”
Take a deep breath
There’s a reason for the anger management cliché of taking a deep breath and counting to ten. In addition to calming you physically, focusing on your breath will force you to step back from your immediate emotional reaction (or overreaction). Similar to how you might cope with anxiety or anger, tackle your irritability with physical techniques like this deep breathing exercise or even the practice of havening.
Make space to be alone
Even if other people aren’t the source of your irritability, you don’t want to subject those around you to your little freak-outs. Find a quiet place to decompress and think things through. As Dr. Guy Winch writes in Psychology Today:
Irritability can be your mind’s way of alerting you that you need a break, so take one. Listen to music, do some stretching or yoga, meditate, or take a bubble bath. When you’re done, take a deep breath and prepare yourself to re-engage so your system isn’t shocked back into irritability once you re-enter the fray.
While you’re removing yourself from the irritating situation, take a step back from your immediate emotional reaction. Evaluate whether your response is proportional to the issue. A little perspective can help diffuse your emotions and let rationality get back to steering your mind ship.
We’ve long known that exercise is stress relief. Rid yourself of nervous energy and make time to take a walk, hit the weight room, or get in any physical activity. Moving around physically is an underrated (if short term) solution to whatever is frustrating you mentally.
Eat a snack
Hey man…have you considered the chance that you might be a little hangry? It’s no secret that your hunger level impacts your mood. Make yourself a snack and read up on these three simple tips for curbing hanger in the future. After all, you’re not you when you’re hungry.
Identify your triggers
Try documenting times you feel irritated in order to identify patterns in what sets you off. Are you always annoyed with the same person? Are there certain behaviours or situations that simply grind your gears? Figuring this out can help you prepare for, manage, or avoid getting irritated in the future.
Look at your sleep
If you’re feeling irritable all throughout the day, the cause might be inadequate sleep all throughout the night. Read our tips to get the most out of your sleep so that you’re able to function without being on edge all the time.
Consider professional help
Irritability can be a sign of a more serious mental health issue, like anxiety or depression. If you feel like your constant irritation isn’t something you can snap out of on your own, consider reaching out to or finding a mental health professional.