Irritability is an emotional state that generates in the subject who suffers from it a feeling of externalized discomfort, generally with hostile behavior. and intense reactions to neutral stimuli.
People’s moods vary and we can be irritable in certain situations. The problem arises when this state of irritability lengthens and becomes chronic, affecting the functionality of the subject. For this reason it is necessary to identify the cause which explains this state in order to remedy it.
In this article we will talk about irritabilityhow this psychological phenomenon is defined, what causes it and what strategies we can use to try to control it.
What is irritability?
In psychology, irritability is defined as an emotional state, because it tends to appear in a limited way, that is, it does not remain chronic. The behavior expressed by the subject is generally hostile, responding disproportionately to insignificant stimuli that are perceived as setbacks or annoyances that have no reason to exist. The subject is generally in a state of stress and presents problems of emotional regulation.
In this way, we see how the feeling of irritability is not pleasant for the eternal of the subject and less for the individual who suffers, since it generates a state of anxiety and discomfort. The response given by the subject on the outside is not good, and may show a negative response or simply do nothing and ignore other individuals (even when cooperation is needed).
Being a psychological state, we will not consider irritability as something bad or pathological, but simply as a sign that the subject is going through a bad period; for example, you are having a bad day. The problem arises when this state of irritability is maintained longer over time, thus affecting both the subject and worsening his relations with his environment, with other individuals.
Causes of irritability
As expected, there are multiple causes that can generate the state of irritability, being able to classify them as organic causes or psychological causes. Regarding physical disorders, it can be due to a low level of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) which is mainly linked to mood disorders; inadequate rest and eating habits or lack of nutrients; sleep a few hours (less than 7 hours); chronic pain.
On the other hand, the psychological effects of irritability can also be varied. One of the most common is due to the presence of a sad and apathetic mood. It has been observed that in some truly irritable subjects the emotion that triggers this state is sadness. Thus sadness can be camouflaged after behavior of irritability, bad humor and hostility.
Such is the relationship between sadness and irritability that the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual points out that in diagnosing depression in children and adolescents, one of its main criteria, sad mood, can be expressed in irritability. So we can see people with depressive disorder who instead of being sad are irritable, defensive, everything seems wrong or they feel bad and jump at any stimulus.
Another reason that may be related to the expression of irritability is strong self-demand. Of course it’s good to set goals to be able to evolve and stay motivated, but when these escape our abilities or possibilities, when these are not in tune with reality, it is normal to end up manifesting frustration, to be able to express oneself through irritability. The fact of not succeeding in what we set out to do produces in us a state of discomfort, bad mood, mental exhaustion, making everything that happens around us affect us much more.
Finally, not knowing with certainty what may happen in the near future, not knowing how our lives will evolvealso creates an emotional turmoil in us which can affect our mood by making us feel more sad or irritable.
How to control irritability?
Now that we know that there are certain conditions that hide behind the irritable behavior, we will have to identify if there is an alteration that explains this behavior to treat the root cause, to be able to carry out a specific and effective treatment for each situation.
If we have been feeling bad for a long time, the situation has gotten out of control and we can no longer control it. the best option will be to seek professional help in therapy so that a psychotherapist analyzes and evaluates the situation well, guides us and applies the best intervention to obtain an improvement.
There are also strategies you can apply yourself to help control your mood and reduce your irritability.
1. Take your time
A very useful and necessary strategy to know how we are or feel is to spend time with ourselves, to stop and think about how we are and how we feel. In this way, we will be more likely to identify the problem earlier and act as soon as possible.
Many times we may be afraid to know or know how we are doing, we are terrified that something is wrong, but we must know that being aware of it and accepting it will be the only way we will to face and change our state, since only it will not improve.
2. Think before you act
This strategy is linked to the well-known expression of counting to ten before acting. It is common, especially when we are in a state of irritability, where everything affects us no matter how small, whether we act or say something impulsivelywithout thinking, making the situation worse and making it harder to improve our discomfort.
Try to control your behavior; It may be more appropriate that before reacting, we allow time to pass, we give space to reflect and know what we want to say and if the reason for our anger is really reasonable or just makes me feel bad. to be particularly sensitive.
3. Plan activities you enjoy
This strategy of doing activities that the subject enjoys is particularly used in depressed people because it helps them to get out of the house, do something and have fun getting out of the routine.
In the same way, it can work when one feels irritated, to break with the dynamics of behaviors that generate feelings of discomfort or a negative mood, and for the subject to take pleasure in doing an activity that he likes. and helps channel their interests and concerns. , thus obtaining a source of motivation which helps to “follow” the spirit.
Staying physically active helps maintain better mental health. That is to say, If we stay in good physical health, we also benefit from our psychological health.. The practice of sport, in addition to the benefits we already know, generates an increase in endorphins, which are a type of neurotransmitter linked to a decrease in discomfort, pain and a consequent increase in pleasure and stress relief accumulated.
Similarly, exercise helps relax the body and promotes disconnection, thereby reducing stress or anxiety.
5. Establish a healthy routine
As we have already mentioned, poor sleeping and eating habits also damage our condition, causing more irritability. For our body to function properly, it is essential that we meet the basic needssuch as sleeping at least 7 hours in a row and having a balanced and healthy diet, providing the body with all the nutrients it needs.
If we try to achieve other goals or meet other needs without meeting the basics, we will not achieve the desired goal. In the same way that we don’t try to go anywhere without gasoline in the car, it won’t make sense to try to function well without energy in our bodies.
6. Take care of social relations
Social connections are essential for people to achieve good mental health. We must not forget that we are sociable beings and as such we need others to communicate with them, to feel good. When we are irritable, it is common for us to react or act without thinking by hurting those around us, especially our loved ones, because we trust them more and it is easier for us to react impulsively.
We must be attentive and aware of our condition and prevent behaviors that we will later regret. try to think things through before taking any action with significant social repercussions. If we realize we are doing something wrong, it is important that we acknowledge our misconduct and apologize. When we’re not having a good time, having the support of family and friends can go a long way, so appreciate it.
7. Know your limits
We have seen that excessive self-demanding creates frustration, and can also lead to a state of irritability. In this way, in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves and so we can strive to achieve them and become more involved in these routines, these must be affordable and realistic. It is advisable to set short-term goals, as they will keep us motivated to achieve bigger and long-term goals.
- Vidal, P., Brotman, M., Valdivieso, I. & Leibenluft, E. (2016) The status of irritability in psychiatry: a conceptual and quantitative review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
- Kennedy, H. (1992) Anger and irritability. The British Journal of Psychiatry: The Journal of the Mental Sciences.
- Hudson, K. (2010) Irritability: a study of its origin, nature and role in relation to the disorder. Cardiff University.