Is Stress Making You Irritable? 3 Ways To Feel Better


We’ve all had days where things go wrong from the moment the alarm buzzes.  

Just imagine: you toss and turn all night, and wake up exhausted, cursing the neighbors for the far-too-loud house party that went on till 4. 

You head downstairs to the smell of pancakes (“Oh, my partner cooked me breakfast!”) and are met with pancakes plus…a massive pile of dirty pots and pans. Feeling rather like a victim, you hold your tongue and clean it up moodily. 

It takes ages, of course, and at work, you have to rush to finish that time-urgent project. But you can’t think straight because your colleague won’t stop chatting (“Yes, sure, sounds interesting Bob,” you grimace) so when finally, the printer jams…you explode.  

We all feel irritable sometimes, and sometimes it’s quite justified. But when you feel like you’re constantly battling with irritability, it’s time to face the problem. 

Irritability is a sign of stress, and there are far more effective ways to manage it.

What Does Stress Have To Do With It? 

It may have begun with one stress trigger (a sleepless night), but a lot of things are happening in our scenario. 

Sleep deprivation, a sudden change of plans, loud noises, and a barrage of conflicting, overwhelming information – all of these are further stressors, amplifying the stress we were already experiencing.  

Here, you tried to squash your irritability by holding your tongue, pretending Bob’s chatter was fine, and putting up with the endless noise.  

But trying to suppress your emotions by denying or hiding how you feel is even more unhelpful when you are already under pressure. It can lead to psychological distress and behavioral stress symptoms, such as the grumpiness we feel or show. 

Allowing irritability to determine the way you think, feel, and act is a maladaptive coping mechanism. Because a lot of us do it, and there are better ways to manage, I created the Feeling Irritable Stress Coaching Card. 

3 Ways To Feel Less Irritated 

Here are three practical and evidence-based ways to stop your irritability from getting out of control. 

1. Acknowledge your feelings 

The benefits of talking about our feelings are well-known, and a good deal of psychological research shows that we can significantly reduce the impact of our emotions simply by putting them into words.  

The next time you feel irritated, try practicing ‘affect labeling’ by expressing that out loud, for a somewhat soothing effect. 

One tip to make this exercise even more effective is to try rating your irritability out of 10. Studies have also demonstrated that this can significantly reduce the physical signs of anger that individuals experience while putting them (or you!) in a slightly calmer mood. 

When you next feel irritable, use this checklist to help you name your emotions. 

2. Be an “Observer” 

Things often seem like a much bigger deal than they are in the heat of the moment, and taking a psychological ‘step back’ can put them in perspective. 

If you’re irritated about a sink full of dishes, for example, try zooming out to look at the whole scenario – and yourself – from an observer’s perspective: 

  • Is it as big of a mess as it seemed?  
  • Is it worth losing your voice over in an argument? 
  • Does it really cancel out all your partner’s effort to be kind? 
  • What’s the worst that will happen if you leave them, or let this one slide? 

3. Take 5 minutes out 

We live in a busy world, and a little silence can be highly restorative. One way to reinstate inner calm and more logical, proportional thinking is by taking a moment for deep silence. 

Spending just five, uninterrupted minutes in total peace and quiet can help to prevent you from being overburdened by a barrage of external information – the kind that leads to stress and irritability. 

According to scientists, deep and genuine silence (not just a slightly quieter office) can help us reduce our stress levels while also: 

  • Repairing our nervous system 
  • Stimulating the growth of new brain cells linked to memory and learning 
  • Helping us react more adaptively to our surroundings, and 
  • Giving us more energy. 

Whether it’s meditation, a private spot you can retreat to, or a hike outdoors, finding a way to incorporate more silence into your life is a good way to manage stress in the long run. 

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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