As Dr Guy Winch, psychologist TED speaker and author of Emotional First Aid, explains, when we’re already feeling irritable, our emotional tolerance is lower and we’re much more likely to be bothered by the kinds of minor frustrations we ordinarily shrug off.
“Our reactions to irritants are also likely to be much more aggressive than usual, leading us to snap, bark, and chastise those around us,” he adds. “Our stress hormones surge into action and we enter the same fight-or-flight mentality our ancestors did when they were on bear-watch duty at the clan’s cave entrance – The slightest movement or noise can make us jump and react as if we are under attack, with nary a threat in sight.”
And whilst we’d all like to snap our fingers and instantly rid ourselves of what Dr Winch describes as this “toxic emotional state”, unfortunately it can take a little longer to get rid of angry feelings. However, he does have seven suggestions for how we can bring ourselves down when we’re feeling on-edge…
1. Figure Out The Source
The best way to reduce irritability is to figure out what’s making you irritable – and then address it. Identify when you first became irritable and consider what might have set you off. It’s important to remember that while your reactions might feel complex at the moment, the issue that triggered them might be simple – be honest with yourself about what’s bothering you: simply acknowledging that something is making you irritable is often enough to take the edge off.
2. Reduce Caffeine & 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. Not only can caffeine increase the amount of our stress hormone cortisol, it’s a powerful stimulant that interferes with sleep by increasing adrenaline production and blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. Both caffeine and alcohol also disrupt the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep when your body recuperates most, giving you a cognitive and physical handicap the next day/
3. Get In Touch With Compassion
Being compassionate – with yourself and others – can be a powerful way to calm your churning emotions. Acknowledge (in your head) that you feel really irritable, and how unpleasant it is. Then imagine getting a hug from someone who cares about you. Once you feel a little better, use your compassion to consider how it has made those around you feel, and how important it is to not take it out on them.
4. Gain Perspective
We usually feel irritable about small-to-medium size annoyances – the kind we probably won’t remember in a few days or weeks. Take a few minutes to remind yourself of the larger picture: the things that are going well in your life and the things for which you can be grateful, such as health and employment.
5. Banish Nervous Energy
Since irritability activates our fight-or-flight response sets, it might be a good idea to take a quick walk or run, or, if that’s not possible, do some quick push-ups or crunches to rid yourself of excess energy that might be fuelling your irritability. Fresh air on a leisurely walk could do wonders as well.
6. Have Some Alone Time
Find a quiet place to think things through, or to disengage from the commotion and activity around you. 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 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.
7. Consider Overall Wellbeing
We need to take our psychological health as seriously as we do our physical health. If you’re finding yourself feeling irritable frequently, it could be a symptom of an underlying issue such as depression or emotional stress – so it’s important to identify this and seek help. Other common signs of emotional stress include coming home and being short-tempered and on-edge, in addition to not being ‘present’ for family members.
For more information and advice on emotional health, visit GuyWinch.com