Sometimes you feel so irritable that you just can’t stop yourself from spewing your ire. You snap at your spouse for pouring the last bit of coffee, criticize a coworker for talking too loudly or lecture a neighbor for not cleaning up his toppled trash.
Afterward you feel bad about losing control, particularly when the other person didn’t deserve such an overreaction…and you regret the potential damage done to your relationship. But the next time your annoyance boils up again, you find yourself right back on that angry precipice.
How can you keep from going over the edge? Clinical psychologist and Daily Health News columnist Judy Kuriansky, PhD, has sage advice…
Learn to recognize the physical warning signs. As ire increases, your body will let you know—if you pay attention. Watch for tense muscles, a clenched jaw, pursed lips, sweaty skin, shallow breathing. When you notice such signs, remind yourself that now is the time to take steps to calm down.
A good way to start is by easing the tension in your body, Dr. Kuriansky said. If your face feels tense, put your hands up to cover your face, gently pressing your palms against your cheeks and extending your fingers over your forehead for a few moments as you take deep, slow breaths. Then move your fingertips in circles around your closed eyes, first in one direction and then in the other. Now concentrate on your mouth, consciously loosening tight jaw muscles and easing your lips into a smile. Try the same kind of soothing touch or intentional relaxation with any other part of your body that feels tense. Within a few minutes, your irritability should ease.
Identify the true source of your irritation. This may seem obvious…but consider whether you might in fact be projecting your annoyance onto an innocent bystander. For instance, are you really upset with that hearty-voiced coworker—or are you angry because your spouse raised his/her voice as the two of you argued last night? “To deal effectively with a problem, you first must recognize whether you are being provoked by the person you’re interacting with at the moment or whether you are lashing out due to some unrelated problem,” Dr. Kuriansky said.
What if you determine that your annoyance is warranted and you feel ready to blow? This is a sign that you may have been biting your tongue too long. It’s better to be honest yet courteous in expressing your complaint—Pat, would you please try to keep your voice down? It would help me concentrate. If you suspect that your irritation is misplaced, however, apologize to the innocent person you snapped at…then go address the true problem.
Consider whether a medical problem is at the root of your poor mood. Are you suffering from a stomach upset, headache, insomnia, back pain or other ailment? Physical discomfort often triggers emotional reactions—and understanding that association can help you control your escalating feelings, Dr. Kuriansky said. Improving your diet, cutting back on alcohol or caffeine, or building a quick stress-relieving break or catnap into your daily routine could be all it takes to help you feel better physically and emotionally. If those reforms don’t do the trick, talk to your doctor about whether there might be an underlying health problem that needs to be diagnosed and addressed…or whether some medication you are taking might be affecting your mood.
Give yourself time. Sometimes a bout of irritability arises from a situation beyond your control, Dr. Kuriansky noted—in which case you may simply need to practice patience while you wait it out. Try to minimize interactions with others that could trigger outbursts…and do what you can to reduce your stress or workload in the meantime.
Get moving. Irritability can be a sign of bottled-up restless energy, often evident in shaky hands or legs bobbing up and down. Instead of trying to stifle such movements, let yourself move even more. Make circles with your wrists…flap your arms like wings…pace around the room…jump up and down. Dr. Kuriansky said that such movements help your body release the pent-up energy that is adding to your emotional tension.
Laugh. An excellent way to get out of your ill humor is to add some real humor to your day. Read a funny story, watch a sitcom or peruse an online joke site. For more laugh-out-loud ideas, read Even a Fake Laugh Will Do. Even if your laughter is fake at first, your mood will soon improve and your irritability will dissolve.