Written by Shannon,
7 Minute Read
Medically reviewed by:
Erin O'Callaghan, PHD
Director of Therapy
10 Minute Read
Have you ever gotten angry at a friend for doing something pretty meaningless? Or maybe felt an irrational amount of rage when something doesn’t go your way?
While irritability is a common symptom of anxiety and depression, it is also a normal human emotion that can seriously dampen relationships with others if you don’t pinpoint the cause of your feelings.
If your short temper is getting the best of you, you’re not alone. Anxiety and depression can be a common cause of irritability that many people don’t even consider. Here are some other common causes of irritability and some recommended tactics to help you manage your emotions, including how to know when to seek help.
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What Causes Irritability?
Irritability is a feeling of agitation or anger, though it’s usually not as severe as both of those emotions. When you’re irritable, it’s likely that you’ll become frustrated, upset, or mad at small and irrational circumstances.
Irritability may be something as simple as an emotional response to stress. However, it can also be signs of an underlying mental or physical health condition.
Psychological Causes of Irritability
If you’ve ever become stressed or angry at a friend because they were a few moments late for an event, you may have exhibited irritability. In this circumstance, the root of your irritable moment was related to a specific moment in time that caused you stress and anxiety.
The tension related to being stressed can make you more sensitive to stressful situations. So even though being a minute late to your dinner reservation wouldn’t be the end of the world, your body may become overwhelmed, making you feel less tolerant of those around you.
Having an angry outburst every now and then is completely normal, albeit unfavorable. However, if your temper is persistent and stems from seemingly no reason, it may be indicative of an underlying mental health condition. Common mental health conditions that are associated with irritability include depression and anxiety.
While irritability and anger is not listed as a core symptom in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) under depression, it is still often associated. In a research study, nearly 40% of patients with major depressive disorder reported irritability as a symptom.
Losing temper and angry outbursts are common in depression, though it is not fully understood why. Some theorists note that depression is conceptualized as a self-directed anger, noting that there is a tendency for depressed individuals to have a predisposition for hostility.
Physical Causes of Irritability
Irritability may also come from a number of physical ailments. A common cause of irritability is low blood sugar.
When your blood sugar becomes too low, it triggers a number of stress hormones such as cortisol which can cause aggression in some people. Low blood sugar may also interfere with certain brain functions that help control impulses and manage emotion.
You might also feel irritable or angry from a lack of sleep. Sleep and mood are closely connected, and those who do not get enough of it often report feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted compared to people who do.
Ways To Reduce Irritability
If you find yourself being irritable every now and then, or if angry outbursts are a common occurrence, there are many different treatment options at your disposal.
Symptoms of irritability may indicate underlying conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorder. Seek professional advice to help you understand how you’re feeling and recommend the appropriate treatment to help ease your irritability and other symptoms related to depression and anxiety.
Therapy can be beneficial for anyone, but it can be especially helpful if you are irritable often and have trouble taking control of your emotions. Therapy can help you identify irrational thoughts, modify your thinking, and then help you engage in more positive behaviors.
A common therapeutic technique is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is a structured, short-term, and goal-oriented form of therapy that aims to pinpoint and change unhelpful thinking and behaving. It has been demonstrated to effectively treat a wide range of concerns from relationship difficulties, substance use, anxiety, depression, and more.
Taking the first steps and scheduling your first therapy appointment can be nerve-wracking. It’s normal to feel scared, but Brightside is here to help you at every step of the way. 85% of our members felt better within just 12 weeks.
If irritability is the result of an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, your provider may recommend medication. Antidepressant medications can help with a number of the symptoms associated with depression.
Medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications as they work to block the absorption of serotonin into your brain’s neurons, therefore making the neurotransmitter more abundant.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing the symptom of irritability by regulating your mood, appetite, sleep, and more. This can help with irritability, as they may be able to balance your mood and enhance your ability to rationally respond to stressful stimuli.
Medication is most effective when combined with therapy. In fact, combination treatments offer up to a 60% better chance of recovery as opposed to just one treatment alone. Together, they can help you feel like yourself faster.
We can help here, too, thanks to our licensed psychiatrists, who can prescribe medication and have it sent right to your doorstep.
Sometimes, irritable behavior is the byproduct of minor inconveniences that you probably won’t even remember in a day or two. When life throws something your way that you weren’t expecting, try reminding yourself of the larger picture.
Ask yourself “How much will this affect me?” or “Will I remember this tomorrow?”
Chances are, it will help you realize that losing your temper is unnecessary at that moment in time.
Get Some Alone Time
If you allow stress to build up inside of you, it’s bound to explode one day. This may cause you to overreact or have an outburst in a given situation, which may cause more stress down the line.
Expel some pent up stress by taking a bath, reading a book, watching your favorite show, and just taking some time for you. This can act as a restart to your body and let you take on the world with a fresh perspective.
Irritability is a common emotion associated with angry outbursts and irrational response to stress. It can be caused by one-off situations, or it may be the effect of an underlying mental or physical condition.
If irritability is the result of a mental illness, things like therapy and medication are two of the most effective treatments against it. These can help change your thinking and behaviors to positively affect your response to stressful situations.
For moments of brief irritability, try gaining a new perspective or taking some alone time so that you can try to visualize circumstances with a fresh lens.
If you’re looking for a little extra perspective, click here to take our free online assessment and get matched with a Brightside therapist or provider for some real help in the comfort of your own home.