Irritability is more than just being annoyed with something. It can be hard to shake off, and it can also come out of nowhere. Irritability can be the cause of a mental health condition, however it can also be a symptom of an already-present mental health condition.

What is irritability?

Irritability describes a heightened negative emotional state that encompasses feelings of annoyance, frustration, grumpiness, and being on edge. It can occur because of something that happens, the words or actions of another person, or no reason at all. When someone is irritable, they may initiate conflict with those around them, even loved ones, friends, or partners. They also direct their irritability towards themselves, engaging in negative self-talk or harsh self-judgment.

We all get irritated at times. Throughout each week, there are plenty of reasons to feel irritated! However, many people can leave that irritation behind after employing a coping skill or two, or simply with the passage of time. Irritability can become a problem when it’s chronic or doesn’t cease, even with explicit efforts to calm down.

Origins of irritability

Irritability is most often caused by an external factor. You can become irritable after going through an unpleasant experience, such as getting cut off in traffic or sitting through loud construction outside your window. The stimulus causes a stress response, which can result in feeling anxious, impatient, or cranky. Over time, this stress response can impact your mental health and even your physical health. People become especially irritable when situations are outside of their control and they cannot change what’s occurring, even if they tried.

Being irritable may also come from internal factors. Many people develop irritable feelings due to an overall sense of dissatisfaction or unfulfillment. Feeling this way can make certain situations feel futile or senseless, which can impact mood. Relationship conflict is another common reason why people become irritable – because our energy and willpower is finite, when it’s spent in one area of our life, we have less of it for other areas.

Irritability is a core symptom for many mental health conditions. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions cause irritability, often leaving the individual unable to regulate their moods.

Symptoms of irritability

Irritability looks, from the outside, different for everyone. Some people become short tempered and prone to angry outbursts, including shouting or becoming aggressive. Other people may appear impatient or fidgety when they’re irritated.

For many, irritation is an internal state of mind defined by agitation, annoyance, frustration, even anger. People who are irritated may find themselves having negative thoughts about themselves or others. This could lead to a difficulty in committing to plans or taking instructions.

Irritation might also lead to physical symptoms like an elevated heartbeat, excessive sweating, blushing, or oversensitivity to stimuli. This can leave an individual feeling exhausted, both physically and mentally.

Therapy for irritability

Because irritability is an emotion that is difficult to control, it’s important to reach out for the help of a licensed therapist when it becomes overwhelming. Therapists who specialize in irritability teach clients how to cope with their heightened state of emotions. They also encourage clients to explore the reasons behind their irritation. Is irritability a symptom of a larger mental health issue? Is there something in particular that triggers irritability? Once the root cause of the irritability is discovered, therapists can help clients adjust their routines to avoid this trigger.

Therapists help clients with mood regulation without judgment. They create safe spaces in session where clients can express when they feel irritated – even if they become irritated with the therapist, they can process through their feelings and find ways to feel more in control of their emotions.