anxiety and irritability

9 Simple Ways to Stop Being Irritable (+ How It Can Be Caused By Anxiety)

Have you noticed that you’re feeling cranky?

If so, that is completely normal.  We are living in an unprecedented time of worry, fear, and the unknown.  Tensions are high in just about every group of people there is, and this is causing a rise in anxiety.

Feeling anxious in times like this is absolutely normal.  In fact, if you weren’t a little worried right now, I would say that’s probably not a normal reaction.  But anyway, some amount of feeling anxious is to be expected.

However, if it is interfering with your day to day functioning, preventing you from sleep, and impacting your relationships with others, you might have an anxiety disorder.  Make sure to call your primary care physician if you think this is the case.

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is feeling cranky.  I’ve been experiencing it for years, but luckily I’ve found ways to manage it.

Keep reading to find out:

  • how to tell if it’s anxiety or just plain irritability
  • some of the unintentional side effects of crankiness
  • why dealing with mood swings is important
  • and my top pieces of wisdom for fighting bad moods

This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. See my Privacy and Affiliate Disclaimer pages for more info.

Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.

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Is it anxiety or just plain irritability?

You might be wondering how to tell if your crankiness is due to an underlying anxiety disorder, or if it’s kind of just unrelated.  To figure that out, let’s talk about some of the symptoms of anxiety.  I’m not a doctor, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I think if you are also experiencing any of the other symptoms, it is worth checking with a doctor.

According to Healthline, there are several things you might experience that could point to an anxiety disorder.  They are:

  1. Excessive worrying.  Like, more than just feeling worried because you’re expecting test results.  This worry will interfere with your day to day life. 
  2. Feeling agitated.  Yep, this is what we’re referring to.  I will go more into detail about this in a bit.
  3. Restlessness.  This is that awful feeling where you just have to move and do something.  Your body is unable to feel relaxed.
  4. Fatigue.  This is one I can really relate to.  My anxiety makes me feel very tired all the time, even if I got enough sleep.
  5. Difficulty concentrating.  Another hand raised for this one!  Many people with anxiety find it hard to focus on basic tasks.
  6. Irritability.  Similar to feeling agitated. We will discuss this in a bit.
  7. Tense muscles.  Sometimes, when we are very anxious, we find our body tensing up.  Read more about anxiety and muscle tension in my recent post.
  8. Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.  This one is very very common.  Anxiety often makes it hard to feel relaxed and shut your mind down.
  9. Panic attacks.  These are no fun, and I am thankful I have them infrequently.  If you are having panic attacks (i.e., short of breath, chest pain, racing heart, sweating, shaking, etc), you absolutely need to call your doctor.
  10. Desire to avoid socializing.  For me, when I am anxious, I just hate being around people.  Social anxiety is even its own separate thing.
  11. Irrational fears.  If things like driving, leaving the house, or making phone calls produce symptoms of anxiety, you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder.
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Click here to download this free PDF to help you assess your feelings on a daily basis.

Sidebar: Why do you feel irritable when you’re anxious?

For so long, I wondered, why does my body do me like this? Why does my broken brain make me so crabby and unpleasant to be around?

Well, if that sounds relatable, don’t worry.  There is a biological link between anxiety and irritability.  So you can rest assured that it’s not your fault, or something you can necessarily control.

Healthline says:

“When someone is feeling anxious, part of their sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive.

This kicks off a cascade of effects throughout the body, such as a racing pulse, sweaty palms, shaky hands and dry mouth. These symptoms occur because your brain believes you have sensed danger, and it is preparing your body to react to the threat.

Your body shunts blood away from your digestive system and toward your muscles in case you need to run or fight. It also increases your heart rate and heightens your senses.

While these effects would be helpful in the case of a true threat, they can be debilitating if the fear is all in your head.

Some research even suggests that people with anxiety disorders are not able to reduce their arousal as quickly as people without anxiety disorders, which means they may feel the effects of anxiety for a longer period of time.”

(See article linked above.)

Basically, a part of your nervous system goes haywire and makes your body feel like it is in danger.  That is a big reason why panic attacks are so scary!

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The unintentional effects of feeling cranky

After you have an episode of irritability, what happens next?   I will share some things that often happen, from my own personal experience.  Some of these things might resonate with you, and some may not.  Everyone is different.  These are just things I have faced at one point.

  • Tiredness.  These episodes can leave you feeling tired, like you just ran a marathon.  It’s important to try to find some quiet moments to rest and regroup afterwards.
  • Fallout with a partner.  Sometimes your partner will be offended by your irritability, and not understand that is being caused by anxiety.  Try to remember that they are only human.  And while your irritability is not something you are choosing, it can be unpleasant for those around you.
  • Upset children.  Also, you kids might be confused as to why you are acting that way, and might match your outburst with other negative emotions.  Once you calm down, just take them aside and explain what happened.  And always reassure them that it was not their fault.  Always.
  • Sense of confusion.  After an episode of irritability, sometimes I am left confused.  How did I get from Point A to Point B emotionally?  Try not to get hung up over the whys, and just try to move forward.
  • Need for space.  You might really feel like you need to be alone after this happens.  That is totally normal.  Take at least 5 minutes to hide out in a closet if you need to, practice some deep breathing, and get some composure.  Most importantly, give yourself a little grace too.

Why dealing with mood swings is important

After you have the mood swing, and possibly experience some of the consequences I listed above, you will want to take the following steps I will list shortly.

Why? Because mood swings not only affect those around you, but they affect you.  They affect your heart and soul.  It’s important to deal with them after the fact so that you can create some action steps for the next time it happens.  This will minimize the negative impact of your next outburst.

First, recognize that it happened.

As with any emotion, it is important to acknowledge it and give it the respect it deserves.  Obviously, no one wants to feel irritable, and it makes you feel yucky afterwards.  But your emotions are a part of you.  They are all valid, and… Click To Tweet

Your emotions are no less a part of who you are than your favorite color, or your best friend.  They aren’t things you choose, so don’t choose to ignore them.

Second, make necessary apologies.

This part is really hard, but after all outbursts, it is really important to apologize.  Take some deep breaths if you need to, but then go around one by one to all the people who were affected by it.  Offer a genuine, personal apology, using “I” statements.  Let them know that your moods are not their responsibility, and it was not their fault.

You also may feel the need to apologize to yourself.  Don’t skip this step if you feel called to do it.  There is a good chance that after your episode you feel guilty and ashamed and worried.  Tell yourself, “I’m sorry for making you feel that way, but it was not my fault, and I can move forward.”

feeling cranky, the image is aback and white picture of a grumpy cat with a text box above it- the text is white font on a purple background that says "9 simple ways to stop being irritable and how it can be caused by anxiety"

Then, do a positive affirmation.

If you aren’t familiar with positive affirmations, make a note that I am creating a series of blog posts about this to launch in July!  In the meantime, here are the basics.

Either out loud or in your head, say something nice to yourself.  Simple as that.  You could say, “I am not my irritability.” “I am strong.”  “I can move past this.”  “I am worthy of love.”  Whatever you feel like you need to hear.

Do this as often as you feel the need.  It can take time to see any positive effects, so stick with it!

Next, try to figure out what triggered it.

Once you’ve calmed down a little and given yourself some reassurance, it’s time to take a logical look at what happened.

What took place right before your outburst?  Did your kids stress you out? Did something break?  Whatever it was, it helps to recognize the things that trigger your irritability.  This takes us to the last step.

Finally, tell yourself what you plan to do next time that trigger occurs.

Now that you know what triggered you, think about some constructive ways to react to it next time.

For instance, let’s use a common trigger of mine as an example: my kids not listening.  (Common is an understatement, since they are 5 and 3.)  Sometimes when they don’t listen, I get super cranky and lose my cool.

If this sounds like you, next time prepare yourself to try a breathing exercise instead, or whatever helps you.  The next section will give you a ton of helpful ways to stop being irritable.

9 simple ways to stop being irritable

No, you cannot control that you are prone to irritability.  But you can do things to help yourself feel better when it happens.  There are also ways to manage your anxiety so it doesn’t affect you as strongly.

Go through this list and pick one to start with that really resonates with you.

#1- Practice a grounding strategy.

This is a really common relaxation technique for people who live with anxiety.  The concept is straightforward.  When you feel your anxiety and irritability flaring up, take a deep breath.  One way that people practice grounding is the 54321 exercise.  It is a quick and easy way to remind you of what is real.

Check out this video, and save it to an easy to access playlist.

#2-  Get out your anxiety through exercise.

Many of us get irritable when we’re anxious because we have a lot of negative emotions pent up inside, and no way to release them.  I find regular activity to be really beneficial for this.

Physical activity releases helpful happy chemicals in your mind (primarily dopamine and endorphins.)  These help your mind stay calm and content more often, so you’re less likely to fly off the handle.

Make it a priority to get at least 30 minutes of activity 3 days a week.

#3- Talk about it.

Find a trusted loved one to talk about things with.  Sometimes, I get irritable when I feel not listened to or misunderstood.  Having regular check-ins with a loved one about your emotional health might help you get a better understanding of your triggers and how to avoid them.

A therapist would be a great addition to your wellness routine if you don’t already see one.  They are trained with proven strategies to help you manage whatever emotion you might be facing.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone face to face, there are a lot of helpful online support groups, and even virtual therapy apps!

#4- Write in a journal daily.

This is a really affordable way to get a little daily therapy without needing make an appointment. Just following these steps to get into the swing of journaling about your feelings.

  • Set a reminder on your phone for every evening before you go to bed.
  • Put a journal and pen right by your bedside, and make it a habit to keep it there. That way you don’t lose it!
  • To start out with, write 3 things you are grateful for, 2 positive affirmations, and 1 intention for the next day each night (You can go more in depth whenever you’re ready!)
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Click on any of the images above to order a journal and get started!

#5- Get more self care.

Self care is something everyone needs on a regular basis. Whether you’re a frazzled mom, or a busy nurse, or a high school teacher, you need it.

Not sure where to get started? Check out this 12 page workbook I created. It gives you all the info you need to get started with a self care routine that actually works.

#6- Improve your sleep habits.

A good night’s sleep is crucial for managing irritability. Feeling cranky just comes natural when you’re sleep deprived. It’s truly one of the best ways to stop being irritable.

There are some really easy ways you can tweak your sleep habits to make them more conducive to calmer moods during the day.

  • Unplug from social media before bed
  • Try meditation
  • Use your bed only for sex and sleep
  • Do not hit snooze (A bunch of snooze-hitting can throw off your sleep patterns, and make you groggy during the day.)

#7- Try regular meditation.

To be completely honest, I’m not super great at meditating. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to be good at it. You just have to try.

I like guided meditation because there is plenty of direction for beginners like me who have no clue what I’m doing. Just search “guided meditation” on Youtube or Google, and you will have tons of options to choose from.

#8- Practice box breathing.

I love this exercise when I really need to center myself and calm down. You can use this handy gif below to get started. This is something you are definitely going to want to memorize.

box breathing gif, green background black and white text with a diagram that explains how to box breathe with a countdown, feeling cranky exercises

#9- Drink less caffeine.

This one hits you right where it hurts if you’re a mom of little ones like me. But the reality is that caffeine is a stimulant. When you’re prone to excesses of nervous energy that manifest in irritability, it’s important to minimize your consumption of anything too stimulating.

There is hope out there

I know from years of experience that living with chronic irritability can be hell. Truly. It affects your relationships, your work, and your overall mindset. But if you follow the tips above, and commit to practicing daily self-love, it is possible to find some relief.

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Feeling cranky does not have to define you.

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Related posts for dealing with mood swings:

Reading and mental health: 5 ways that diving into a book can dig you out of depression

Positivity and negativity: How to challenge negative thought patterns

Anxiety: What it is and how you can treat it

What self care REALLY is

Why positive affirmations work