Agitation mental health

Agitation and Restlessness: What Causes It?

Written by Keri Wiginton

In this Article

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
  • Autism
  • Stress
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • When to Call a Doctor

Agitation is a sense of inner tension and restlessness. When it happens, you may get annoyed easily or feel like you need to move around. It’s a normal emotion. But it’s more likely to show up when you’re under a lot of stress. It can also happen if you use drugs or withdraw from alcohol.

But sometimes, a medical condition can cause agitation. It’s pretty common to feel unsettled if you have hormone problems or a psychological condition like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or dementia. Rarely, it may be caused by a brain tumor. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor if you get agitated, especially if you feel like it’s for no reason.

Common symptoms of agitation include:

  • An uneasy feeling
  • An urge to move, maybe with no purpose
  • Crankiness
  • Little patience
  • Nervousness
  • Stubborn behavior (often toward caregivers)
  • Too much excitement

You may act angry or violent at the same time. But agitation isn’t the same as aggression. It’s also different than akathisia. That’s a movement disorder often caused by antipsychotic medication.

It’s normal to get worried if you or a loved one is agitated a lot. But your doctor can help you find and treat the cause. That’s the best way to feel better.

Here are some of the most common causes of agitation:


You may not be able to control your emotions or actions. Schizophrenia can also make it hard to tell what’s real. That can make you feel troubled. You may or may not be able to manage your agitation. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor when you feel uneasy.

Other symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Difficulty finishing things
  • Memory or speech problems
  • Thoughts that don’t make sense
  • Visions of things that aren’t there (hallucinations)

To treat your agitation, your doctor may give you:

  • Antipsychotics
  • Benzodiazepines (also called “benzos”)
  • Talk therapy
  • If nothing else works, physical restraint may be needed

You’ll need ongoing treatment for your schizophrenia. You may need a mix of:

  • Educational support
  • Family involvement
  • Help from your employer
  • Medication
  • Therapy

Bipolar Disorder

This is also called manic-depressive disorder. It can cause strong swings in your emotions and energy levels. Your mood can cycle between good and bad feelings. Or you can have both at the same time.

If bipolar disorder causes your agitation, you might also have:

Manic episodes. During these “up” periods, you may have:

  • A lot of energy
  • Inflated sense of what you can do
  • Little need for sleep
  • Really fast thoughts

Depressive episodes. During these “down” periods, you could have:

  • A change in how much food you eat (too much or too little)
  • Little energy
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble sleeping the right amount

With both mania and depression, these things are possible:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • Visions of things that aren’t there (hallucinations)

Treatment for your agitation may include:

  • Medication
  • Other mood stabilizers
  • Psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Like with schizophrenia, you may need to go to the hospital if your agitation is really bad. And you’ll need ongoing treatment to control your symptoms.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

That’s a decline in your ability to think, behave, or recall things. You may get frustrated and not be able to control your feelings. It’s more common in older people. But it’s not a typical part of aging.

One of the main symptoms of dementia is memory loss. But you could also have trouble finding the right words or paying attention. You may not be able to do things for yourself, like eat or get dressed.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people. And if you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, they probably have a reason for feeling agitated. You should find out if they also have:

  • A bad interaction with medicine
  • A feeling of loneliness or depression
  • Constipation
  • Pain
  • Sensitivity to sounds or crowds
  • Trouble with any kind of change

If you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, treatment for agitation may include:

  • A calm environment
  • Acupuncture
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Counseling
  • Exercise
  • Hand massage
  • Medicine to help you think or feel better
  • Music therapy
  • Quality of life care

Antipsychotics are not approved to treat dementia-related agitation. These drugs raise the odds of death in older people.

In some cases, dementia-like symptoms can be reversed. That can happen if you have a brain infection, take certain medicines, or have other health problems. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about any new memory or mood problems.


You may get upset if you have trouble communicating. That can happen if you have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s a sensory and behavior disorder that shows up when you’re young. It can make social situations hard. You may feel like you need to repeat certain behaviors to calm down. But that might not always work.

Other symptoms of autism include:

  • Sensitivity to lights, noise, or crowds
  • Speech problems
  • Trouble making eye contact

You may need a personal approach for your symptoms. Your doctor could give you:

  • A stress relief plan
  • Behavior therapy
  • Medication


Life can be hard. And it’s normal to feel agitated if you’re stressed out. It may happen because of problems at home, work, or at school. Too much stress can make other health problems worse, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Other common symptoms of mental stress include

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Trouble sleeping

Treatment to ease your stress will probably lift your mood. You may want to:

  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Try relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, yoga, or mediation

It may be hard to control your stress on your own. That’s when you should talk to your doctor. They may want you to try medication or therapy. And go to the hospital if you have chest pains or a hard time breathing. That may be a sign of something serious, like a heart attack.


Agitation may be a sign of hypothyroidism. That’s when you don’t make enough thyroid hormone. Without this chemical, your brain and body don’t work very fast. It can happen if you get radiation treatment, have surgery on your thyroid, or you have an autoimmune condition, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Attention or memory problems
  • Constipation
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble staying warm

Treatment for your hypothyroidism should ease your agitation. Your doctor will give you medicine to bring your hormone levels back to normal.

Menstrual Cycle

Hormone changes before your period can make you feel tense. But you may get really overwhelmed and agitated if you have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). That’s a more serious form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Some other symptoms of PMDD include:

  • Crying spells
  • Forgetfulness
  • Severe fatigue
  • Stomach problems
  • Trouble at work or with relationships

Treatment for symptoms of PMDD may include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Exercise
  • Hormonal birth control
  • Stress management
  • Vitamin supplements, like B6 or magnesium

It’s important to talk to your doctor if you have these symptoms every month. It may be a sign that your menstrual cycle is actually making another mood disorder worse.

When to Call a Doctor

If you feel agitated a lot and you don’t know why, talk to your doctor. They can give you tests to find out what’s going on.

And if you or a loved one is thinking about suicide or hurting yourself, tell someone right away. You can reach out to a friend, family member, or a health care professional. You can also go to the emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) any time, day or night.

What is Agitation? Definition, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More

What is Agitation? Definition, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More
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Medically reviewed by Lori Lawrenz, PsyD — By April Kahn — Updated on February 11, 2022

Agitation is a feeling of aggravation, annoyance, restlessness, or nervousness. It can be brought on by actions, words, events, or in some cases, for no known reason.

It’s normal to feel agitated from time to time — for instance, in response to stress from work or school — but it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical or mental health condition.

If you regularly experience agitation for no known reason, talk with your doctor. They can help figure out the cause and treatments available to you.

Agitation is a normal emotion experienced by most people. In the majority of cases, there’s no need for worry or concern.

Common causes of agitation can include:

  • work stress
  • school stress
  • feeling ill
  • burnout
  • peer pressure
  • grief

Medical conditions that can cause agitation include:

  • anxiety or mood disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder
  • conditions that cause hormonal imbalances, like hypothyroidism
  • alcohol dependency or withdrawal
  • autism
  • neurological disorders (in rare cases, brain tumors)

If you regularly feel agitated for no apparent reason, make an appointment with your doctor. An underlying mental or physical health condition may be negatively affecting your mood. Your doctor can help identify the cause of your agitation and, if needed, prescribe treatment.

To identify the underlying cause of your agitation, your doctor will likely start by asking you questions about your medical history and lifestyle, along with other symptoms you may be experiencing.

If they suspect that you have an underlying mental health condition, they may refer you to a mental health specialist for evaluation.

If they think that you have an underlying physical condition, they may conduct one or more diagnostic tests.

For example, they may:

  • collect a sample of your blood to check for hormonal imbalances
  • collect a sample of your urine or spinal fluid to check for abnormalities

In some cases, they may order a CT scan or MRI scan of your brain.

Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on what’s causing your agitation.


To relieve agitation caused by stress, your doctor might recommend a variety of relaxation techniques, including:

  • deep breathing exercises
  • yoga
  • other meditative practices

Deep breathing and meditation can help restore your sense of calm. Exercising and participating in activities you enjoy can also reduce stress.

Your doctor may also refer you to a psychotherapist if these techniques fail to provide you with relief. If you don’t already have a psychotherapist, our Healthline FindCare tool can help you connect to one in your area.

You should take steps to identify and limit your contact with things that cause you stress as well. For example, if you feel overwhelmed by your workload, discuss it with your supervisor or teacher.

Mental health conditions

If you’re diagnosed with an anxiety or a mood disorder, your doctor may recommend medications, talk therapy, or a combination of both to treat it.

During a typical therapy session, you’ll talk about your symptoms and develop strategies to cope with them.

Hormonal imbalances

If you’re diagnosed with a condition that affects your hormones, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy or other medications to treat it. They may also refer you to a hormone specialist, known as an endocrinologist.

Brain tumor

If you’re diagnosed with a brain tumor, your recommended treatment plan will depend on its type, size, and location.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to shrink it. If it can be removed safely with surgery, they may refer you to a surgeon to perform the procedure. If it’s too difficult or dangerous to remove, your doctor may simply choose to monitor the growth for changes.

Your outlook will depend on the underlying cause of your agitation and the steps you take to treat it.

In many cases, taking steps to reduce stress can relieve agitation. In others cases, you may need to take medication or have other treatments on a temporary or ongoing basis.

Ask your doctor for more information about your specific condition, treatment options, and long-term outlook.

Last medically reviewed on February 11, 2022

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Agitation. (2019).
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: When worry gets out Of control. (2022).
  • Understanding agitation. (2014).

Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Feb 11, 2022

Medically Reviewed By

Lori Lawrenz, PsyD

Aug 9, 2019

Written By

April Kahn

Edited By

Amy Boshnack

Copy Edited By

Connor Rice


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Medically reviewed by Lori Lawrenz, PsyD — By April Kahn — Updated on February 11, 2022

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