Im so irritated

What causes irritability? Symptoms, severity, and treatments

When a person feels irritable, small things that would not usually bother them can make them feel annoyed or agitated. The resulting tension can make a person more sensitive to stressful situations.

Irritability is a common emotion. Many factors can cause or contribute to irritability, including life stress, a lack of sleep, low blood sugar levels, and hormonal changes.

Extreme irritability, or feeling irritable for an extended period, can sometimes indicate an underlying condition, such as an infection or diabetes. It may also be a sign of a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.

People may experience the following symptoms along with increased irritability:

  • confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • excessive sweating
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • fast or shallow breathing

In this article, we look at what can cause irritability in adults and children and provide tips for managing irritability.

Share on PinterestLife stress is one of the major causes of irritability.

Going through a stressful period can make a person feel more irritable than usual.

When someone experiences a stressful life event — which may tie in with work, school, trauma, or grief — they may find it more difficult to manage their emotions and can become overwhelmed. They may feel less tolerant of the people around them.

Feeling overwhelmed by life stress is normal, but prolonged periods of stress can lead to emotional exhaustion. Recognizing the early signs of stress and taking steps to relieve this feeling can help people avoid burnout.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide useful tips for coping with life stress.

Depression affects nearly 16 million adults in the United States. It can manifest in a wide range of symptoms and often causes persistent sadness, fatigue, and irritability.

One of the early signs of depression or a depression relapse is stronger feelings of irritability.

Irritability is more likely to be one of the symptoms of depression in men than in women, and it often occurs alongside aggressive feelings, risk-taking, and substance abuse.

The National Institute of Mental Health state that people may have depression if they experience any of the following symptoms for 2 or more weeks:

  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
  • loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
  • fatigue
  • concentration or memory problems
  • headaches
  • digestive problems
  • sudden changes in appetite or weight

Not everyone experiences every symptom of depression. Symptoms can vary in severity and duration.

Feelings of anxiety often arise in response to stressful situations in life, such as problems at work, preparing for an important exam, or going through significant life changes. This type of anxiety usually goes away once the stressful situation passes.

However, anxiety may linger or worsen over time and can severely affect a person’s daily activities, work performance, and personal relationships.

If a person has excessive anxiety or worry that lasts for 6 months or longer, they may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which affects up to 20% of adults in the U.S. each year.

The symptoms of GAD can occur in other types of anxiety disorder and may include:

  • irritability
  • a rapid heart rate
  • shallow breathing
  • muscle tension
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • problems falling asleep or staying asleep

People may also experience panic attacks. A panic attack refers to a period of intense fear that develops with little to no warning and peaks within minutes. The exact triggers vary from person to person, and they may not always be apparent.

People who experience panic attacks may find themselves worrying about when the next attack will occur. They might go out of their way to avoid situations, places, or behaviors that could trigger an attack. Thinking about triggers and panic attacks can make a person feel overwhelmed and irritable.

The term phobia describes an intense fear or aversion to a certain object, person, or situation.

Thinking about or having exposure to the phobic situation or item can make a person feel overwhelmed, panicky, and more irritable than usual.

People who have a phobia disorder may feel intense fear or anxiety about:

  • flying
  • heights
  • needles
  • blood
  • being outside
  • social situations
  • specific animals, such as dogs or snakes

Share on PinterestA lack of sleep can cause a person to feel irritable the next day.

Not getting enough sleep, or sleep deprivation, can make a person feel irritable the next day. Children are especially likely to be unusually irritable or emotional if they have not had enough good quality sleep.

If a person feels tired all of the time or finds that sleeping does not make them feel refreshed, they may have a sleep disorder that causes them to wake up regularly at night, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that one in three adults do not get enough sleep. They recommend that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers should get 8–10 hours per night, while babies may need up to 16 hours.

Getting enough good quality sleep is important for health. It plays a role in boosting mental performance, concentration, and immune system function, and it also reduces the risk of heart disease and depression.

People can boost their quality of sleep by adopting the following practices to improve their sleep hygiene:

  • avoiding eating large meals and drinking caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • sleeping in a dark, quiet room
  • removing electronic devices, such as televisions, computers, and phones from the bedroom
  • trying to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day, including at weekends
  • getting regular exercise

Read more tips for better sleep here.

Having low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia, can affect a person’s physical and psychological health. Low blood sugar commonly affects people with diabetes as a result of them using insulin and other diabetes medications.

However, people with or without diabetes can experience temporary hypoglycemia if they have not eaten for several hours.

The symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • irritability or nervousness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • trembling
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded

Hypoglycemia can also affect a person’s sleep. People can experience nightmares and excessive sweating throughout the night.

Hormonal imbalances can cause various physical and psychological symptoms, including irritability. High levels of stress, poor nutrition, and inadequate sleep can influence people’s hormones.

Other possible causes of hormonal imbalance include:

  • diabetes
  • hyperthyroidism
  • polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • menopause

Low levels of testosterone or high levels of estrogen can cause irritability in males.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is an example of a common hormonal imbalance that can result in mood swings and irritability.

PMS is very common, with over 90% of people reporting PMS symptoms in the week or fortnight before their period.

Other common symptoms of PMS include:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • low mood
  • increased anxiety
  • crying easily
  • food cravings
  • abdominal bloating
  • tender or swollen breasts
  • constipation or diarrhea

If a person experiences severe irritability, depression, or anxiety in the lead up to their period, they may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This condition affects up to 5% of females of childbearing age. A doctor can provide information on treatment options for PMDD.

Young children go through phases of appearing more or less irritable. These phases are a normal part of development.

Children often seem irritable if they have a viral or bacterial infection. This irritability will usually go away when they feel better.

In other cases, irritability in children and adolescents can indicate a mood or behavior disorder, such as:

  • anxiety disorder
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • depression

Mood and behavior disorders are relatively common. According to a 2019 study on mood and behavior disorders in children aged 3–17 years:

  • 7.4% have a behavior or conduct disorder
  • 7.1% have anxiety
  • 3.2% have depression

The causes of irritability in older adults are the same as those in younger adults, although there is an increased likelihood of mood swings, depression, and irritability having an association with physical pain, isolation, loneliness, or an underlying medical condition.

The National Institute on Aging list mood changes, personality changes, and increased agitation as early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Learn more about the early signs of dementia here.

The treatment options for irritability vary depending on the underlying cause. Effectively treating the cause will relieve feelings of irritability and other related symptoms.

Medications, such as mood stabilizers and antidepressants, can help treat mood disorders. Professional counseling can help reduce mood-related symptoms, such as fear, worry, and irritability.

Treatments for hormonal imbalances include diet and lifestyle changes as well as hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy may not work for everyone, so it is best to consult a trained healthcare professional before starting hormone supplements.

Share on PinterestA person may be able to manage their irritability through regular exercise.

People can manage their irritability in several different ways. Certain methods will work better for some people than others. It is up to the individual to find which coping mechanisms best suit their personality and lifestyle.

A few general tips for managing irritability include:

  • exercising regularly
  • eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and low in processed foods
  • maintaining a regular sleep schedule
  • practicing slow breathing techniques
  • practicing meditation
  • speaking with trusted friends and family members
  • meeting with a mental health practitioner or counselor
  • using a journal to keep track of mood changes and triggers

People can experience periods of irritability in response to stressful situations. Persistent irritability may indicate an underlying physical or psychological disorder, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • low blood sugar
  • hormonal imbalances

Children may appear irritable as a normal part of development. In other cases, irritability may be due to an infection, mood disorder, or behavior disorder, such as ADHD, depression, or anxiety.

Older adults may also experience frequent periods of irritability if they feel isolated or lonely. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can cause changes in a person’s mood or personality.

People can speak with a doctor or a trained mental health professional if they feel that they need help managing their irritability.

Irritability: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Irritability: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By April Kahn — Updated on August 6, 2019


Irritability is a feeling of agitation. Although, some describe “agitation” as a more severe form of irritability.

Regardless of the term you use, when you’re irritable, you’re likely to become frustrated or upset easily. You might experience it in response to stressful situations. It may also be a symptom of a mental or physical health condition.

Babies and young children are often reported to feel irritable, especially when they’re tired or sick. For example, children often become fussy when they have ear infections or stomach aches.

Adults can also feel irritable for a variety of reasons. If you feel irritable on a regular basis, make an appointment with your doctor. You may have an underlying condition that requires treatment.

Many things can cause irritability. The causes can be divided into two general categories: physical and psychological.

Several common psychological causes of irritability include:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • autism

Some mental health disorders have been associated with irritability, including, but not limited to:

  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia

Common physical causes can include:

  • sleep deprivation
  • low blood sugar
  • ear infections
  • toothaches
  • some diabetes-related symptoms
  • certain respiratory disorders
  • flu

Medical conditions that cause hormonal changes can also affect your mood. Examples include:

  • menopause
  • premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • polycystic ovary syndrome (POS)
  • hyperthyroidism
  • diabetes

You may also experience irritability as a side effect of medication that you’re taking. Other potential causes include:

  • drug use
  • alcoholism
  • nicotine withdrawal
  • caffeine withdrawal

Most people feel irritable from time to time. For example, it’s normal to feel cranky after a poor night’s rest.

Some people feel irritable on a more regular basis. If you find that irritability is interfering with your daily life, talk with your doctor. They can help you identify potential causes of your irritability.

In some cases, your feelings of irritability may be accompanied or preceded by other symptoms.

For example, these symptoms might include:

  • sweating
  • racing heart
  • fast breathing
  • confusion
  • anger

If a hormonal imbalance is causing your irritability, you may have other symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • headache
  • hot flashes
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • reduced sex drive
  • hair loss

If you feel irritable on a regular basis, and you don’t know why, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you identify possible causes. They can also discuss treatment options and strategies to help manage your mood, once the cause is identified.

During your visit, your doctor will likely request your medical history, including any medications that you’re taking.

They’ll also ask about your history of psychological conditions. Your lifestyle habits, such as sleeping patterns and alcohol consumption or any other substances you may be using will likely be discussed. Your doctor will want to know about sources of stress in your life.

Depending on your symptoms and medical history, they may order one or more tests, including blood and urine analyses. The level of certain hormones in your blood may point to a hormonal imbalance. The level of glucose in your blood or urine may point to diabetes.

They may also refer you to a mental health professional for evaluation.

Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on your specific diagnosis. The best way to treat irritability is to address its underlying cause.

If your doctor diagnoses you with a mental health condition, they may refer you to a professional for counseling. Prescription medications may be recommended to help control your mood. Talk therapy and medications are often combined to treat conditions, such as depression.

If they suspect your irritability is caused by alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or other drug withdrawal, your doctor may recommend a combination of talk therapy and medications. Together they can help control your cravings.

If you’re diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance, your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy. This treatment isn’t right for everyone. Carefully discuss your options with your doctor before trying hormone replacement therapy on your own.

If you’re experiencing irritability as a symptom of an infection, it’ll likely resolve when your infection clears. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medications to help treat it.

Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to help control your mood. For example, they may encourage you to adjust your:

  • diet
  • exercise routine
  • sleep habits
  • stress management practices

Last medically reviewed on August 6, 2019

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.

  • Your health and hormones. (2016).
  • Judd L, et al. (2012). Prevalence and clinical significance of subsyndromal manic symptoms, including irritability and psychomotor agitation, during bipolar major depressive episodes. DOI:
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Mood disorders.

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Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By April Kahn — Updated on August 6, 2019

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What to do when everything is annoying.

Psychological advice


© Evie Shaffer/Pexels

Author Alexandra Egorova

July 14, 2020

Do you notice that you overreact to little things? Do you chastise colleagues and lash out at loved ones? Increased irritability can signal unresolved problems or be a symptom of an illness. In any case, irritability must be dealt with.

The material was checked and commented by Olga Kitaina — psychologist, founder of the service for the selection of psychologists Alter

What is irritability

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This state is often described as a mood. Unlike outbursts of anger or aggression, which are usually caused by specific events, irritability monotonously accompanies a person for some time. In everyday life, this is called "everything infuriates." Even the most minor everyday difficulties or setbacks — coffee suddenly ran out, a shoelace broke, a friend was late for a meeting — cause a distinct negative reaction [1], which seems too emotional. nine0003

Everything turns out one to one (only in a bad sense), a person does not expect anything good, and the next mistake is perceived with tired irritation and even gloomy satisfaction, as it makes it possible to express everything in the face of the first person who comes across.

Everyone can experience irritability, but it is not always a cause for alarm. We can talk about increased irritability, including in children and adolescents [2], if it interferes with normal life: it makes work difficult, overshadows communication with loved ones, and deprives them of the usual joys. nine0003

Causes of irritability

They can be divided into two large groups [3]: psychological and physiological. Unfortunately, this division does not give an answer in which cases you need to go to the doctor, and in which a person can handle it himself. The first group includes both temporary stress and serious psychological conditions that require attention from a specialist, such as bipolar disorder. The second also includes completely different conditions: lack of sleep and diabetes, unbalanced nutrition and toothache. Some conditions can be caused by infections (flu), others by hormonal disorders. nine0003

In women, additional causes of irritability can be premenstrual syndrome, menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome, and some others. In addition, irritability as a symptom of conditions common to both sexes [4] is more common in women.

In order to provide the doctor with the necessary information already at the first appointment or to cope on your own, it is worth observing your condition. Of course, as long as you don't feel any pain (like a toothache), you don't have a fever or other obvious signs that you need to go to the doctor immediately. nine0003

© Anastasia Shuraeva/Pexels

Things you can do at home

When you visit a general practitioner or specialist, the doctor will probably ask about your habits, daily routine, nutrition and physical activity, stress level. He will ask you to tell about the diseases of your relatives and the drugs you are taking, because irritability can also be a side effect of taking medications [5].

If you don't get enough sleep on a regular basis, you don't exercise enough, and you don't follow nutritional guidelines, you'll have to deal with this. Observations of oneself can be made the basis on which it is realistic to build physical and psychological comfort. nine0003

It is ideal to keep a diary of emotions and nutrition, note workouts and sleep time. Brief explanations will suffice, indicating probable causes (both physiological and emotional). In order to structure observations, you can indicate your state of one of the template marks. It can be, for example, a smiley or one of the pre-selected words. It is better to keep notes electronically, so you can quickly print your notes or email them to your doctor.

Psychological causes of irritability

  • chronic stress;
  • poorly developed coping skills;
  • insufficient self-care (not enough sleep, food, time for hobbies and loved ones).

Irritability can also be a symptom of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other illnesses.

It is fundamentally important to understand whether you did not get enough sleep or do not tolerate being late at all? Headache unsettles you or are you sick of work? These states may overlap. And only observation and respect for yourself and others will help you figure it out. nine0003

How not to hurt the feelings of those who are dear to you

Honesty is the best policy both with yourself and with your loved ones. Tell what you are experiencing. Not necessarily in all the details - only what you are ready to share, and what seems appropriate to you. If you explain to relatives and friends that your irritability is not a manifestation of hostility towards them, but a consequence of circumstances or your internal processes, it will be easier for them to understand and support you. To learn how to pronounce problems and accurately determine your condition, it is useful to develop emotional intelligence. nine0003

Psychologist's comment

Olga Kitaina, psychologist, founder of the Alter psychologist selection service: “In a certain situation, irritability is useful - it signals that our boundaries have been violated, our values ​​are under threat, something is not going according to plan. We tend to think of irritability as something bad, while anger can be experienced positively as a feeling of vitality and energy. Irritability becomes a problem when it leads to a reaction that is inappropriate for a stimulus, which in turn can lead to difficulties at work or in personal life. nine0003

Feeling annoyed is part of our lives and is absolutely normal, but we must remember that a certain reaction may be read by others as a violation of their rights and boundaries.

How to cope with irritability when it becomes a problem

During an attack

  • ). This breathing helps to relax.
  • nine0047 Distract - try to distract yourself with something that will take your thoughts away from the irritant.
  • Ventilate emotions - you can “reset” emotions in a useful way: move to a place where no one sees or hears you and yells into a pillow, tear paper that no one needs, inflate a balloon. All this makes it possible to channel the emotional charge that has arisen without harming anyone.
  • Transition to assertive behavior [6] - learning not only to act out an emotional reaction, but also to take steps that would help correct the situation that causes an acute reaction. We always have a choice of reaction, we need to learn to catch a pause between the stimulus and our response to it and make a choice that is more useful for us. nine0048

After an attack

  • Develop awareness and acceptance skills. Mindfulness techniques will help you develop your ability to linger between stimulus and response and choose more appropriate behavior. And developing acceptance skills will help you not perceive more stimuli as annoying. How to learn it? There is a lot of literature on the topic of mindfulness, there are applications that help in the development of this skill, you can find specialized trainings and classes. Psychotherapy, especially Acceptance and Responsibility Therapy (TPO), is helpful in developing acceptance techniques. nine0048
  • After you've shown irritability in a bad way, say offended someone, you might want to consider what you can do to minimize the damage, such as apologizing. And most importantly, decide what you will do next. Planning our future actions makes it more likely that we will do so next time.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered to be the basic approach to dealing with irritability and anger in psychotherapy. If you feel like you can't handle the condition on your own, then working with a specialist is a good idea. This will allow you to minimize the risk that a poorly managed emotional state will harm your career, relationships, and self-image. nine0048

The soul hurts: how and for whom the Russian psychotherapy market works .

Tags: psychology

Irritation, causes of irritation

My son annoys me when he, without washing his hands from the street, grabs an apple, my mother makes me nervous, deducting me for not putting on a warm hat in the cold, a husband who, despite my daily lectures on the dangers of smoking, is not going to part with harmful habit, wildly angers the boss, who demands the result five minutes after he issued the task. And actually, I can continue this list endlessly. What annoys you? nine0003

While you are thinking about this question, I will note that although there are infinitely many reasons, there are several reasons, and you need to look for them in our subconscious, which in fact does not require any special skills in psychoanalysis. It is enough just at the moment of irritation to “catch yourself” and ask yourself the question: “Why am I irritated?”.

Causes of irritation

1. Violation of our idea of ​​"good - bad." Of course, we want others to behave according to our ideas about the rules of conduct. But very often the opposite happens. nine0003

My husband who refuses to quit smoking is violating my healthy lifestyle. A son who takes an apple with unwashed hands runs the risk of catching an infection. Through the headphones of my neighbor in the minibus, a hard rap is pouring on the passengers, and a young lady is discussing the purchase of underwear with a friend on the phone. The whole world around is behaving incorrectly, I know this for sure, and therefore I have every right to be annoyed!

2. Response to external aggression. nine0072 The boss who "presses", trying to squeeze out the result in the shortest possible time. An employee who tries to blame me for all the mistakes made in a joint project. A friend who complains about life for over an hour without caring about my time. Constant calls with promotional offers from a cosmetic company that once managed to leave my phone. We all constantly experience external influences, which are either initially aggressive or perceived by us as such (for example, at the moment of a bad mood). nine0003

3. Envy of the object of irritation. No one is as critical of themselves as those who have achieved mass success and recognition. Film actors, show business stars, politicians. Their lives often become the subject of gossip and discussion. Often we are annoyed by arrogance, narcissism, excessive ambition. But is it not because the objects of our irritation can afford what we cannot afford? They have what we don’t have, but the worse we are, we are quite worthy to have the same! Or we put in so much effort to achieve this position, and someone got it in one moment! Irritated by the unfairness of the situation. nine0003

4. Unjustified expectations. We can be very obliging in dealing with people: worry about our friends, empathize with them, offer our support. But we don't always get the same attitude in return. What about a date your girlfriend didn't show up for or your boyfriend canceled? Or if you came up with a corporate party scenario, but at some point the team decided to abandon it and just dance in the club, are you easily ready to switch to the general wave and abandon your idea? We counted on the praise of the authorities, but instead we were pointed out to the mistakes made. We were going to buy time, but we lost it in vain ... Such situations happen to us all the time. nine0003

This may not be an exhaustive list of causes of irritation. Think and make your own classification. Moreover, for each of us there are the most characteristic and typical reasons.

What should you do when you find irritation?

1. Do not react immediately. Of course, one cannot suppress the emotion of irritation in oneself, but also giving it an instant outlet is a wrong decision. If I say in an annoyed tone to my son: “Well, put the apple back!”, He may throw it on the floor. And then we will start to wage war - who will over-stubborn whom. And if I answer the employee who blamed the failure of the project on me: “It’s my own fault!”, We will never find a way to fix the situation. In some cases, when your immediate reaction cannot be without irritation, it is better to step back for a while, collect your thoughts and analyze the situation. nine0003

2. Consider the situation that caused the irritation. You must ask yourself the question - what exactly and why annoys you? How much of the cause lies outside, how much in yourself? Are you annoyed by the laughter of a colleague because you have a headache after a sleepless night? Are you worried about the health of your loved ones, the success of the project, or your own comfort, fame and recognition? Try to objectively assess the position of both sides of the conflict. Perhaps your colleague is afraid of losing his job, or does he have family troubles, poor health? Or your boss really has no idea how long this or that job can take. nine0003

3. Think about ways to resolve the situation. If the situation arose in the process of interacting with another person, consider how you can eliminate the element of aggression from it. For example, provide your boss with a detailed description of your actions to complete the task assigned to him, indicating how much time it is expected to take. Or address the employee with a proposal: "Let's review the situation together, find out at what stage there was a misunderstanding, and agree on our actions for the future. " The main thing - never hush up the situation that caused irritation. Otherwise, these situations risk becoming a system. nine0003

4. Be willing to change your attitude towards people and circumstances. They say how many people, so many opinions. One likes one, the other - the other, the third - the third. I love romantic comedies, my husband loves action movies and thrillers, my son loves cartoons. Is this a reason to tear the TV remote control from each other's hands? I am a phlegmatic, my girlfriend is a choleric, I am absent-minded and dreamy, she is collected and pragmatic. Can we get along? Not to mention religious beliefs, cultural traditions... We are all different, and everyone needs to learn to coexist in the world, which means accepting reality and those around them as they are. And if you try to change something, then using maximum patience and tact. nine0003

5. Do work with the annoyance of the work situation of your life.

Learn more