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Anger & Irritability


Anger and irritability can be normal, but sometimes they can be cause for deeper concern.

Why is everyone so annoying?! I can’t stand being around so many infuriating people! I just need to get away! Have you ever had these thoughts? Or have you ever said these things out loud? Have you wondered why everyone around you seems like they are happy and content, while you feel on edge, upset, and easily triggered?

Have you wondered how they can feel that way, particularly given the chaos we are facing in the world? What about your family? Have they described you as being “overly sensitive” with a “short fuse?” Is that how you want people to describe you? Is that how you view yourself? Have others had the opportunity to see what’s behind the anger and irritability you experience?

What is Irritability?

Irritability is the emotional experience of becoming agitated and frustrated. Although the experience of agitation and frustration is very normal, irritability comes into play when these experiences come about when faced with small and insignificant stressors that would not typically elicit such a response. In such circumstances, minor stressors cause immense tension, causing a reactionary response. These responses can range from non-verbal gestures to overt inappropriate behaviors.

What is Anger?

Anger is an emotional state that is more intense than irritability and includes feeling of fury and rage. It often appears when there is a perceived threat. Anger is often referred to as a “secondary emotion,” in that it is often joined with other negative feelings like anxiety. The emotional experience of anger is often coupled with muscle tension, a release of adrenaline, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. This response provides a feedback loop, causing you to believe you are in danger. Often, aggression follows anger instinctively. Although this response could be useful in dangerous situations (e.g., being attacked by someone), it usually causes more problems than it solves. 

What Causes Irritability & Anger?

There are many reasons we experience irritability and anger, and both internal and external events can lead to these emotions. For example, you might feel angry when stuck in traffic (external event) or when you experience sadness (internal event). You might experience anger and irritability because your body is overwhelmed or fatigued. Think about the last time you had difficulty sleeping. What did your body feel like the next day? How did your mind function? How did you emotionally respond to stressors the next day? Chances are, your body was exhausted, your thoughts were processed slower, and your emotions were unnecessarily reactive to stressors.

Physical pain is another common cause of irritability and anger. This is particularly true for people who experience chronic pain. Another common cause of irritability and anger is life stress. When life circumstances put pressure on you, it is not uncommon to react in an angry or irritable fashion. However, not every instance of anger or irritability means you have a psychological disorder.   

Do I have a Psychological Disorder?

Anger and irritability are normal emotions. Everyone experiences these emotions from time to time, some more than others. It only becomes concerning when irritability becomes the more dominant mood throughout the day. If you experience more irritation and anger than any other emotion, you might have a psychological disorder. If that feeling of irritation and anger upsets you or causes you to have difficulty accomplishing your goals throughout the day, then a diagnosis of a disorder might be fitting. In general, if your irritability and anger are persistent, pervasive, and distressing, you could have a psychological disorder. 

There are several different psychological disorders that include anger and irritability as pervasive symptoms. Some examples include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders (e.g., antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder), and substance use disorders.  

Can Psychological Therapy Help?

Living with anger and irritability can feel overwhelming, not only for you, but for those around you. Your emotional responses impact your environment, which can cause others to respond negatively towards you. This becomes a vicious cycle that is very difficult to stop, particularly if you don’t have insight into the process. 

Participating in therapy can help you understand the factors that are causing your anger and irritability. The work you do in therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, will help you uncover your negative beliefs about yourself and the world. For example, if you hold the belief that people are “dumb,” your emotional response will follow suit, leading to feelings of irritability and anger, which will result in behavior that reflects those emotions (e.g., aggressive acts towards others). Psychological counseling will help you identify your triggers, monitor your emotions, and respond in a more adaptive way. 

Participating in therapy will also help you identify ways to soothe your body through relaxation techniques. However, relaxation techniques only work when you are able to identify the need for them early on. Most people wait far too long into their emotional response to implement them, causing them to be ineffective. Therapy will help you identify the first signs of anger and irritability within your body.  Knowing those initial somatic and emotional signs will serve as a “tap on the shoulder” to tell you it’s time to start soothing your body before it’s too late.  

Therapy will also assist in regulating your habits more positively, like improving your sleep, connecting with your social support network, and exercising regularly. These factors strongly influence your emotional wellbeing.  

How Do I Get Help?

Your days don’t need to feel overwhelming anymore. Every day doesn’t have to feel like a fight. Everyone around you is not your enemy. More importantly, you no longer have to feel alone. Therapy can help. The therapists at Sentience Psychological Services can provide you with the guidance, hope, and treatment that you need.

We provide clients in the Phoenix area with therapy for their anger and irritability every day, and we make your comfort our priority. Reach out to us to schedule your first appointment, and we’ll match you with the therapist who’s the best fit for you and your needs.


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