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5 Ways to Deal with Irritability

5 Causes of IrritabilityThe past two days have been extremely frustrating. To characterize me as “irritable” would be putting it mildly. Normally I keep my head down and my mouth shut. That discipline went away as did my verbal inhibition. Granted, it felt cathartic and I was able to say things in the moment without the “I wish I’d said this” feeling later. I was on form. I was also not acting the way my mother raised me, so toning it down is necessary. How?

To find a solution, we need to figure out the cause without just blaming the bipolar disorder and continuing damaging behavior. Here are some common causes and possible solutions.


Lack of sleep

If your sleep pattern is off, it’s going to have an effect. If your sleep pattern is off and you’re not getting enough sleep, your body isn’t able to recharge and repair, meaning the likelihood of increased bipolar symptoms, especially irritability, are more likely.

Having a routine is one of the essential parts of treatments for bipolar disorder. Structure helps control mood. It makes life predictable and if we’re not caught off guard by a situation, it’s easier to deal with. Sleep is your friend. Not sleeping enough is not a bragging right, it means you’re not taking care of yourself.


This is a big one for me. I’m highly sensitive to stimulation, especially light and noise. Remember the five senses you learned in school? Those are the ones that will produce a response from your nervous system. Hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste. Everything in your environment is being processed. When there’s too much going on, the brain can get overwhelmed. Maybe there are too many sounds or the sound is too loud. A light bulb is flashing or someone’s typing sounds like a jackhammer. My pulse is going up just thinking about it.

What do you do? Take a break. If you can, turn everything off and take some time to breathe. If you’re not in control of your immediate environment, find someplace that will provide the least amount of stimulation: dark, quiet, scent-free. While you’re there, do some breathing exercises and wait to return until you feel better. Remember, for people in the U.S. who work 8 hours per day, you have the right to two, paid fifteen-minute breaks per day. This is a good way to use them.


Life comes with stress. A singular life-event can trigger stress. Over-commitment can trigger stress. Work triggers stress. Driving can trigger stress. (Road rage anyone?). Some stress is actually a good thing. It can help motivate you and stave off depression. The problem is that it’s easy to cross the threshold into bad stress. The entire body reacts to stress: heart rate increases, breathing is labored, the endocrine system sends out stress hormones that sometimes hang around longer than the stress stimulus itself. Your digestive system revolts and headaches are common. No good.

There are a million different websites and books that can tell you the secrets of beating stress. Find what works for you. For bipolar patients it’s important to know what triggers your stress and try to avoid it. Keep a journal to see if you can find patterns. Know your limits and stick to them. Do it for yourself.


Relationships are hard. Relationships that include mental illness are their own special variety of hard. This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships. It’s family, friends, roommates, even acquaintances. Bipolar disorder is confusing and even more so if you are on the other side and don’t know what it feels like to be in our heads. We know how we feel and it’s familiar. Others don’t know and it’s hard to have to explain every time you miss a social engagement that you had a depressive episode. Even when you do explain, some people may think you’re using your illness as an excuse.

A solution? Communication. For those relationships that matter most, it’s important for those involved to express their thoughts and feelings and not let them fester. Have a calm conversation using the most descriptive words you can to explain yourself. The more you know the easier it is to handle moods. Another solution is therapy. A knowledgeable professional is going to be even more helpful. Not only will they be more knowledgeable concerning the illness, they will be able to provide tools for more effective communication.

Bad mood

It’s simple. Everyone has bad moods. Your bad mood may not even be related to bipolar disorder.

There may not be an obvious solution to this one. Try not to think too hard on it. See if it will pass on its own. If it doesn’t, go back to the list above and see if you can find what’s really bothering you.

5 Ways to Deal with Irritability

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2015). 5 Ways to Deal with Irritability. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2015
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