People have all sorts of reactions to stress. One that is often under-recognized is irritability. You might think that other people have just become more annoying lately, but nope. It’s you.
The good news is, if it’s you, then there are things you can do about it. Here’s a good place to start.1) Take a second to ask yourself, “Have I been snapping more at people lately?” Then ask, “Have I been more stressed than usual?”
This might seem obvious, but for many people, stress has become such a chronic condition that they cease to notice its rises and falls. But noticing is pretty much always the starting point for change.
2) If you answered “yes” and “yes” to the preceding questions, identify the stressor.
It might be that you’ve encountered an entirely new situation or problem. Or it might be that you’re just getting worn down by dealing with the same stressor day after day, and you’re nearing your breaking point. Or maybe it’s an intermittent stressor that’s resurfaced and for some reason, you’re having more trouble handling it than usual.
No matter what it is, you are completely entitled to have your feelings about it. What you want to be careful about, however, is alienating the other people in your life who could be giving you support because of your irritability.
3) If you have been snappish or difficult, acknowledge it.
Maybe you’d go a bit further and apologize, but often, what our loved ones want more than an apology is your awareness and the reassurance that you’re going to work on it. They don’t want to walk on eggshells, or snap back, or in some other way degrade the relationship. They want their experience to be validated.
And admitting that you’ve been having a hard time and that you need to work on your coping is not a weakness. It is most definitely a strength.
4) Revisit past coping mechanisms that have been helpful.
Sometimes we know what to do for ourselves; we’ve just gotten away from doing them in all the stress. Making time to go for a run, eat healthy food, watch a silly movie, or just hang out in a low-pressure way with loved ones is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity.
Whoever you just apologized to–I mean, acknowledged–could be helpful in this. He or she could help you remember what you’ve forgotten about your own previous coping, and also step up to clear your schedule so you have the time to pursue those activities.
5) Talk about it.
Stress craves connection. Talking to other people about what’s bothering you, even if they don’t offer any solutions (sometimes especially when they don’t offer solutions), is a bonding event. That, in itself, lowers stress.
Others can help you make sense of your experience, or just sit with you in the difficulty. Don’t be alone in it, because when you’re irritable with others, it’s paradoxically when you need them the most.
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