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When Stress is Making You Irritable

Tis the season, and all that jazz. But many find themselves shorter on patience and lower in tolerance just when we’re supposed to be feeling the most thankful and giving.

People have all sorts of reaction to stress, and one of the most under-recognized is irritability. So once you realize it, what do you do about it?1) Get familiar with your own patterns and triggers.

You might be more irritable at certain times of day. Maybe it’s when your blood sugar is low. Or maybe it’s when you’re running late–and you’re always running late. It might feel like it comes out of the blue but once you reflect, it’s actually somewhat predictable.

2) Once you know your patterns, take responsibility.

That means you can’t blame everyone around you anymore, even though that might have felt better, momentarily. In the big picture, though, it’s better to know what’s you and what’s other people so that you can gain more control over what’s seemed uncontrollable.

I’ve always said: If you’re part of the problem, you have the power to start to fix it.

3) Who else is part of the problem, besides you?

Maybe your loved ones are unwittingly putting more stress on you. Or maybe they’re doing it wittingly, and just expecting that you won’t protest.

If they’re not aware, now’s the time to point it out so that you can  come up with a plan to lower your stress. What can your spouse take off your plate, for example? Or maybe he or she could just be more appreciative of all you’re doing, or be a sounding board when you’re overwhelmed.

If your loved ones are aware but are used to you just doing everything, now’s the time to consider the value of assertiveness. That means expressing directly why something is upsetting to you, and requesting clearly what would help you. It’s time to make yourself heard–not in an angry or resentful way, or just by snapping in the moment, but by having a thoughtful and respectful conversation.

4) Consider outside help.

If  you’re not able to address your own stress with the help and support of your loved ones, it might be time to look into counseling–individual, or couples, or family. Sometimes your irritability is a sign of a deeper problem in your life, and one that you’d be wise to tackle with professional support.

It’s not weakness to ask for help. It takes wisdom to know when you need it, and strength to reach out.

When Stress is Making You Irritable

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2016). When Stress is Making You Irritable. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Nov 2016
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