Irritability – A Common Anxiety Symptom:

Irritability is a common symptom of anxiety – especially anxiety attacks. Those with severe anxiety often find that they’re easy to upset, and unfortunately this means that those close to you both literally (as in distance) and figuratively (as in close partners) are at risk for causing you to lash out because of this irritability.

In this article, we’ll explore this type of close irritability, including why it occurs and what you can do to reduce it.

Are You Irritable From Anxiety?

Anxiety attacks often make you extremely irritable in ways that are hard for you to control. This irritability is not you; it’s what comes from you trying too hard to manage your anxiety on your own.

Types of Close Irritability

Anxiety causes you to feel negative emotions often. It also gives less tolerance for additional stress and mental energy. The more severe your anxiety, the more likely irritability will occur.

It’s not unlike depression, where your mind is genuinely altered to have not necessarily negative thoughts, but worrisome thoughts that make it hard to cope with daily life. Many people with anxiety are “in their own head” 24 hours a day, trying as hard as they can to feel happier again.

When you are that close to the edge, it’s no wonder that so many people struggle to maintain their emotions, and are quick to negative ones. When you are dealing with so many anxiety symptoms at all times, you are in such a struggle with yourself that anything that adds to it makes it even harder to control in the future.

There are two types of close irritability:

  • Physically CloseThis is when you become more irritable when someone is nearby. It’s the reaction to feeling like you are without space to do this on your own, or like there is someone around you that is causing you more pressure and possibly making your anxiety worse.
  • Emotionally CloseThis is when you are more irritable around those that you care about. In a way, this type of irritability can cause added stress, because you regret the things you say and it can drive a wedge between you and the person you care for.

Both of these have similar, but ultimately different causes:

Physically Close

During anxiety – especially during an anxiety attack – anything that adds stress and pressure to your life can cause significant irritation. Unfortunately, those that are physically close to you are unintentionally causing that very stress.

In some cases it is internal. You may simply be embarrassed that you are suffering from so much anxiety or afraid that the person will see it and judge you. Some people simply become more stressed when they’re in anything that appears to be a social situation.

In some cases it’s external. You may find what they’re doing annoying in some way, like loud chewing. They may smell or be invading your personal space. Normally these are things you would be able to shrug off and ignore, but when you are dealing with so much anxiety it’s not uncommon to find that the anxiety makes you angry and upset at the person, even if you don’t know them.

Emotionally Close

It’s also not uncommon to become easily irritated by those that are emotionally close to you, like a significant other. The cause of this irritation is more complex:

  • You may find that it’s stressful that they don’t understand what you are going through.
  • You may find the emotions you see in their face when they see you to cause stress.
  • You may worry about disappointed them or causing them to think less of you.

You may also be far more prone to stress over the smallest criticism, in a way that is unfair to you and unfair to them. When you struggle with daily anxiety, it’s not uncommon for you to be barely hanging on and depend on your emotional partners to help you through it. So when they make even a slight criticism, it makes you feel much worse than it would if you weren’t suffering from intense anxiety.

Fear of being irritable can also increase irritation. If you’ve found yourself easily upset at a partner in the past, it’s not uncommon to be on edge any time your partner is near and you are suffering from intense anxiety.

The key thing to remember is that anxiety isn’t just worry. It’s the tendency toward negative emotions, along with physical and mental symptoms that make it hard to find life easy to manage.

Understanding Anxiety, Agitation and Restlessness

Anxiety changes emotions. If you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time, you’ve probably noticed that your anxiety has left you a different person. You may be a bit more agitated – a bit more restless – and you may find yourself quicker to experiencing annoyance or negative emotions. These are all a part of anxiety.

Agitation = Anxiety?

It’s hard to believe that agitation can be caused by anxiety, since it feels so natural. But feeling agitated and feeling restless are all a part of living with anxiety symptoms. You don’t have to live with these negative emotions forever.

Negative Emotions Are a Part of Anxiety

People think of anxiety as one emotion: anxiety itself. Few people realize that anxiety is a complete disorder, and one that causes a whole host of emotions and symptoms that often seem completely unrelated.

There are many different reasons that anxiety has a tendency to lead to agitation, and other negative feelings. Some include:

  • Nervous EnergyAt its core, agitation and restlessness are due to nervous energy. Anxiety provides a constant flow of adrenaline in your system. This adrenaline puts your entire body on edge, because it’s preparing you for “fight or flight” – an evolutionary system designed to keep you safe in times of danger. Of course, no danger is present, so that energy goes unused, and this leads to a feeling of being very agitated, as though something needs to happen that isn’t happening.
  • Negative TendenciesNot all agitation is physical. Anxiety has a tendency to cause the mind to notice and focus on the things that are negative – not only as a behavioral response to anxiety, but also because it alters brain chemistry in a way that may make it harder to see positive things. During periods of high anxiety – especially during or right before an anxiety attack – anything that may bother you becomes amplified, and you start to feel as though the world is an irritant.
  • Anxiety FatigueFinally, many people become more restless and on edge simply because they’re tired of the anxiety. Dealing with anxiety every day can often be very troubling, and eventually it’s not uncommon to feel annoyed at yourself and your anxiety every time you feel anxious. This, too, can cause agitation, and in some cases negative emotions may even cause you to last out at those around you.

Agitation can be defined in many different ways, and so too does anxiety seem to create agitation in many different ways as well. It’s not as simple as saying that your fight/flight system causes agitation or that you’re

Sadness, “the blues,” low mood, feeling glum, bummed out, or down for no clear reason.

  • No longer being interest in doing things that previously were compelling or interesting. In some cases, this escalates into a complete loss of interest in doing anything at all, and withdrawing from social activity. In other cases, the activity continues but pleasure/enjoyment ceases.
  • Appetite changes that result in weight changes: increases or decreases may be part of depression, but only significant weight loss is noted as diagnostic criterion.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: oversleeping (can’t get out of bed, sleeping excessive number of hours) or inability to sleep.
  • Feeling tired, washed out, and exhausted despite sleeping.
  • An increase in fidgety, purposeless movement such as pacing, nail biting, or chewing the insides of your mouth or a complete absence of such movements (the technical term for this is psychomotor agitation or retardation).
  • Excessive guilt and feeling worthless.
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling overwhelmed or unable to complete basic mental or physical tasks; feeling unable to do “normal” activities such as driving, food shopping, answering emails, etc.
  • Thoughts of death, thoughts of suicide, plans of suicide, or attempting suicide.

How to Control the Agitation of Anxiety

That agitation can cause its own distress, which is why controlling it is so important. If you don’t control your agitation, you’ll find that it causes more anxiety which causes more agitation. Many people find that agitation tends to precipitate a panic attack, often because the feeling of being on edge puts your body on high alert, which in turn causes you to focus more on your anxiety.

The first key to controlling agitation is simply to learn not to fight it. It’s a symptom of your anxiety, and in many ways it’s important to simply accept that you’re going to be agitated, and remind yourself that anxiety is causing it. This is extremely important, because fighting agitation and fighting restlessness will cause you even more stress. These things aren’t going to simply go away just because you don’t want them, and you also need to not blame yourself for the way that you feel. Anxiety is simply not in your control.

Another strategy to reduce agitation is to work off that energy. Remember, adrenaline is pumping through your body because your body thinks you’re encountering some type of fear. The feeling of restlessness is often caused by all that adrenaline sitting there, going unused. So use it. Get moving. If you can run, go run, and if all you can do is walk around for a while then walk around for a while. Find a way to relieve some of that energy.

Other strategies to try include:

  • Mantra MeditationMantra meditation is a useful tool for reducing stressful thoughts and controlling breathing. Placing yourself in that type of relaxed environment can have a powerful effect on anxiety.
  • YellingSometimes, all you need is a good yell. If no one is around you and you’re in a place where no one will hear you, try yelling as loud as you can. Loud yelling releases some of that pent up energy.
  • LaughingFinally, if you can find anything to make you laugh, that can be a big help. Laughter can be very difficult when you’re suffering with agitation, but if there is anything in your life that consistently makes you laugh, focus on it. Laughter, like yelling, reduces some of that nervous energy and puts your mind on something much more positive.

Anxiety causes a great deal of buildup, which is why there are not many effective ways to simply relieve agitation on its own. You need to address the anxiety that causes that agitation in the first place. Only then can you truly control the agitation experience.

How to Respond to the Irritability of Anxiety

Irritability is something you can partially control. Irritation from those that are physically close to you requires you to simply learn to accept your own irritation and not act on it. As long as you don’t lash out, there isn’t that much harm. If you find yourself irritable, take a deep breath and remind yourself that anxiety is what’s causing it. If you can, get up and move. If not, you may need to deal with the irritation and then focus on reducing irritation another day.

Irritability with your partner or someone close to you is a bit easier to control. Consider the following important tips and strategies:

  • Communicate AlwaysYou may be embarrassed or ashamed when you have anxiety, but the person close to you needs to know. This is especially true if you are having (or think you are about to have) a panic attack. Tell your partner. Don’t let them guess, and make sure that you are open and talking about everything that you feel. Part of the irritation is from keeping it all inside and having your partner invade your space. Communicating ensures you are not doing that.
  • Apologize QuicklyAs soon as you realize you are being easily irritated, apologize. The longer you sit and get upset with yourself, the more you’ll fear irritation in the future and become more likely to be irritable. Be honest as well – make sure you tell your partner why you are irritable.
  • Explain What You NeedOften those close to you have no idea how to talk to you when you are anxious. Make sure that you are open with what you need. If you need someone nearby holding you, tell them. If you need them to try to avoid criticisms when you are suffering, tell them when the best time to talk to you is. Some people need those they care about to talk about something other than their anxiety as a distraction. Whatever you need, communicate it.

These aren’t going to stop the irritability, but they are going to help reduce the extent that your irritability affects you and those around you. You’ll still need to cure your anxiety if you truly want the irritability to go away.

I’ve worked with many irritable people in the past whose anxiety caused them to be emotional quickly. Please,  do not hesitate to contact me for online meditation and Pratyahara session!

Till then,  Take care 😊 Namaste!

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