What Your Irritability is Telling You

We all have days when we just seem to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Even the smallest of inconveniences can feel like disasters and the idiosyncrasies of those around us become particularly annoying.

It isn’t random chance that on some days things seem to get under our skin more than usual. In fact, feeling irritable or agitated can be a signal from your brain or body relaying very important messages. It is important to tune into these messages and not simply ignore them or push them away. Doing so may actually increase feelings of frustration or prolong your discomfort. In addition, sustained periods of irritability can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or an infection, so it is important to understand what is causing your mood shifts.

Here are six potential causes of irritability and how to resolve them:

  1. Low blood sugar. You may have heard the term “hangry” used to describe hunger-based mood swings and irritability. There is a lot of science behind this portmanteau. A lack of glucose, or blood sugar, can cause a number of symptoms including lightheadedness and feelings of nervousness or irritability. If you find yourself getting easily annoyed or frustrated during the day, evaluate your eating habits. Are you skipping meals? Are you getting enough nutrition throughout the day? If you struggle with low or fluctuating blood sugar, you may need to keep some healthy snacks on hand to balance your mood.
  2. Stress. It might seem obvious, but stress in one area of our lives can affect every other area. These effects might be small and unnoticeable at first, but if left unchecked, they can escalate and manifest as frustration, irritability, and annoyance. Sometimes it is easier to express anger at someone or something that is unrelated to the cause of our stress than it is to address the underlying issue. If you find yourself seething at work or losing your temper at home, take stock of where you may be avoiding other issues.
  3. Depression. Irritability is one of the early symptoms of depression, particularly in men, according to Medical News Today. This symptom may be experienced in conjunction with other signs of depression, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, a lack of interest in once pleasurable activities, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness. If you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms, it is important to talk to a mental health professional before your symptoms become worse.
  4. Lack of sleep. When we are under-rested, our nervous systems often feel tense and on-edge. We may be particularly sensitive to light, sound, and smell and we may find we have less patience or capacity to deal with those around us. If you find yourself consistently irritable, it may be helpful to look at your sleep schedule and track how much sleep you are actually getting as well as the quality of that sleep. Even if you are going to bed at a reasonable hour, but tossing and turning or experiencing vivid dreams, it may be a sign that you are not achieving restful sleep.
  5. Sugar or caffeine crash. Sugar and caffeine are two very common elements of the modern Western diet. Both provide a quick burst of energy and feelings of wellbeing that can help us power through certain tasks and lift our moods. However, once the effects of these substances subside, we can be left feeling more depleted and irritable than before. This can lead to an addictive cycle where more sugar or caffeine are then ingested to compensate. If you feel annoyed during particular times of the day, it may be due to your diet and your sugar or caffeine intake. Instead of relying on these substances, try substituting with a longer-lasting source of energy—such as protein or fat—and supplementing with energy-giving vitamins such as B12.
  6. Hormones. Fluctuating hormone levels are a major cause of irritability and hyper-sensitivity. Low testosterone levels can lead to irritability as can thyroid conditions that affect your hormonal balance. Changes in estrogen and progesterone can also affect serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and sleep cycles. Women who experience PMS are familiar with the mood swings and irritability associated with the days leading up to their period.

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