Anger and Irritation: Tips for Coping in the Moment

Let’s say you come home from an okay day at work. Ever find yourself irritable with those around you? Maybe you react to things that would make a calmer you think, “This is not such a big deal. Why am I so upset?” This happens to me too.

When I am at my best, I will then apologize and ask for a little time to myself. Backing out of the moment gives me time to reflect on what the heck is happening. With just a little practice, I am able to now take a few deep breaths in another room or on a quick walk and start looking at my day or some other unresolved issue on my mind.

Figure Out What’s Wrong and Make Amends
Perhaps you have been feeling stress around work or family. Sometimes it’s easy for me to look at the day and recognize that I’m still bothered by an earlier interaction or by what I think I “should” be doing but am not. Other times though, I have to look more deeply. Maybe I’m thinking about the last interaction I had with someone I don’t see often, and certain thoughts and feelings are activated by just thinking about them. These past issues do indeed haunt us and do not just go away.

In the perfect world, we can deal with these issues either directly or in counseling. If we are not dealing with them, our unresolved feelings can leak out, like they did today when I came home and was irritable.

By taking my time to reflect and think it out, it becomes much easier for me then to come back and say something like, “Sorry, I’ve been thinking about such and such today and it is bothering me a bit. I am sorry I was short with you.” This can lead to a wonderful conversation that eases some of what is on your mind. Other times, I may need a little more time and intervention in order to be able to come back and make amends for my irritability.

Let It All Out
If I go for a walk, I like to verbalize, or speak out loud, some of what is on my mind. This is akin to the “empty chair,” but in walking fashion. I may replay the interaction or incident that got me thinking about the old hurt, perhaps vent some frustration aloud, and even problem-solve: what I could have done differently in the situation that’s bothering me, as well as what I might want to say to make amends for my irritability.

When the pain is deeper, I like to write out in my computer journal. I password protect it so I can be sure to keep things to myself. Sometimes just starting to write, even when I am not exactly sure what will come out, yields a lot of thought and emotion that may have been stuck inside. We need to give our thoughts and feelings their due and validate our experiences whether we can change things or not. As I write, I tend to verbalize ideas and wonder aloud how I got there. Being able to see the words and hear them aloud sometimes brings new meaning and is different than just thinking about it silently. I can sometimes relate a current situation to something that happened in the past and remind myself of an unresolved issue.

Reaching out to a friend or loved one or working through problems in counseling can also be wonderful ways to get the feelings out. Don’t keep them inside. They will affect you.

© Copyright 2010 by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT, therapist in Chino, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • bret

    bret

    September 20th, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    i do find myself irritated at people for no reason when i have had a tough day at school or have encountered a problem.this also happens when i am pre-occupied with something and somebody come and talks to me.i charge at them for no reason.

  • runninfast

    runninfast

    September 21st, 2010 at 4:35 AM

    Running is my me time. When I do not get that, even just a mile or so, I feel like I am in the worst mood. It lets me unwind from the day.

  • Princess

    Princess

    September 21st, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    It can be very difficult to control when something is not right, you are agitated and you have to deal with someone. Its like you are scared you are going to hurt them because of your mental state but then you cannot prevent the conversation either.

  • Bernard

    Bernard

    September 21st, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    Thanks very much for the tips, Stuart. My wife says she can tell what my day’s been like just by looking out the window and seeing me get out the car. My face speaks volumes, apparently. I would like to be able to leave work at work and home at home.

  • Stuart

    Stuart

    September 21st, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    Thank you. Some wonderful thoughts.

    Brett, I wonder though if you really reflect, can you find the reason? I think it is in there. Try wondering aloud.

    Runnin — you have found a great way to release the physical side of that energy that can so easily get stuck in us.

    Princess — the mind is indeed a powerful thing. Try telling yourself I can share my concerns in a way that the other person will hear me and I’ll great for sharing it.

  • TJ

    TJ

    September 21st, 2010 at 7:26 PM

    when the day’s been rough for me I just inform the people around me about it and ask them to please leave me alone.this way they know why I am keeping to myself and this will also prevent any conflicts with people around me.

  • Arch

    Arch

    September 22nd, 2010 at 4:43 AM

    What if you don’t have anyone to reach out to?

  • Carl

    Carl

    September 24th, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    We used to have this problem and have found the key is to be direct. If I come in in a bad mood, I say “Look I’m in a bad mood. Leave me alone for a while please.” The family then gives me my space. My wife will do the same to me if I come home and she’s had a bad day. There’s no hurt feelings nor misunderstandings or flying off the handle over nothing.

  • Judith

    Judith

    September 24th, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    We all have days when we need breathing room and the more upfront and honest we are about that need, the more likely it will be complied with. I would much rather say I needed to be given peace than sit through a long conversation about trivialities with resentment building up inside me towards my partner. I’m not listening anyway because I’m thinking about whatever has spoiled my day. Thanks Stuart for the reminder that we don’t have to get mad.

  • Stuart

    Stuart

    October 5th, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Well done. Yes. Sometimes just setting that boundary and letting those around us know what is happening will carry the day but letting the other see it is not them.

    Now when this down time ends, please go back and thank the other person. You may even be able to let them know what else can help you re-engage them.

    Arch — find them. Do whatever it takes to build your support system (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, school peers, etc). Join clubs, sports, activities, which are also wonderful ways to get out steam and enjoy ourselves

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