When tasked to write this article, I started looking at what, exactly, it means to feel “irked.” I was instantly struck by how many synonyms exist that express this feeling—irritated, frustrated, bothered, inconvenienced, peeved, ticked off, needled, angry, bugged, miffed, put out, ruffled, vexed … and more I’m sure I’ve missed. Then I reflected upon the numerous times I felt annoyed or someone told me about an instance where this feeling was prevalent. And boy is it prevalent! It’s no wonder people are concerned about a possible mental health issue lying beneath all this frustration.
In previous articles, I addressed how chronic anger could be unexpressed sadness or anxiety. Although I won’t go back over that topic here, I do wish to emphasize the importance of looking more closely at your relationship to those emotions. Without a healthy relationship with them, chronic irritation can be the result.
Although the scope of this article precludes me from addressing all the ramifications of mental health, I would like to set the stage so we start from the same position. You may or may not be aware that doctors have linked mouth health (teeth and gums) to heart health. A big indicator of heart disease is an unhygienic mouth. We can use mouth health as a metaphor for mental health. If we never brush our teeth, never floss or use mouthwash, we increase our chance of heart disease. Similarly, if we never “rinse out” our minds and instead keep rancid thoughts percolating in our consciousness, we couldn’t possibly call ourselves mentally healthy. “Mental brushing,” if you’ll go along with the analogy, points us toward cleaning up our perspective about ourselves in the world we inhabit. Put more directly, our expectations make us sick.
Expectation vs. Reality
Expectations come in an almost infinite variety. With the many different preferences and desires that exist in this world, there is an expectation to represent each one. Despite this variety of expectations, we can easily narrow and define expectations as “the way things should be.” The things in this definition refer to our relationships to people (including ourselves), places (including experiences), and things.
Looking more closely at expectations, we can view them as beliefs about how we want reality to be. What’s going on when we’re feeling irritated or irked is our expectation—our belief about how reality “should be”—interacting with the way things actually are. As I put it, we create friction between what we want and what is through our resistance to reality.
Going back to the healthy mouth/healthy mind analogy, notice that when we clutter our minds with rigid expectations, we create an unhealthy internal ecosystem. Feelings of irritation resonate throughout our bodies/minds. When irritation is chronic, we’ve effectively set up a negative feedback loop between our thoughts and our bodies. When we choose to not meet reality head on, forcing our expectations on it instead, we generate considerable force within mind and body. This force often gets stamped with the generic term “stress,” which we then start seeing as coming at us rather than created by us.
The Importance of Acceptance
So what to do here? You can certainly continue what you’ve started, which will surely produce more misery. If you’re tired of doing that, you can begin the process of learning to accept. Acceptance means acknowledging the truth of something. Perhaps your body type isn’t what you want, or you don’t have as much sex as you want, or your job isn’t as fulfilling as you’d like it to be. When we begin to accept reality, we can begin the process of evaluating what it is we can do with it.
At the very core of chronic irritation lies a hotbed of powerlessness. We all too often find ourselves complaining about something rather than looking for what we can do to effect change. Effecting change doesn’t mean manipulation; rather, it means to reclaim your sense of power over your perspectives. Changing our perspective from an irritated, stuck place to one of assertiveness automatically introduces more options. And more options lead to a greater sense of power and accomplishment.
For help with irritability, seek the counsel of a trained therapist.
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.