Are you Irritated or Angry?


There are a number of reasons people become angry. Challenges at home, work, or on the road are common triggers that can lead someone to lash out or boil inside. And yet, sometimes we become angry with everything, including people or things we would normally be able to brush off.  Anger, by its very nature, has us look outward to solve our problems. Yet, when we are angry with many things, it would be improbable – if not impossible – that we might be able to solve every problem. Most of us can identify with the moments when we are ready to explode at anything that comes near us. Think of parents of newborns who haven’t been sleeping, or that time you were really stressed. Or think of that time you were really hungry and especially crabby. Yes, I’m talking about being hangry.

 My interests are in anger, aggression, and irritability. A lot of times people talk about reducing anger by figuring out how to solve the problem or by punching a pillow (which will actually make your anger and aggression worse in the long-term). However, when you are feeling irritable, these things won’t help. People often use the terms anger and irritability interchangeably. However, I’m going to ask that you think of them as two separate concepts. While anger is that tense emotion when your blood is boiling, irritability is the moment of grouchiness before you feel angry. When you are irritable you are more likely to become angry (which is why it is often associated with anger), but you might not be angry yet. For example, when you are hungry you might be irritable and will easily be angered, but you might not be angry yet. Similarly, when you are sleep deprived, hungry, or haven’t yet had your coffee you are likely to be irritable.

The reason for the distinction is important because when you are feeling angry, you might be able to reduce your anger by solving a problem. However, when you anger is a result of irritability, it would be more helpful to look for treatments that will first help you feel better. So next time you notice you are feeling angry at the world for no good reason (or are just looking for reasons to become angry), ask yourself what your body needs, and eat a sandwich, drink some water, exercise, get some fresh air, or get some sleep. You will feel better before you know it.






Article Author

Michael J. Toohey, Ph.D.

Teaching Faculty, School of Applied Psychology, Counseling, and Family Therapy.

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