Symptoms & Causes Of Irritability | Answering The Question "Why Am I So Irritable?"

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated April 20, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Most of us probably know what it's like to be irritable. Sometimes there are just things that seem to get under your skin and people who seem to irritate you. There are a lot of reasons why you might struggle with irritability, if it’s something that occurs regularly. Understanding these reasons can help you learn how to overcome the unpleasantness of irritability in a healthy way.

Irritability Can Be A Sign Of A Deeper Emotion


Asking yourself why you're so irritable is the first step you need to take to overcome your irritability. When you know the cause, then you can identify the most effective ways to address it.

Why Am I So Irritable?

Feelings of irritability and stress, along with their inherent symptoms, generally flare up when life becomes challenging. For instance, if you frequently have to interact with difficult people, it can breed irritation. Feelings of helplessness and stress-inducing changes are also likely to cause irritation. In general, irritability usually stems from your surroundings, your interactions with others, or uncontrollable circumstances.

While knowing the cause is important, knowing how to handle irritability is equally critical. Left unchecked, habitual irritation eventually takes a toll on your mental health and overall wellness.



Stress is arguably the most common reason behind irritability, and it crops up when we're faced with demands and threats. You may also experience stress when you feel helpless or out of control, which might lead to irritability. Think about it -- when was the last time you experienced irritability? What caused it? Were you stuck in traffic, unable to connect with a loved one, or faced with a seemingly-impossible challenge? Each of the circumstances described above shows how stress and irritability are closely linked and relatively common.

Despite the fact that occasional irritability is normal, constant irritability can have adverse effects on our relationships and daily experiences. Continually snapping at friends after the slightest affront may damage those friendships. Being grumpy toward your coworkers may alienate them while breeding a hostile work environment. Furthermore, being short with family members can make your family life very unpleasant. One of the best ways to curb irritability is to minimize your stress. Everyone will benefit, you included.

Mood Or Anxiety Disorders

While stress is the most common reason for irritability, mood and anxiety disorders are a close second. Often, people underestimate the importance of mental health and its impact on our emotions. Anxiety and bipolar disorders are the most chronic mental health ailments that breed irritability. For instance, individuals living with bipolar disorder often experience agitation, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and self-destructive habits, all of which can lead to, you guessed it, irritability.

Similarly, irritability is linked to anxiety disorders and other mental health problems. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association cites irritability as one of the prime symptoms of overall anxiety disorders. People experiencing various mood and anxiety disorders are often unable to overcome them alone. However, medication and therapy can work wonders.

Medical Conditions

Last but not least, irritability often accompanies various medical conditions. Unfortunately, people faced with Alzheimer's disease, Grave’s disease, diabetes, the flu, and other ailments may experience feelings of irritability in addition to their other symptoms. Chronic illnesses can also breed irritation because it's frustrating to be sick all of the time.

Symptoms Of Irritability

Anger, confusion, rapid breathing, sweating, and an increased heart rate are all normal symptoms of irritability. While fleeting feelings of irritation and these symptoms can happen at any time, prolonged or habitual feelings of irritability may breed stronger symptoms. These can include hot flashes, hair loss, weakened sex drive, fevers, headaches, and even irregular menstrual cycles for women.

Knowing the symptoms of irritability is virtually meaningless if you fail to look within and discover the root cause of your irritation. Granted, stress, mood/anxiety disorders, and medical conditions are common causes, but each person must evaluate their own experience.

Irritability Can Be A Sign Of A Deeper Emotion


You may want to take a close look at the patterns of your daily life. When are you at ease? When do feelings of stress or irritability surface? Are you calm or agitated when you're alone, or with company? Are there specific people, situations, locations, or circumstances that irritate you more often than not?

Do not feel pressured to evaluate your life by yourself if you're uncomfortable doing so, or aren’t sure how to go about it. After all, pressure can breed further irritation! It's okay to seek help from friends, family members, or other loved ones. Often, being with loved ones can combat feelings of stress, tension, and irritability, as well.

How To Handle Irritability Symptoms

If you're wrestling with the undesirable symptoms of irritability, there are precautions and steps you can take to prevent, remedy, and decrease them. Reducing caffeine/alcohol, warding off nervous energy, and pinpointing the source of your irritability can all work wonders.

Reducing Caffeine/Alcohol

Despite the popularity of alcohol and caffeine, these beverages can increase irritability for many people. This doesn't mean that one should never drink a cup of coffee or enjoy a glass of wine, but habitual consumers of alcohol and caffeine might benefit from cutting back.

Getting Rid Of Negative Energy

Toxic energy tends to fester, especially when left unchecked. Sometimes a jog down the block, an intense workout at the gym, or even a hot, steamy shower can help you release negative energy that would have otherwise increased your irritability. If exercise isn’t appealing to you in the moment, you can try reading a book, practicing simple mindfulness, or even taking a nap to help reset yourself.

Despite the merits of the above tips, one of the most effective ways to prevent irritability is to find the source of the problem. If you can stop irritability before it starts, you'll be much happier.


Pinpointing Your Triggers

While prescribed medication could be a viable solution for you, sometimes tackling irritability is as simple as finding the underlying cause. For instance, do interactions with a particular individual often dampen your mood? Is your job or current occupation doing more harm than good? When was the last time you went on a vacation, took a day off, or spent some quality time with a loved one? Have you been finding time to engage in hobbies that you enjoy and find fulfilling? These are essential questions to ask yourself if you're experiencing persistent irritability. Sometimes, all you need to do is take a step back to regroup and evaluate the situation to solve the problem.

Using Therapy To Help

Sometimes, however, working with a certified and licensed professional is the best way to deal with chronic irritability. You deserve to be happy, prosperous, and fulfilled in your daily life. Irritability is a sign that something is not right and needs to be addressed.

Online therapy is quickly gaining steam, and for good reason. Research has found online therapy to be just as effective overall as in-person therapy. In fact, a study conducted by the University of New South Wales explored online therapy’s efficacy in treating anxiety and depression, both common side effects (or sometimes causes) or persistent irritability. They found that 3 months post-treatment, 80% of users could no longer be diagnosed with anxiety or depression – showcasing that online therapy can actually be more effective than conventional therapy for some.

If you need help, you can reach out to BetterHelp's counselors. In addition to caring psychologists, counselors, therapists, and social workers, BetterHelp also has countless success stories and testimonials from individuals who have benefited from our services. Sessions can be conducted anytime, anywhere, including the comfort of your own home – making BetterHelp incredibly convenient and accessible. The online nature also means that it tends to be cheaper than conventional therapy, as you don’t have to commute to and from sessions, and our therapists don’t have to pay to rent out office space. You can read a few of our reviews below, from people experiencing similar issues with irritability and anger.

Counselor Reviews

"Steve is amazing and does a good job at making this seem like less of a counseling session and more of a conversation between friends. He helped me talk through my anger issues and road rage and gave me lots of problem solving tools. I highly recommend him!"

"Regina helped me pinpoint where my anger issue stemmed from in the very first session, and has been helping me become more self aware of my warning triggers. Very insightful and helpful!"


Managing stress, mood/anxiety disorders, and medical conditions can help you combat irritability. However, you can also reach out to BetterHelp's licensed and certified professionals for support. You can beat irritability and enjoy your life again. Take the first step today.

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