Irritability Anxiety Symptom

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

Irritability Anxiety Symptoms description:

The symptom:

  • You find yourself feeling more irritable than normal.
  • It can also seem as if you are more quick to anger and/or snap at others.
  • What normally are small issues now make you highly irritated and infuriated.
  • It feels like you are overly quick to react.
  • You find your irritability is like a hair-trigger, with any little thing setting you off.

Anxiety irritability can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel highly irritable once and a while and not that often, feel highly irritable off and on, or feel it all the time.

Anxiety irritability may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

Anxiety irritability can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

Anxiety irritability can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

Anxiety irritability can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

Anxiety irritability is often experienced as an 'episode' where you feel fine one moment and ready to explode the next.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

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Why can anxiety cause irritability?

The behaviors and physiological consequences associated with anxiety can make normal day-to-day challenges seem more difficult, taxing, and overwhelming. Four reasons for this include:

1. The nervous system, which includes the brain, becomes hypersensitive and reactive when the body becomes stress-response hyperstimulated.

This hypersensitivity and reactivity can amplify the stimuli we encounter. For example, when the body is overly stressed, our sensory receptors can feel like they are set on maximum receive - stimuli that we would normally receive at much lower levels is received at higher levels. These higher levels are directly proportional to the level of hyperstimulation (the more hyperstimulated the body becomes, the more sensitive and reactive it becomes). Therefore, hyperstimulation can cause everyday stimuli to seem more dramatic and overpowering.

2. Hyperstimulation can also cause overly dramatic emotional responses.

A great many, if not all, anxious personalities go by their emotions and feelings a lot. So when the messages they receive are amplified, they typically respond to them in an amplified way. The more hyperstimulated their bodies become, the more reactive and emotional they become.

3. Concern about anxiety disorder and its sensations and symptoms stress the body and tax the mind.

These additional stressors can aggravate an already overly stressed nervous system and body making them less able to tolerate other stressors.

4. Persistently elevated stress taxes the body’s resources, and consequently, patience much harder than normal.

This can make everyday interactions seem frustrating, difficult, and like you just want to explode. The more stressed the body becomes, the less patience we have.

Behaving anxiously and the stress-response hyperstimulation it can cause can cause everyday situations and circumstances to seem more daunting, taxing, and stressful, and thusly, physically and emotionally taxing and exhausting. This is a common consequence associated with a struggle with anxiety disorder.

There are other reasons as well. Recovery Support members can access these in the Anxiety Symptoms section (Chapter 9) under the “Irritability” symptom.

Understanding this phenomenon can provide an important key to recovery.

How to get rid of anxiety irritability?

Since stress is a main contributing factor to irritability, reducing your body’s hyperstimulated state so that it can return to normal health should be your number one priority. As your body returns to normal, non-hyperstimulated health, it functions normally, which eliminates issues with emotions, such as irritability.

In the meantime, however, passively accepting this symptom, learning to “under react,” and doing your best to be patient can help break the hyperstimulation and over reaction cycle.

For example, if you know that your stimulation is higher than normal AND that you have a tendency to overreact emotionally when your stimulation is higher than normal, you can reverse the negative cycle by willfully choosing to “under react” to amplified messages rather than overreacting to them, in spite of how dramatic or urgent the amplified messages may seem.

By choosing to “under react,” you stop adding fuel to the hyperstimulation fire, which can help it diminish. Choosing to under react also helps you learn how to contain your emotions rather than letting them run rampant. Containing emotions is also an important strategy for long-term anxiety disorder recovery. Recovery Support members can learn more about Containment in Chapter 6.

There are behavioral reasons for irritability, as well. Recovery Support members can learn more about this in Chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Short-term strategies:

Taking frequent rest and relaxation breaks, as well as getting good sleep can help reduce irritability. Moreover, if you find yourself being irritated with someone you are interacting with, you may want to take a break from the interaction and go for a walk to cool down. Anything you can do to keep your emotions in check will help to prevent unwanted emotional outbursts and the stress they can cause the body and others.

Moreover, dealing with the underlying factors at the root of problematic anxiety can also help reduce irritability. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way of addressing the underlying factors of anxiety.

Last, it can also help to let family members know you are having some difficulty with anxiety-related irritability and that you are working on it. Sometimes an apology and this understanding alone can make your interactions easier.

For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Irritability anxiety symptoms.