Possible causes and solutions for feeling irritable and short-tempered.
Do you get annoyed by everything? Do feelings of frustration arise often? Perhaps other people notice that you are irritable, impatient, and snappy.
There could be many reasons you are short-tempered, and plenty of ways to stop it. Find out why you might be so easily irritated and what to do about it.
From road rage to frustration at a colleague, child, or friend, most of us have felt feelings of irritability, impatience, and annoyance.
Usually, it’s easy to know when our emotional response is in line with what’s happened, but sometimes we might start reacting in disproportionate ways – either overreacting to small things, or perhaps our irritation takes hold and becomes the only way we know how to respond.
We’ve all encountered that person who seems at war with the world. What if we’ve become the same?
There are many reasons why we might start getting annoyed easily. These fall into three broad areas – physical, psychological, and other reasons. Once we’ve figured out the cause, it’s much easier to figure out a solution.
Physical reasons for feeling irritable
When our body is not operating in the way we’re used to, it can show up in our moods. If you have children, you know they become extra fussy if they’re unwell. Adults can react similarly. For example, ear infections, flu, or toothache can all make us cranky, as can some symptoms related to diabetes.
See a doctor if you think your mood might be related to an underlying health condition.
Anger and lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation can turn even the most easy-going person into a snappy one. Sleep enables your brain to process the events of the day, and helps you manage your stress better. So it stands to reason that lack of sleep means you’re less able to cope with even the smallest things that can annoy you.
These 14 tips for better sleep will help you get into a better sleep routine, which is likely to improve your mood during waking hours. Aim for at least six hours a night (minimum); 7-9 hours is optimum but consider your own body and what it needs.
Can being hungry make you irritable?
The word ‘hangry’ (a combination of hungry and angry) was coined in 1918 to describe the effect of hunger on mood. The link between low blood sugar and emotional regulation means we need to eat to avoid the impact of hunger, which includes feeling irritable.
As a rule of thumb, we should eat something every 2-6 hours, but as many busy professionals and parents know, this can be difficult to achieve. Keeping snacks in your bag can help you stay fueled throughout the day. If you notice yourself becoming more impatient and short-tempered, try eating something and monitor the effect on your mood.
Irritability and mood swings – is it hormones?
Hormones can affect our moods throughout our lives. For both sexes, this is most noticeable during puberty, and parents of teenagers will certainly know these extremes! Women who menstruate often report feeling more irritable in the week before and during their period, and menopause can also be when women experience frustration and impatience.
Stress also releases hormones into our system, which affects mood. Short term, this can be managed by the body, but longer-term stress (known as chronic stress) can be more damaging. Here are some good tips on how to deal with chronic stress.
Psychological reasons for feeling irritable
Our capacity to manage the stress of daily life varies from person to person. The stress bucket analogy was developed in 2002 by Professor Alison Brabban and Dr. Douglas Turkington and is a helpful way to think about how we each respond to stress.
Our stress tolerance (or the size of our bucket) is determined by our genes, personality, and experience, which means it varies from person to person, and we cannot easily change the size of our stress bucket. As a result, the bucket fills up with the stresses in our lives, eventually overflowing if we don’t develop adequate coping strategies, which act like taps allowing water to drain out.
Getting easily annoyed might signal that our stress bucket is on the verge of overflowing.
The solution? Reduce the amount of stress flowing into our stress bucket, or increase the taps (coping strategies) that drain the water. Try these ten stress-reducing tips, which contain a combination of both.
Lack of healthy boundaries
Boundaries are the lines we draw around ourselves to keep safe, respected, healthy, and comfortable. Setting personal boundaries simply means openly communicating and asserting your values to protect against being compromised or violated by others.
It stands to reason that a lack of healthy boundaries might make us get annoyed at others because we feel disrespected or trampled on. Suppose we’ve been unable to communicate our boundaries to others openly. In that case, we are likely unable to communicate boundary violations in words, and sometimes these feelings can come out – not in words- but in how we interact with others.
Expressing annoyance or irritation at others without acknowledging our true feelings isn’t the best way to communicate. Instead, consider making a list of what is and what is not okay for you, and letting others know. It may feel challenging at first, but more straightforward communication may result in steadier moods and will get easier with practice.
Developing emotional regulation skills
Emotional regulation is the ability to regulate our emotions. A lack of emotional regulation skills can mean we repress how we’re feeling, but this doesn’t make the feelings disappear. Instead, they leak out in other ways, such as snapping at others, which could signify hidden anger issues.
Developing your emotional regulation skills could be the answer if those around you feel they are walking on eggshells trying not to upset you.
Identifying your triggers is an excellent place to start, and learning to pause at the moment between being triggered and acting allows you to respond in a way that’s more in keeping with your values.
You can improve your impulse control through physical exercise, breathing exercises, regular meditation and mindfulness, cold showers, and naming your emotions when they arise. A feelings wheel may help with this.
Other reasons for getting annoyed easily
Too much stimulation
Are you subjecting your body to too much stimulation? Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can affect mood, particularly if you’re drinking/smoking a lot, and especially late into the night.
Stimulants have a knock-on effect, meaning that too much stimulation affects your sleep, which then causes irritability when you’re sleep-deprived.
Likewise, using your phone or other devices for many hours, and especially late into the night, can increase your stimulation levels. This can make you more susceptible to mood swings and short tempers.
Review your use of these stimulants and ease off where you can.
Is irritability a sign of anxiety?
Yes, irritability is one of the symptoms of anxiety. Sufferers of anxiety feel nervous, restless, and have a sense of continual impending danger, which keeps the body in a constant state of fear (also known as ‘fight-flight-freeze’).
If you’re on constant high alert, little wonder you might be easily annoyed and irritable.
The Center • A Place of HOPE has an anxiety test that will give clues as to whether you’re experiencing other signs of anxiety. In addition, anxiety treatment options are available at The Center • A Place of HOPE.
Why am I so short-tempered? Is it depression?
As well as anxiety, irritability is also a symptom of depression, often more common in men. It’s not a sign that many people associate with depression, but there is a strong link.
One study concluded that anger is as common as depressed mood and psychic anxiety amongst psychiatric outpatients, and problems with anger cut across diagnostic categories. 
Another concluded that irritability and anger is a highly prevalent clinical marker of a more severe, chronic, and complex depressive illness. 
The Center • A Place of HOPE has thirty years of depression treatment expertise, and was voted a Top 10 Depression Treatment Center in the United States. Find out more about our depression treatment program.
Borderline Personality Disorder and mood swings
One of the key symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), is being easily triggered by events that others might consider unremarkable.
BPD is a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, a distorted sense of self, and strong emotional reactions, among other signs. Women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than men.
Sometimes, BPD is misdiagnosed as depression, although the two can exist in tandem. Diagnosis requires a careful assessment from mental health experts and treatment interventions for BPD vary.
Sensory processing issues
Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) refer to how sensory inputs are received by the central nervous system.
People with SPS are considered ‘hypersensitive’ or Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and are thought to make up 15-20% of the population. The term HSP was coined in the 1990s by Elaine Aron and it refers to those who have sensitivity to multiple stimuli, whether this is physical, emotional, environmental, or social.
There are both strengths and challenges for HSPs. Being more sensitive to, and more affected by, sensory input means that pain, hunger, lights, and noises can all cause overwhelm and distress. If you find yourself getting disproportionately annoyed, getting upset by things other people seem to find easy, or overwhelmed at everyday things, it may be that you’re an HSP.
SPD is a neurological condition where the brain has trouble receiving and responding to sensory input. As a result, those with SPD may respond in confusing ways, reacting strongly to bright lights, loud noises, and even uncomfortable clothing.
SPD is related to autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If you suspect you may be responding in unusual ways, it might be worth seeking advice on whether any of these conditions might apply to you.
Still not sure why you get annoyed so easily?
At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we believe in Whole Person Care, which means we look at every aspect of your life when drawing up your treatment plan.
Whole Person Care includes your life’s emotional, physical, intellectual, relational, and spiritual elements, meaning we can address your mind, body, and spirit. This process allows the entire “you” to emerge as a whole, healed human being. Contact us for more information.
 Genovese, T., Dalrymple, K., Chelminski, I., & Zimmerman, M. (2017). Subjective anger and overt aggression in psychiatric outpatients. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 73, 23–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2016.10.008
 Judd LL, Schettler PJ, Coryell W, Akiskal HS, Fiedorowicz JG. Overt Irritability/Anger in Unipolar Major Depressive Episodes: Past and Current Characteristics and Implications for Long-term Course. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(11):1171–1180. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1957