I’ve talked to multiple clients in the past week who are reporting that they are feeling significantly more irritated lately. Seems like there’s something in the air (like the election?!) so I wanted to get some thoughts down about what to do with yourself when you’re feeling cranky, intolerant, and/or impatient (or all three).
Here are some questions to ask yourself to start working with it. Write your answers down! It’s the best way to give your conscious mind a chance to objectively see what’s going on subconsciously, and awareness is always the first step in change.
What’s going on when it happens?
Is if a particular time of day, week, month (I know I am way less patient with my kids in the 2-3 days before my period—I can practically set my watch by it!). It could be hormonal, or related to blood sugar or fatigue. Not all of it, probably, but a good portion of it may have more to do with your physiological state than anything deeper than that.
What kinds of people are making you feel irritated?
Complete strangers, kids, partners, authority figures, pedestrians? And what do you think is it about this group (or groups, if there’s more than one) of people that triggers you?
What are the thoughts that come up for you?
What are you thinking? How could you do this to me? Why are you torturing me? The world is conspiring against me. <– those kinds of things. Be honest. Write ‘em down.
Are those thoughts true?
I mean, really, is it true that the world is conspiring against you? I say this with lightness in my voice, which you can’t tell because you’re reading it in type. =) Asking yourself if the thoughts are true are a great opportunity to see the situation with a little levity, which can help lessen the sting of that irritation.
What are you resisting in those moments of irritation?
Irritation is a great distraction from something important. Maybe you’re irritated with your kids for running when you say it’s time to brush teeth because they are simply wanting to play and engage you in that play, when what you want is for them to go to bed so you can have some grown-up time. And maybe what you’re resisting is giving yourself the you-time you need during all the other times of the day, and it’s easier to get irritated with the kids than it is to admit that you’re not doing something for yourself that you know you need.
What might you be resisting at this particular point in your life?
Can you be gentle with yourself in those moments?
When a puppy or a toddler gets in to something they shouldn’t, simply because they don’t know any better, you don’t immediately start berating them, you redirect them by guiding them toward something else, something OK. Do the same for yourself.
You could keep focusing on what’s driving you crazy, or you could go do something that makes you feel better—a walk, a drive, cooking a meal, doing some yoga. This won’t necessarily ‘cure’ the irritation—sometimes it will stick around for days or weeks—but it will help you not make more of it than it truly warrants.
If you do all these things and it’s still sticking around, ask what it might be trying to teach you.
If your irritation just won’t recede, you’ll have to peek below the thoughts that you’re conscious of to the ones that are hiding just underneath.
Journal the answer to this question:
I’m irritated at ______________ because ______________________.
For each answer you come up with, ask yourself the same question, and keep going until the string runs out. What do you tease out about what’s truly bothering you? Is it that you feel judged? Singled out? Like your carefully laid plans are being thwarted? That if things don’t go how you want they are less likely to happen?
This is the real heart of the matter that needs your attention.
To share an example, I had a situation last winter with a local bookstore where I wanted to bring dozens of people to their store to buy my new book, and the woman who ran the events was so dismissive of me. It really bugged me. I did all the things on this list and I was still perturbed. What the situation was trying to teach me was when to walk away and when to speak up. (I did both, in that order, and ended up having a great event after a lot of drama.) So what’s it trying to nudge you to do?
(Hint: It’s usually something you have to give up—a need to be right, or in control, or look good, or people please, or keep the peace.)
I wrote more about that here: Emotions Carry Messages. Are You Receiving Them?