Do you ever notice that some people are often irritable and seem to be perpetually plagued by gloom and moodiness? Their mood swings can be unpredictable, and it’s like they’re a walking ball of stress. Their irritability can make them somewhat challenging to be around, making interacting with them difficult – especially if they’re someone you care about.

On the TED Ideas website, psychologist Guy Winch expertly writes about people’s irritability and why some individuals tend to be in a perpetually bad mood. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is a highly renowned nonprofit organization famous for facilitating the spread of ideas across numerous topics. It’s built up quite the reputation, and you have to be pretty good in your field to contribute to the group!

But you don’t have to take TED‘s word for it! As a licensed psychologist, Winch has given three TED talks, has published self-help books based on science, and has become a leading voice in the field of emotional health. In other words, he knows his stuff, and he’s a good voice to listen to when it comes to subjects as touchy and complex as this.

So if you know someone in your life who seems to be irritable all the time, you can take some steps in understanding their behavior and examining your own through Winch’s work. Who knows – you may learn how to manage those actions from others and yourself! Here’s how a psychologist explains why some people are constantly irritable and how you can help.

Why Some People Are Always Irritable


1.      Irritability Fuels Itself

One of the biggest struggles of irritability is that it perpetuates further irritation. Someone irritable will have a lot of trouble coming out of that mood. Winch explains that this is because:

·         It Reinforces Negativity

When someone is irritated, negative experiences and situations amplify inside their minds. Everything that’s even a mild annoyance is fixated on, even subconsciously used as validation for a bad mood. The more someone zeroes in on the negative events in life, the more irritable one becomes. Thus, they focus on further negativity. The cycle isn’t just self-repeating – it gets progressively worse quickly, like a downward spiral.

·         Breaking Out Of Irritation Is Hard

Irritable people seek validation for what they feel. They unconsciously find ways to indulge their emotions. Those who try to help them are turned away and responded to negatively, hostile, or even aggressive. Those who try to help might feel like they have to walk on eggshells or that there’s no way to win.

·                     Positive Events Have Little Effect

When someone is lost in an irritable mood, they miss out on the good things around them. Things that usually bring them joy become disinteresting. Sometimes, those things can seem annoying, too, as if their positive nature is goading them. This can make it very tough to mitigate or diminish that irritability. If even someone’s go-to cheer-ups don’t work, little else can!

What does this mean for people who tend to be irritable? They could be caught in this self-perpetuating, progressively worsening cycle with no easy way out. They could have been trapped in this mindset for a long time that it’s become close to impossible for them to find any escape.

2.      They’re Around Irritable People

People often can’t choose who they work with, and sometimes they can’t decide who they live with. This is not to say that people should never improve their situations. But things like colleagues and a current living situation are tough to get out of immediately.

This means that people can sometimes be around irritable, toxic, and harmful people. Research shows that negative moods are often contagious. Someone who has to spend their time around negative people is likely to experience much more stress, causing them to be easily annoyed or frustrated.

It certainly doesn’t help that irritability is an undeniable emotion. Even those who try to hide the feeling are likely to let some of it slip out. This makes it even more easily contagious! You may have also noticed that you feel worse around someone who’s irritable, meaning you’re affected by the atmosphere they emanate, too. It brings down the mood of a room, further increasing the irritation of everyone in that environment and fueling the original person’s annoyance.

3.      Other Medical Reasons

Irritability is not necessarily an abnormal thing. Even the most typically agreeable people can experience periods of irritation. It’s a normal and even healthy human emotion sometimes! But for some, these periods can feel almost uncontrollable and can last for weeks, months, or even years.

If you know someone who seems to be chronically irritable, there’s a potential for an underlying disorder beneath that symptom. Studies show that irritability may be a symptom of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Mood disorders

People may also be irritable due to physical illness, significantly if that illness affects their energy levels, causes constant pain, or has other tough-to-manage symptoms.

If someone you know has a disorder that contributes to their irritability, it’s likely not the best idea to try to break them out of that. The idea that they should “cheer up” can be incredibly condescending to those with these problems.

Instead, you might suggest a visit to a mental or physical health professional or – if you’re able to – ask how you can help for their specific needs. As such, keep in mind that as we discuss how you can help those who are constantly irritable, we’re not referring to those trying to manage complex underlying conditions!

How You Can Help Overcome Irritable Feelings


1.      Communicate When You feel Irritable

The first step in handling any conflict with another person is communication. People may be unaware of their irritability or may not know that it’s affecting others. However, if you plan to communicate, first prepare for a somewhat tense discussion. Few people enjoy these kinds of conversations, and they may be uncomfortable with their actions being under such scrutiny. Here are some tips to encourage their receptiveness.

  • Ask if they have time to talk. Don’t just spring the conversation on them when they’re busy or in a rush.
  • Validate their emotions if they share them with you. Remember that this person’s irritable behavior doesn’t come out of the blue. There are causes for their feelings and actions, and while they’re not excuses, they’re explanations. Validating them will get you off on the right foot.
  • Emphasize your concern for them as the leading cause of the conversation. It would help if you weren’t focusing on how their actions affect you as the main point. Kindness should be the driving factor behind your communicative efforts if you want to help them.
  • Gently inform them about the way their mood has been impacting you. Winch states that it’s possible to do this while still validating the stress they feel and understand them.
  • Please acknowledge that you understand you’re asking them to do something difficult. It’s hard to control irritable thoughts, and they can feel very justified at the moment. Tell them that you sincerely appreciate any effort they’re putting into being more mindful about their actions.

2.      Offer Methods To Soothe Their Difficulties

Many different stress-management techniques can reduce or ease irritability. You can recommend them to someone in your life who needs them and isn’t sure how to proceed. Winch recommends the following three methods, though there are many more options:

·         Cognitive Reappraisal

More commonly known as “reframing,” this is a method by which individuals regulate their emotions to change the perspective of a situation that upsets them. In other words, it allows individuals to see a silver lining in different circumstances. Studies show this can reduce irritable feelings and distress.

·         Gratitude Journaling

Gratitude journaling involves listing a minimum of 3 things per day that you’re grateful for. Research indicates that it can have notable effects on one’s emotional state and dramatically change how one looks at the world.

·         Mindfulness

Mindfulness, which is the act of being present, allows people to label their emotions and remain grounded in reality. Studies indicate that it may reduce the severity of emotional reactions to various sources of distress.

Remember that not everyone wants advice like this, and some may consider it condescending. If you’re careful and empathic while delivering this information, you can get your message across tactfully. It may be a good idea to ask the person in question if they want your advice before providing these suggestions.

If you believe that someone’s irritable behavior is a symptom of a more serious underlying condition, you can recommend professional help.

3.      If All Else Fails, Set Boundaries

You can’t always help irritable people. You may not be able to provide the specific help that they need, or they may not be willing to listen to you. This is especially true for those you may not be close to or may not spend that much time with.

The best way to “help” your relationship with them is to set some hard and fast boundaries in this event. Winch explains that if you’ve tried to address the issue to no avail and with no effort on their part to manage their behavior, it’s a good idea to start limiting your content with them.

For some people, these irritable moods may arrive in waves. This means that giving them some time to themselves can allow them to reach a better emotional place naturally.

Just remember that you don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of poor treatment. If someone’s irritable behavior has continued and is affecting you, and there are no signs of listening to your communication about it, it’s time to put some distance between you.


Final Thoughts On Reasons Why Some People Are Always Irritable, And How You Can Help

People can be irritable every day, but some experience this emotion more frequently and intensely than others. These may find themselves trapped in self-perpetuating irritation cycles. They could have a medical issue, or they could be forced to spend time with irritable people. Whatever the case, helping them can be a difficult task, but understanding where they come from is the first step.