Q&A: How do I stop being so irritable?

health mindfulness mindset wellness

QUESTION: I’m really irritable and I’m taking it out on family and friends…then I feel more frustrated and angry with myself and even more things irritate me. Try as I might, I can’t pin point why I’m so irritable nor shake it, ugh, what do I do?

We’ve all been there, right?!

First I'm going to answer this question, then outline a practical, easy to implement practice you can use immediately!

ANSWER: First things first, remember you’re human and because of that fact, you’ll get irritable from time to time even when nothing’s wrong.  Moods happen…they come, they go.  The more you can offer yourself grace and compassion, seeing the shared humanity of the situation you find yourself in, t the sooner you'll get the relief you seek.

Next, stop searching for a reason. Seriously, let go of the analysis paralysis. Where’s it got you to this point – more frustrated and more irritable right?!

Breathe. Right now, pause your reading and gift yourself 3-4 full, deep breaths. Can you? If you can’t, with kindness but get-real-honesty, inwardly ask yourself what's preventing me from trying this?

When irritated or overwhelmed, our breath is our #1 go-to fixer to regulate our nervous system and return our brain to a state of conscious choice.  Deep breaths, especially when the exhale is slightly longer than the inhale, directly tells our body we’re ok, the threat has passed, we can recalibrate to normal conditions.

This isn’t the same as just telling yourself to “calm down” or “get it together already” or “just stop it” – those keep your fight/flight/freeze reactivity at high levels. You’re actually making things worse when you berate yourself like that.

So, one more time, pause your reading and gift yourself 3-4 full, deep breaths.

Well done!

Now that your thinking brain, full of conscious choice, is back in charge, here’s the next steps in the process of moving the irritability through you and giving yourself a pathway to releasing it.

The Practice of S.O.S. (Slow down, Observe, Simplify)

Slow Down

When irritable, or dealing with overwhelm, we often say we can't think straight because we don't actually have control over our logical brain. Instead we're in survival mode and we go on autopilot which, doesn't always lead to good outcomes.

ACTION STEP: You just completed the first S, slow down, with your breath work. For more types of breathwork practices and the science behind why it's such a powerful practice, click here.

Slow down and breathe is so incredibly helpful when in survival mode, but did you know you build the skill the most when practiced regularly, at times when things aren’t going wrong? Practicing when not in crisis builds the automatic memory recall so that when you need it most, your body and mind already know what to do.

Try using breathwork two to three times in your everyday life on a regular basis. The easiest ways to implement doing breathwork is to find times you do other automatic habits like brushing your teeth, filling up your water bottle, before you get out of your car wherever you've driven to, etc. It can be as simple as 30-60 seconds. Give it a try and find out first hand how powerful it is.


As you wrap up your breathwork, next you want to observe what sensations and body feedback you’re experiencing that alerts you to knowing this is what irritation feels like?
-Do your thoughts speed up?
-Become more blamey and mentally rehearsing scenarios?
-Heart rate up?
-Adrenaline coursing through?
-Shoulders and neck tighten?
-Reaching for junk food?
-Distractions increase like scrolling social media?

Get really curious about all the signs your mind and body are sending you – this is your warning system doing its job! Can you observe it with kindness and self-compassion vs. through the lens of ‘what’s wrong with me’ or ‘I just want this to go away’?

ACTION STEP: write down all the ways your body is sending you signals and what your mind is doing. Don’t just think about it, pull out a piece of paper and pen, or record a voice note on your phone to speak the words out loud and then replay it. You don’t want to skip this – it’s the key that unlocks the door to regulating irritation and similar uncomfortable feelings and leads to it moving through you and beyond.

The more we push discomfort away, the longer it stays and intensifies. It truly is the ‘ol what we resist persists.


For the remainder of the current day, what can you delegate, defer, reschedule or dismiss altogether? And if your first thought is, ‘that’s ridiculous I’m a busy professional with responsibilities’ or ‘you don’t know the demands I have on my life, I can’t just do that’ then I’d respectfully ask you consider what happens when you’ve woken up super sick, like things coming out of both ends and just sitting up is exhausting? You’re able to delegate, defer, reschedule or dismiss things right?

You own the power of choice and whether you choose to attend to your physical and emotional needs or continue down the path of autopilot.

ACTION STEP: Write down all of your to-do’s for the day at hand, then select the most important, must get done (hint: it’s likely no more than 3 things if you’re really honest with yourself). The remaining items that didn’t make the most important list – delegate, reschedule or entirely dismiss.

Choosing what’s actually important and urgent in our life is a skill. Honestly, the ability to in the moment choose to simplify where only the absolute minimum necessary must be attended to is a master level move in my opinion.

Simplifying your day creates enough space to shift your irritable energy and thoughts. You’ve supported yourself first with breathwork, then observed the signals your mind and body have sent. Next is choosing what’s next?

Or as I’ve come to learn, inwardly asking myself how can I W.I.N. the rest of my day?  W.I.N. stands for What’s Important Now?!

That’s the SOS practice and you can put it into practice immediately!  Will you? 

How, if you put this into practice, would it impact your ability to be with uncomfortable emotions and thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions to this practice. Leave a comment on the blog (click here) and let’s talk about it.

Also, is there a technique you use that’s been helpful in defusing and shifting uncomfortable emotions and thoughts you want to share with me? Hit reply and let me know, I will personally respond to all comments.

Lastly, I want to encourage you to stay open to simple, seems-to-easy to make a dramatic difference in my wellbeing and life, types of practices.

Simple over complex is how you make lasting change. And yes, simple practices like S.O.S. can on the surface seem too insignificant, or boring, but stay open to experimenting with it first hand before you dismiss it’s value.

Onward & upward my friend,
Coach Rusti

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