Depression can make us feel increasingly irritable. This can lead to us attacking people, which is often followed by a wave of guilt. We may not be able to explain our irritability or what to do to reduce our speed.
What is irritability?
When we are irritable, we tend to get angry easily. We are often overly sensitive to both our environment and things other people say or do. This usually causes our tolerance window to shrink. This means that things that we historically “come to terms” with feel impossible. So we snap.
Dealing with our emotions when irritation occurs from all angles can be a real struggle. Between a smaller window of tolerance and a cloudy, foggy depression brain, it takes far less to trigger us than we are used to.
Window of tolerance
We can think of our tolerance window as a container and the things that irritate us as rice that we keep in this container.
If our container (tolerance window) contains 1.5kg of rice, it will take 1.6kg of rice (irritation) to overflow (causing us to snap). But if our container holds 1kg of rice before we wake up one morning, it would only take 600g for it to overflow.
This shows that at times when our tolerance window is smaller (because it already contains some things we are struggling with), less irritation is required before we can snap into place.
Irritability and hypersensitivity
We know that depression can affect our senses. Sometimes it makes them boring, sometimes we are particularly sensitive to the world around us.
Lights can appear brighter, sound louder, and textures more pronounced. Any of these things can be almost painful.
This can mean that we are constantly dealing with the small amount of irritation from sensory input that is too much for us. It takes up space in our window of tolerance, leaving less room to deal with other things.
Reducing our sensory input can help increase the space in our tolerance window again. We could use lamps or fairy lights in place of the main room lights. Sometimes color changing lights or lava lamps can be comforting. Headphones or headphones with noise canceling can reduce the noise around us. Removing plug-ins, incense, or scented candles can reduce odors, as can using the same washing powder and conditioner each time. Using a weighted blanket can help. If we find textures difficult, we can wrap ourselves in the softest soft blanket, that’s all we can feel.
Irritability and frustration
Depression and frustration can go hand in hand. We might have frustrating thoughts like “Why can’t I just be happy ?!” Our minds can be full of fog so thinking or getting information can range from slow to completely impossible. We might feel like we have words or ideas inside us and we can’t get them out. They are stuck, we are stuck and the whole situation makes us feel empty and frustrated.
Frustration can sometimes be perceived as anger or irritation and can lead us to attack people even if they are not the cause of our frustration. It also takes up space in our tolerance window.
Struggle for meaning
When our head is foggy or lively and we have no sense of what we are thinking or feeling, it can be confusing and scary. At times like these, it can also be difficult to understand our environment or things that other people say or do.
That can be terrifying. And when we’re scared or scared, we often strike. We’re busy unraveling the stuff in our head and trying to understand it. Our tolerance window is brimming with fear and confusion. Anything beyond that can cause us to become irritated and snap.
People trying to help
Sometimes people try to help us.
They might say things with good intentions but encounter a sensitive topic, misunderstand us, or say something we don’t want to hear. Irritation can overwhelm us and we snap.
They might be trying to help us with practical things but breaking one of our “rules” or routines that they didn’t know existed or putting something in the “wrong” place. This can feel scary and out of control, so we snap.
Sometimes when people find out that we are uncomfortable they try to help us but take over completely, removing all of our controls and breaking a number of our boundaries. This can be immensely frustrating, disturbing, and irritating. It is difficult to have open and honest discussions about it. But in the long run, it can lead to a far better relationship.
Our quickness doesn’t mean people should get out of our way entirely, just that we may need to work on communicating our needs and limits to them, and that they may need to work on being patient to listen to us (not just listen) and respect our boundaries.
When we snap, it can be helpful to have a conversation about what’s really going on instead of leaving it at that. It is likely that the “stuff” filling our tolerance window is completely removed from the situation and something they said or did brought us over the edge.
Trying to deal with confusion
One way we often try to understand the world is through routines and patterns.
We can have our meals at the same time every day, do certain things in the same order, or assign different parts of the housework to different days of the week. These things can help us stay in control. They are predictable, give us structure and remove some uncertainties.
If something or someone interrupts one of our routines or patterns, our stress and irritation levels can skyrocket and we could attack those involved. This is usually not a reflection on the person we are attacking. They may not even know they are breaking any of our routines. But when the world makes absolutely no sense and the scaffolding we tried to build a life on is knocked or interrupted, we can spin very quickly and become irritated and snappy.
Irritability and memory problems
Depression can affect our memory. We often develop ways to handle this consciously or unconsciously. For example, we could have a “home” for every item we own so that we can always find it. We might be in the habit of writing things down, making lists, using a journal, or taking pictures of things.
When someone moves an item from their “home” and does not put it back, it can be extremely frustrating. We may not remember them using it, so it could take us ages to find it. This can lead to irritation and bitingness, partly due to the frustration of others in moving the object, and partly because we are frustrated from not being able to deal with someone moving an object.
Another thing that happens when our memories are bad is that sometimes we think we passed a message or asked someone something and didn’t have it.
This can mean that something is not getting done or someone does not show up in the right place and at the right time. We’ll probably get angry with them at first. They could then tell us that we never told them the things we thought we had. This can cause our anger to turn around and instead point inward. But because of the shame or embarrassment we feel and because our tolerance window is already very full, we cannot always react the way we would like. So we snap.
Tears are often associated with depression. Sometimes we can’t cry even though we feel weepy, sometimes we cry over pretty much anything.
We might be embarrassed to be tearful (even though we have no reason to be). This can lead to us attacking people because we don’t want others to know we were crying. We push people away because we can’t handle the fact that they are by our side.
Irritability, guilt and worthlessness
Worthlessness and guilt are common feelings when we live with depression. Our trust is the low point.
We can feel alone, scared, upset, and fragile, and want nothing more than someone we love to wrap ourselves in a hug so we can scream anything at them. We are exhausted and need someone to help us carry the weight a bit.
The problem is, we’re not worthy of that hug. We feel guilty about “wasting people’s time” when asking for assistance. All of our fears, upset, worthlessness and feelings of guilt come out as anger or irritation. We push people away because we don’t feel worthy of their time.
There might be things we haven’t done in a while, like leaving the home or going to work.
The prospect of facing things we haven’t done in ages can be absolutely terrifying. Our fear can increase, and we manage this fear by avoiding things altogether.
If someone encourages us to do something we’re afraid of, we can attack them. This snapping can be a conscious or unconscious avoidance technique. We could hope that people will pull away and stop encouraging us to do the things we are afraid of.
Negative thought patterns
Depression is often associated with a variety of negative thought patterns. We could exaggerate the negatives, minimize the positives, jump to conclusions, create disaster, and spiral when something goes wrong.
Negative thought patterns can put us in a bad mood and take up part of our tolerance window. With less tolerance, we become more irritable faster.
Irritability and exhaustion
It’s tired and then depression is tired. Every limb hurts. Our bloodstream has been replaced with lead. Everything feels heavy – from our eyelids to our little toes. We are absolutely exhausted.
The persistent stress that depression puts us on leaves us emotionally wrung out. We have absolutely nothing left.
Most people run faster when they are tired. We can probably all remember a parent or caregiver coming home from work and attacking us about something seemingly insignificant. Depression or not, irritability and fatigue are often linked.
If “normally tired” can make us more irritable, then “depression tired” certainly can.
We don’t recognize each other
If we don’t recognize or like the snappy, irritable person, we will. We’re usually a very laid back person and can’t figure out where this heavily lined up, irritated version came from.
People usually don’t like being snappy. We want to be able to deal with change, surprises, unpredictability and so much more. But at the moment we can’t.
We often snap at those who are closest to us. They could try to help us or just get on with their lives with no intention of disturbing our lives. We know that, and yet the irritation takes over.
Dealing with irritability
There are things we can do to deal with feelings of irritability.
Basic self-care underpins everything. Everyone feels more grumpy and irritable when they’re hungry. It is therefore important to have a balanced diet. We all feel trash when we’re tired, so sticking to a regular sleep schedule can be helpful. It can also help to take prescribed medications, drink enough fluids, monitor our alcohol consumption, and get some fresh air every day.
Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and practicing breathing techniques can all help release the tension we are feeling. We might find that they allow us to cope better with the unpredictability of life and therefore to be less irritable.
Talking about it with friends, family, or professionals can help us untie some of the messy string in our head. It might also be helpful to keep a journal of some sort so we can track our triggers and responses.
Feeling irritable often depends on a number of things, so we can’t fix it overnight. But with time and support, we can make things better.
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