Managing the Holiday Season: Stress, Anxiety and Irritability

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • During the next few weeks, as the holiday season pushes you to your limits with activities, events and a growing to-do list, the effects of stress mount. Despite your desire to remain positive, to share in the joy of the season, you may find yourself irritable and cranky. The frustration when plans are derailed, when fatigue overtakes you, when life throws in curves or you just don't have enough time, money or energy to do what you want to do causes you to snap at family and friends or to be rude to co-workers and acquaintances. You didn't mean to be short or angry but instead of feeling jolly, you just feel irritable.

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    One way to combat irritability is to do something nice for someone. Okay, so the last thing you want to do when you are ready to snap is to be nice, but irritability tends to grow based on our own behaviors. For example, your spouse is late meeting you for dinner. When he finally arrives, you snap and instead of releasing your feelings of frustration, you feel worse. You build upon your feelings of frustration and your entire dinner is ruined. Imagine instead that when your spouse arrives, you give him a kiss and let him know you are glad to have this few minutes to relax with him. Now, your dinner will be pleasant and enjoyable. This same concept can be used anywhere, anytime. When feeling frustrated, take the time to look around and find something positive you can do and build upon the positive energy rather than building on the negative energy you were feeling.


    Remember, irritability is temporary. Focus on the mantra, "this too shall pass" rather than on the event that is causing your stress. When faced with a stressful situation, think about whether this is something that is going to matter tomorrow, next week, next year. Chances are, it won't. Let's go back to the dinner with your spouse. You had a rough day at work, it was one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong and now you feel irritated and cranky. You are sitting at a restaurant and waiting...and waiting, and getting more annoyed with each passing moment. Think about it, will your spouse being late matter tomorrow, next week, next month? If not, focus your energy on accepting the situation for what it is, a temporary problem that will be resolved shortly.


    It might be helpful to separate your feelings from your problem-solving skills. Often, we become irritable as our problems mount around us. Problem-solving skills, however, usually depend on reasoning and irritability is based on an emotional reaction. You may need to take a step back, look at the situation through your "problem-solving" lens rather than your emotional reactions. Learning the process you use to solve problems (and each person's process may be different) and then creating steps you can take when faced with a decision or stressful situation can help keep irritability at bay and helps you decide what to do without involving the emotion of the moment.


    Stress relieving techniques, such as adding exercise to your daily routine, eating right, making sure you get enough rest and adding some down time into your schedule can help reduce irritability. The next time you feel you are going to snap at someone, instead take a 10 minute walk outside, do deep-breathing at your desk, disappear for a few minutes to practice 5 minute meditation or give yourself permission to do something you enjoy, removing yourself from the situation, even if for just a few minutes.


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    Sometimes, irritability comes from the feeling that your life is out of control; we like to believe that we are in control of our life but sometimes we are reminded that there is much that is out of our control. When your frustration and annoyance comes because of things outside of your control, remember that although you can't control the situation, you are in control of your reaction to it. Focusing on what you can control can sometimes make you feel better.


    If you find that no matter what you do, your irritability continues and grows, it may be time to seek professional help. Talk with your doctor about options and treatments for chronic stress and anxiety. While medication is one choice, there are non-medication treatments available as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, massage all may help, depending on the severity of your situation. Your medical provider will be able to work with you to find the best approach.


    For more information on coping with the holiday season:


    Social Anxiety - Tis the Season!


    Managing Holiday Stress

    Anxiety During the Holidays: Recognizing Anxiety in Children

    Ways to Combat Holiday Anxiety: Show Gratitude


    Keeping Pace with the Holiday Frenzy


    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder During the Holidays


    Holiday Parties and Social Anxiety


    Helping Children with Holiday Anxiety


Published On: December 13, 2011