Irritability is an emotional state in which a person may experience frustration, agitation, anger, hostility, and restlessness. These feelings can range from mild to severe.

People describe their experience of irritability as a lowered threshold for frustration in changing circumstances. Many people report decreased patience, increased frustration, hopelessness, sadness, or feeling "on edge."

While it is normal to experience moments of irritation, regular or persistent irritability affecting interpersonal relationships could indicate an underlying concern.

This article discusses irritability, how to recognize it, and steps you can take to manage how you're feeling. Keep reading to learn more about coping with this shift in emotional state.

Woman sitting on a sofa appearing upset being comforted by partner.

Maria Korneeva / Getty Images

Symptoms of Irritability

The symptoms of irritability vary. You may recognize irritability within yourself as crankiness, crabbiness, or feeling agitated or short-tempered. Signs of irritability may show up through your mood or as physical sensations.

Some of the signs of irritability include:

It can be helpful to examine what irritability feels like for you and what kinds of thoughts, emotions, and situations trigger it.

What Causes Irritability?

There is no single cause of irritability. It could result from hormonal changes in your body, medication changes, a mental health or biological condition, or situational changes like stressful life events.

Research suggests that genetic and environmental factors contribute to a predisposition to irritability. Typically, there is not one specific cause of irritability; instead, there is a spectrum of contributing factors. More research is needed to identify the range of causes.

Various causes of irritability include the following:

What Conditions Are Associated With Irritability?

While people can experience irritability at any time for various reasons, it can be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition, including:

How to Treat Irritability

Irritability can disrupt daily activity and functioning. Treatment varies based on the underlying cause and may involve lifestyle modifications, psychotherapy, medication, or some combination of these strategies. Speak with a healthcare provider to determine the best approach for you. 

Coping strategies vary among individuals. Finding the right coping strategies may take trial and error to determine which methods work for you.

Some general strategies that might be helpful are:

  • Know your irritability triggers: Understanding the circumstances in which you might experience irritability is an excellent start to minimizing their impact. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Because irritability can include heightened emotions, practicing relaxation techniques is one approach to counter those emotions. Breathing exercises, body scans, and guided imagery reduce stress and promote relaxation. 
  • Take time for yourself: If you become irritable, taking time for yourself is a great option. Step away from a noisy or busy environment and find a quiet place to check in with yourself, practice relaxation techniques, or engage in activities that you enjoy.
  • Communicate your needs: Communicating how you feel to the people around you can help others navigate your needs, and for you to be able to better monitor your own needs.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Irritability?

Irritability can be a symptom of an existing condition or a sign of an underlying condition. Gaining insight into the source and how it’s impacting your mood and daily functioning can help you understand and create a plan to tackle it.

The Brief Irritability Test (BITe) questionnaire was developed to measure irritability. Because irritability can arise for several reasons, a healthcare provider may recommend additional testing based on other signs and symptoms to better understand the circumstances surrounding the irritability. 

Your provider may screen you for anxiety or other health conditions, or suggest tracking your menstrual cycle and corresponding emotional state.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Irritability can be a normal response to stressful moments. Sometimes it is associated with withdrawal from caffeine, hormonal changes, or an underlying condition. If you experience persistent, prolonged, or problematic irritability, talk to a healthcare provider and discuss what you’ve been feeling and noticing.


It is normal to occasionally find yourself frustrated by annoyances and inconveniences in everyday life. However, if you experience frequent irritability, it could indicate a more serious underlying concern.

There are various coping strategies to manage irritability, and it may take some time to find ones that work for you. If you experience irritability for a prolonged period, speak to a healthcare provider who can help determine the cause and provide resources, tips, and tools to help manage it.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Barata PC, Holtzman S, Cunningham S, O'Connor BP, Stewart DE. Building a definition of irritability from academic definitions and lay descriptionsEmot Rev. 2016;8(2):164-172. doi:10.1177/1754073915576228

  2. Leibenluft E, Stoddard J. The developmental psychopathology of irritabilityDev Psychopathol. 2013;25(4 Pt 2):1473-1487. doi:10.1017/S0954579413000722

  3. Vidal-Ribas P, Stringaris A. How and why are irritability and depression linked?Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2021;30(2):401-414. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2020.10.009

  4. Yonkers KA, O'Brien PM, Eriksson E. Premenstrual syndromeLancet. 2008;371(9619):1200-1210. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60527-9

  5. Yang CC, Hua MS, Lin WC, Tsai YH, Huang SJ. Irritability following traumatic brain injury: divergent manifestations of annoyance and verbal aggressionBrain Inj. 2012;26(10):1185-1191. doi:10.3109/02699052.2012.666374

  6. American Psychological Association. Strategies for controlling your anger: Keeping your anger in check.

  7. Holtzman S, O'Connor BP, Barata PC, Stewart DE. The Brief Irritability Test (BITe): a measure of irritability for use among men and womenAssessment. 2015;22(1):101-115. doi: 10.1177/1073191114533814.

By Geralyn Dexter, PhD
Geralyn Dexter has a PhD in Psychology and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor based in Delray Beach. Florida. She has experience providing evidence-based therapy in various settings and creating content focused on helping others cultivate well-being.