I’m sure we’ve all had the unfortunate experience of being around an irritable person who, despite your best efforts to cheer them up, continues to huff and puff, grumble and gripe through their whole day.
Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe they’re one of those people who are always “having a bad day”. Either way, being around an irritable person is unnerving to say the least.
But what about when that person is you?
As someone who has struggled with my mental health for years, irritability is something I’m quite familiar with. In fact I’m often that person who seems to always be having a bad day. I’d love to say I’m the person who always has a smile on her face and brings joy to all she encounters in a day, but unfortunately I can’t say that.
Sometimes I am that person, and I love the days that I get to be her. But more often than I’d like to admit, I’m the person you pull up beside in traffic who is cursing the row of cars she’s stuck behind and rolling her eyes as she turns the radio dial because WHY is there nothing good on and HOW can every station be playing commercials at the same time??
Irritability, like most emotions, has a momentum to it.
It can start out small.
Maybe you get out of bed and right away you step in a puddle of pee your dog left for you to clean. Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed…
From there, every little thing seems to go just a little bit wrong.
You spill some coffee on your shirt. Now you have to change. Maybe you stub your toe on the way out the door. Maybe the radio isn’t playing anything good and for some reason your phone didn’t charge overnight, so now you’ve got a phone that’s about to die and no access to your best playlist.
Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be because things are going a little wrong. Irritability can come on out of nowhere and it will still build and build with a momentum of its own.
It doesn’t always need a reason to be there. Sometimes it’s just… there. And you don’t know why; all you know is that you’re in a crappy mood and absolutely everything is annoying to you right now.
If this is something you’ve struggled with as much as I have, maybe you’re just as desperate as I was to find a way out of the momentum of the infamous bad mood.
It’s not an easy thing to take on. Once you’re in it, it can feel nearly impossible to break out of it. But just because it feels impossible doesn’t mean that it is. Anything is possible, especially when it comes to taking control of your mind. You just need to know how to do it.
And I’m going to teach you.
Some of this I came up with on my own, and some of the specific techniques are things I got from my therapist.
First a little background: My therapist is amazing and so smart. She taught me some of these techniques when I was grieving the death of my father. I was struggling with a very intense anger problem that had been brought to the surface because grief likes to manifest in weird ways. It was to the point that I was having episodes multiple times a day, which often resulted in me breaking something in my house, which was not good especially when it was something I cared about because then I’d immediately collapse into tears.
Needless to say, I was a complete sh*t-show of a person for a few months and these techniques became my lifeline. I held onto them for dear life and they slowly but surely pulled me out of the momentum of deep, intense anger. So after the worst of the grieving process, I learned to use these techniques to help myself out of the bouts of irritability too. I realized that irritability is like a super watered down version of the anger I’d had, so it made sense that the techniques would work for that as well.
Alright. We’re going to break this into a two step process…
First you need to convince yourself that this bad mood isn’t worth it, and that switching yourself out of it is something you actually want.
When you’re caught up in it, you may think you don’t want to be in it, but in a weird way you kind of do. You want to give into it, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
So you need to start by reminding yourself that this bad mood momentum you’re heading into is something that never pans out well for you.
It may be helpful to sit down and think of a couple other times you got caught up in the momentum of irritability where the situation spiraled and ended badly. Maybe even write those examples down.
However you can think to do it, you need to convince yourself that it’s simply not worth it to continue on in this horrible mood.
To be clear, a part of you will probably still want to hold onto the bad mood. That’s only natural. The goal for this step is to convince yourself just enough that you’re able to genuinely give step two a try.
Now that you’re fairly certain being in a bad mood isn’t worth it, it’s time to use a handy tool to break yourself out of it.
I’m going to list a few tools my therapist taught me that have worked enormously well for me, and you can choose whichever one you want. Maybe try each one out until you find one that works best for you.
This one requires some prior planning.
Have a talk with your significant other or whoever else you’re usually around, who you trust with this task, and set up a code word with them.
This code word can be whatever you want. Try to make it something easy to remember and you get bonus points if it’s hilarious (my code word is a very funny word that I can’t say on this blog because it’s super inappropriate). A hilarious code word works the best in my opinion because humor is a great momentum breaker in general.
When and why to use the code word:
When you find yourself in the momentum of irritability, spiraling into the huff and puff of a crappy mood, you’ll first do step one like we talked about. Then you’ll go to the person you’ve entrusted with the code word and you’ll say it to them. They should know from the conversation you previously had that the reason you are saying this word to them is that you’ve found yourself in a bad mood and you’d like some help pulling yourself out of it.
This method only works if the other person is okay with you asking for their help with something like this. If they’d rather not have that pressure put on them, that is totally understandable and reasonable of them to decide. Nobody is obligated to help pull someone else out of a bad mood. But if they are willing to help when the time comes, that’s fantastic. If not, don’t take it personally. There are other methods you can try out.
There are a few different forms of this one. My favorite is the countdown from 100. You just slowly count down backwards from 100, and if by the time you get to 1 you still haven’t calmed down, simply start over at 100 again. Keep repeating the countdown until you’ve calmed down and broken out of the momentum.
You can also countdown from 50, from 10… you can choose whatever number. I feel like 100 works best for me.
This technique involves all five of your senses and gives you something to focus your mind on long enough for you to calm down and hopefully break out of that bad mood. Again, if it doesn’t work the first time, just keep repeating it until it does.
- First, you look around and find 5 things you can see. The clock on the wall, your cat, the microwave, your cup of coffee, and your phone. Doesn’t matter what it is. Just any five things you can see.
- Second, you’ll find 4 things you can touch. Like I said, doesn’t matter what they are. Your hair, the table, whatever. Just four things you can touch.
- Now you’re going to find 3 things you can hear. Only external things. Your thoughts don’t count. So the ticking of that clock on the wall, maybe music you have on, the hum of the refrigerator… just three things you can hear.
- Next, you’ll find 2 things you can smell. If you don’t have any smells right by you, you can get up and find two smells. Maybe the soap in the bathroom. Or your coffee. Any two things you can smell.
- Lastly, you’re going to find 1 thing you can taste. Maybe you have gum in your mouth, or you still have a coffee taste lingering, or there’s a sandwich you’re working on. Whatever it is. Just one thing you can taste.
Like I said before, If you’ve run through this process once and you’re still not out of the momentum, just run through it again. Repeat until you’ve found your way out.
This technique was created by Donald Altman, who is a Psychotherapist, former Buddhist monk, international mindfulness expert, speaker, and award-winning author.
This is actually a technique my therapist taught me more recently, and I think it definitely deserves a spot on this list.
So here’s how it works:
Think of one thing you’re grateful for recently. It can be something super simple, like you’re grateful that you have shoes on your feet or food for lunch.
Think of something you’ve learned recently. It can be anything, big or small. Maybe you learned a something new while scrolling through facebook. Maybe you learned that you’d rather do morning showers rather than night showers.
Think of one small accomplishment you’ve made recently. It can be as simple as getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, or paying a bill on time.
Find one thing of delight that touched you recently. It can be as simple as a smell that brought on a moment of nostalgia, or as big as your significant other surprising you with flowers. Maybe your coffee tastes just right yesterday. Whatever you can think of.
This technique is great for a daily practice too, if you want to start incorporating it into your morning or nightly routine!
Alright you guys, that’s all I’ve got for now. I hope some of these techniques can help you get out of that bad day momentum. Irritability sucks for you and for the people you’re around. The bad mood isn’t worth it! Let’s break out and get back to smiling.
Keep Calm and Grow On