Eight Tips for Conquering Anger and Irritability.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for conquering anger and irritability.

Hah. It’s really quite preposterous for me to offer up a tips list on this subject. A tendency to fly off the handle is one of my most disagreeable and persistent traits, and something I battle with – largely unsuccessfully – every day. For me, anger is the most tempting of the seven deadly sins. At best, you could describe me as “edgy.”

This list shows the strategies I try to use to keep myself patient and mild-mannered, but I certainly can’t claim that they’ve been wholly successful. I still lose my temper far too often; however, I do think I’m doing a better job than I would be if I weren’t following these tips:

1. Pay attention to my body. Being too cold, too hot, and especially being too hungry, makes me far more irritable.

2. Don’t drink. I basically gave up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent.

3. Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings (usually this arises with my husband or daughters). Instead of snapping back answers like “I don’t want to hear a lot of whining” or “It’s not that big a deal,” I try to show that I understand what someone is saying.

4. Be realistic. For instance, I often get irritated when someone interrupts me when I’m reading — but I should know better than to try to read the newspaper during my daughters’ Saturday morning breakfast. Of course I’m going to get interrupted.

5. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. I often feel irritated when someone (usually my husband) doesn’t notice and praise some effort on my part. For example, when I went out of town last week, I got my older daughter completely organized for a field trip before I left. I snapped at my husband because he didn’t appreciate this Herculean accomplishment on my part.

6. Squelch my reaction. Not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate. I have trouble with this in person, but often manage to do it if it involves email; the deliberate effort of writing an irritated email often gives me the opportunity to decide not to send it. I find it tougher to bite back an angry retort — but I’m working on it. When I can manage, acting the way I want to feel always helps me to change my feelings.

7. Make a joke. Okay, some of these strategies are more fantasy than reality, but on the rare occasion when I do manage to make a joke during a moment of irritation, it works beautifully to lighten the mood.

8. Try not to be defensive. Many of my most harsh reactions are triggered by some kind of accusation – that I did something wrong, that I did something rude, that I screwed up in some way. If I can admit to fault, or let it go, I can lighten my anger. My anger is tied to my pride, and pride is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

In my case, as this list shows, anger stems from a tendency toward perfectionism. I want to control things, have events unfold exactly as I want, have people behave exactly as I direct, and get lots of credit for everything I do. Surprise! That’s not how the world works.

What strategies have I missed? What helps you defuse anger and irritability? I need more help!

My friend and blogging mentor Jonathan Fields has two excellent blogs: Awake at the Wheel, which has a lot of great material of general interest, and Career Renegade, which is more focused on work and career. Jonathan’s book, Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love, has gotten a lot of buzz.

Considering doing your own happiness project or have some ideas to share? Join the discussions on the Facebook Page to swap insights, strategies, and experiences. Also, people who want to start happiness-project groups have started to post their cities, so if you’re interested in joining or starting a group, look there.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • BrettJamesLive

    That describes me to a tee! And I agree with a lot of it. The rest, I look forward to trying! 🙂

    Great article, well done.


  • Mrock

    I appreciate the vulnerability you showed in sharing advice from an “aspiring-to” perspective. Very much agree that being realistic (great example for that tip) and trying not to be defensive help. I seem to get irritable when I feel something should be different than it is. Often times I’m also feeling anxious, overburdened, and/or low on energy. With that in mind, any strategies to address those things may also help with my irritability. Recognizing the value of anger helps me move past it while taking the positive from it. Good luck to you as you continue to grow with this!

  • droitduseigneur

    This is a great post as it hits on so many of the triggers of irritability.

  • joe Mama

    This is absolutely worthless information

    • gretchenrubin

      Are you giving me an opportunity to conquer anger and irritability? Hilarious.

      • PSingh

        Hahaha…good one Grechen! If it makes you feel any better, truth be told – my husband gave me your book on happiness project a few years back and I am a fan ever since.

        What is there to not like about this article. There are several good points in there. Trust me the solution will come from simple things like these. The hard part is execution. There is no magic wand, improvement would be a slow and arduous process. By the way, most of us reading this article have a problem with irritability so the comments should be seen in perspective. We must be a hard bunch to please. Hahaha! bunch of peevish folks.

  • Simply me

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been trying very hard to deal with my anger and irritability lately and am so harsh on myself when I slip up. I think I have realized that it is ok to get angry sometimes, and mistakes do happen. When I say something harsh to my SO I would wallow in how awful of a person I am. Now, after talking with him about it, he has pointed out that once I realize what has happened, a simply apology is enough for him. For me, this takes a lot of effort because it means admitting I did something wrong. But I am slowly getting better. It takes time 🙂

  • Archana

    Omg that is exactly me as well!! Thanks for sharing! I feel I am not alone. I think half the battle is won just by the realization that we are very irritable and by attempting to make it better. For example my dad who I am a replica of has no insight which makes it so much more difficult.


    did not help at all

  • King Doosh

    In other words: don’t get angry. That’s really helpful…

  • PSingh

    My irritation eats into a lot of my great moments, vacations and money spend on vacations. I feel robbed of memorable moments because while my kids were being so cute I was sitting irritated because of something someone else did to me (usually said to me). I can see the moment passing by and I want to catch it by my state of mind is such I am not able to absorb that happiness because I am covered in a layer of s$%t. That is the biggest loss I feel I have had because of my irritability. I really need help and I do not know what will stick.

  • Juhani

    I would add one more thing to this list: 9. Make some me-time. Make sure you sleep enough, eat enough and make time to do the things you love, like painting, reading, socializing, have a relaxing bath, etc. Make me-time every day. Even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom and pretend you have tummy troubles to get those15 minutes off, then do it! 😀

  • Kay

    I totally relate to all of this, except I’m usually a much more enjoyable person when I’m drinking haha I tend to lash out at my boyfriend the most… I thank him every day for his patience but I still feel terrible and usually end up just ending relationships when I start to get like that toward the other person. Everything will be fine for a few months and then suddenly everything they do or say or the faces they make just irritate me so bad… Recently my irritability also poisoned an otherwise incredible vacation with my boyfriend. -_- These are great tips. I think some people find them useless because they are looking for a magic cure they somehow didn’t think of before, but unfortunately the only solution is some serious hard work on your inner self.

  • NeegaJoe


  • Nikki

    I can relate to the article as well! For me, I find that being distracted with good thoughts and looking at cute animals helps a great deal! Hope you can give that a try and see how it works!