You know those days when it seems like everyone on planet Earth is testing your patience? Someone on the street walks too close to you and gives you a flat tire. Or the terrible sound of your roommate chewing at the top of her lungs rattles through your apartment. Other times, your partner has the audacity to ask how your day was — like a real monster! If everything annoys you all of the time, that's actually very normal, and the reason why probably has to do with your old friend, anxiety.
"If someone is an anxious person, they're generally irritable and can feel thrown by things easily," says Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist. "They're easier to be upset, to be hurt, and sometimes they're really sensitive to sounds and stimuli." Basically, someone who's generally anxious and tense across the board is going to be annoyed easily, too.
It might seem like these frustrations are all in your head, but there is a physiological reason why you feel so pissed off. "Someone chronically anxious has their nervous system on high alert at all times, so you're not only jumpy and scared but irritable," she says. And for some people, realizing that you're annoyed can make you even more annoyed, which is... awesome. When your nervous system is lit up, you really can't help but respond (positively or negatively) to whatever's in front of you, no matter how minor it actually is.
You also tend to be a little snippier when you haven't slept well, Dr. Bonior says. "The more under-slept you are, the more threatening your view is of your environment," she says. "When you're not well-slept, things appear more annoying because you're thinking about them in a negative way." Boredom can also increase irritability, because when your mind is wandering a lot, you might notice things that you wouldn't otherwise, she says. Luckily, you can always try to get more sleep, or keep yourself occupied, but there are also some more invariable, harder-to-fix reasons why things constantly piss you off.
If you're a rigid person with super-high standards about the way you run your life (like, you're the type to reorganize the dishwasher after it's been loaded), then it could seem like the rest of the world might not be up to your standards all of the time — which will annoy you, Dr. Bonior says. "You might have a personality type that is just inflexible and unyielding, so you have a hard time relaxing on the rules and being able to roll with the punches and accept that things aren't always going to be the way you want," she says. The reason why you feel like you have to correct someone's grammar constantly or clean your desk every day could just be a byproduct of how you were raised. "Usually, it comes from some experience with it in our childhood," Dr. Bonior says. "Something we grew up with that drove us crazy."
For others, there are particular stimulants that drive them bonkers, like the injustice of getting cut off while driving, or hearing someone talk too loud on a cell phone in public. People who can't stand the sound of someone chewing, might have misphonia, which is an actual condition. "That's something different, because your brain processes the stimulants differently," Dr. Bonior says. Either way, it's totally normal to have things annoy you, and just because your partner cracks their knuckles or leaves cabinets open at home, that doesn't mean you really hate them. But keep in mind that, if you're perpetually annoyed by one person, larger issues might be at play. "We might keep it in and resentment builds, and sometimes we do get more annoyed by small things if there's a bigger thing we don't talk about," she says.
And remember: Other people's habits might not be fixable, but the way you react to them is. When you're feeling off-the-charts annoyed, you should focus on what your body is doing, Dr. Bonior says. "A lot of times, we're tense, and we're annoyed that we're tense — it's a cycle," she says.
Instead, Dr. Bonior suggests doing some simple deep breathing exercises that will help center yourself in the moment. A lot of times, mentally reciting a mantra like, "I am here," will help bring you back into your body, and allow you to react conscientiously, rather than impulsively, she says. Starting a gratitude journal can also be useful so you can tap into the things that are going right in your life — and write a short novel about why it's totally obnoxious that someone cut in front of you in line at the coffee shop this morning.
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