Irritability is a common symptom after a mild head injury. Some people might notice that they have a shorter fuse than normal, or are more ‘snappy’ with family, friends, or colleagues. Small annoyances that they would usually ‘brush off’ might really wind them up.
The problem with irritability is that if we let it stick around it tends to get worse. Although it might feel like getting angry will help you to feel better – by ‘getting it of your chest’ – in reality, getting wound up and angry generally only makes you feel worse. Getting angry can also cause problems with other people, who might respond to your anger with their own anger leading to confrontation and more stress. So feeling irritable and getting angry can make you isolated from other people when in fact you are feeling stressed and could do with support from other people.
Tips for dealing with irritability
Irritability is likely to be worse if you are feeling worried or anxious. Both anxiety and anger can cause physical symptoms such as a racing heart, flushed face, dry mouth, shaking, and muscle tension.
An important step in managing and reducing irritability is in recognizing the early stages of feeling ‘wound up’ or stressed. Most of the time these feelings don’t come from nowhere but build up gradually. Try to notice when you start to feel the early signs of tension. If you notice these feelings, take action to prevent the feelings from building into an angry or irritable state. Some people might find it helpful to go for a short walk, listen to some music, watch TV or read a book or magazine. Other people might find it helpful to try relaxation exercises or even just taking a few slow deep breaths.
If you realise that you already feel very wound up and are in a situation which is making you feel angry or irritated, try to ‘step back’ and take some time out. Move to a quiet place, if possible, and spend a short time thinking about what has happened to make you feel upset. Ask yourself: ‘Why am I getting angry?’ and ‘Is this worth getting angry about?’ Often, taking time out and putting things into perspective can stop a vicious cycle of angry thoughts and physical symptoms from taking hold and help you to get back to a calmer state.
Sometimes, irritability that is present for much of the time doesn’t get better by itself can be a sign of depression or anxiety. If this is the case, treating the depression or anxiety will usually make the irritability better. However, it is important to state that irritability can be a problem after mild head injury even if there is no depression or anxiety.
On the website of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, a wide range of self help leaflets is offered. This one contains information on anger and how you can learn to control your frustration and anger: