Help me chill out.
January 27, 2011 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I get irritated fairly easily (by coworkers, loud chewers, cats, etc.), and don't always respond in the best way. I'd like to be less irritated in general, but I also want to be able to hide my irritation better.

I am fairly easily irritated. Lately it's gotten worse, which is likely a direct result of hormones (I'm 20 weeks pregnant), but it's been a pattern for so long that it's time to change. I'm thinking about this in particular because I'm pregnant, and I know that come June, I'll need to exert more patience than I've ever had to.

Part of the immediacy of this is that I am a yeller, and I definitely don't want to be yelling around the baby. I come from a family of yellers. My partner's family did not yell, and if they did, it was very serious. I got yelled at for minor things. But moreso, yelling was used as a way to discipline animals. So, I don't really yell at people, but I yell at our cats. Particularly the one very bad cat (the one on the left) who, in his old age, meows incessantly and poops inappropriately. The only thing that stops him from meowing is being shouted at, clapped at, or sprayed with water. I try to do the latter two, but my first instinct is to yell. In the past I've always had a "cats are strange" attitude, but his behavior has gotten so bad lately, it's impossible to ignore. He can meow on and off for hours. (And yes, we're working on options to help the cat out because he seems to have anxiety problems. He's had a positive response to pheromone collars, but we may take him to the vet to try other options.)

Another really odd complicating factor? The bad kitty and the new baby will share the same name. We like this name a lot. (It's also the name of my main toon in WoW, but my child can never, ever know that.) Now, we may start calling the cat by a nickname, because I cannot be yelling "DAMN IT HENRY" every time the cat does something bad, because well, the kid could easily get confused, and could give him some complex.

When I get irritated by people, I obviously don't yell at them, but I have a hard time hiding my irritation. Usually when I'm irritable, it's because I've been set off by my misophonia. I am extremely sensitive to eating sounds, and gum, smacking or gulping will set me into a rage. I usually try to just leave the situation and of course, say nothing, because it's completely irrational, and totally my problem, not theirs. I don't think my partner (Hi, honey!) realizes how often my irritation is initially spawned by this, and then sets me into a foul mood.

So I get irritated at irrational things, but I'd also like to change my reaction to some things which are genuinely irritating. I have one coworker, who by office consensus, is one of the most irritating guys to work with. But everyone else seems to be able to hide their frustration much better than I. He and I work together frequently, and he loves to come into my office most days to talk at me for hours about what ever is on his mind. He's exceptionally bad at reading emotions, and so even though I feel like I'm often rude to him, he doesn't see it. I don't mean to be rude, but I get so frustrated.

Sorry if this is scattered. I'm looking less for responses that have to do with communicating better with irritating co-workers or attempting to train cats (ha!) and more for responses on dealing gracefully with irritable situations, reducing irritability, and hiding irritability. And I'm especially interested in hearing from people about coping with misophonia, since that is a rather unique trigger of irritation.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot to Human Relations (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Big deep breaths when you're irritated. Your enemy is never a villain in their own mind.

he loves to come into my office most days to talk at me for hours about what ever is on his mind

When he comes into your office, stand up. Walk toward the door.

It's like a weird Jedi mind trick, only with body language. People just leave.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have a friend who's had tremendous luck lately with yoga and meditation. As she put it, she'd tried exercise and therapy, but somehow the meditative movement of yoga helped her to be much less easily irritated all around.

Mindfulness meditations, realizing that the irritation isn't you, it's something you can set aside, may be the sort of thing that helps you in these situations.

I know you didn't ask for help with annoying coworkers, and it sounds like you're good at removing yourself, but I find giving the guy five minutes and then heading to the washroom really eased my mind. I told a male coworker about it and he said annoying guy just followed him into the washroom (still talking!). So keep doing the good things you're already doing, too!
posted by ldthomps at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also suffer from misophonia, but I find that how much I'm irritated by the noises is mood-dependent. Bad mood = more irritated; good mood = less irritated. (If I'm hungry, it's also pretty terrible.) Unfortunately, that means the bad mood is self-reinforcing. I try to tell myself when I find chewing irritating that it wouldn't bother me (at all/as much) if I were in a better mood, so it's entirely an internal, state-dependent thing. It sometimes works.

In previous misophonia threads, people have recommended this book. It's been on my Amazon wishlist for a while, but I haven't gotten a chance to buy and work through it yet.
posted by supercres at 11:10 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Irritation is my default setting. I will be watching this thread closely...

Like ldthomps' friend, I have had tremendous success with yoga. I've been practicing consistently for a few years now, and have been noticing more and more how much less aggro I am in general. It is important to find a teacher/studio that suits you, as they are all quite different. My pregnant friend was practicing up until a week or so before delivery and she said that it helped her physically as well.

Also, drink less coffee.
posted by palacewalls at 11:25 AM on January 27, 2011

Best answer: Being near nature helps people respond more patiently. It rejuvenates people's ability to concentrate, which is necessary to self-control. Nature, in these studies, can be as basic as the greenery outside someone's window or even time spent watching nature videos.

So fill your office with plants, go on walks in the woods (walking in urban areas won't really help, as the traffic will stress you out), and spend your lunch break watching these videos of nature. Ulrich et al 1991 found it takes less than 10 minutes of watching a nature video for people's heartrate and mood to fully recover after stressful events.
posted by slidell at 11:31 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've got a super annoying co-worker whom I would actually abandon to be eaten by zombies rather than try to include him in a survivor group. It's not that he's a bad fellow, but he has patterns of interaction that drive me up the wall and sound like your co-worker. I have found that being very blunt and direct with him has resulted in some relief. For instance, for a long while every Monday he would ask me about my weekend, and if my weekend was not sufficiently exciting for him he would judge my activities, and then on Friday he would interrogate me about my weekend plans to see if I were 'improving' or whatever. "Griselda never does anything fun, hurr hurr," he would tell the others. Oh. My. God. I got so I hated walking past his desk on Mondays. So one Monday he does his thing and I've had it and I tell him, "Look, my idea of fun is not your idea of fun. I don't want to discuss my weekend plans with you anymore." That cut down the problem a great deal. Now I am blunt about other things as well. I'm not interested in discussing financial things with you. I'm not interested in talking about that. Bam. Done. No more pointless humoring.

We're socialized to be polite to people and humor their small talk. It can become a deadweight of obligation we drag around with us for no good reason, and creates unnecessary stress. Be honest but not angry, and get what you want. A lot of irritation stems from the fact that you feel you must subjugate your best interests to someone else's for vague reasons related to conditioning and not wanting to be picked last for dodgeball. Screw that.

As for yelling at the cat/baby - yelling is a habit, like swearing. Maybe something like a swear jar would help you break that habit through a negative consequence combined with thoughtfulness?
posted by griselda at 11:35 AM on January 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

I have one coworker, who I love, who visits my office and can talk quite a bit. I say this -

"Ok, wait, I want to tell you/show you/hear about/ask about one more thing, and then I seriously have to get back to work."

It's conspiratorial, kind, and direct.

Have you considered wearing earplugs/phones when you're working on a project that doesn't require interaction?

If you can read/meditate/think/listen to quiet music/be in nature on your way to work and during your breaks (something silent and peaceful and possibly stimulating that DOESN'T involve a screen) you may be generally less irritable while at work.

Other than that, if I say something in irritation, I try to immediately recognize it and apologize and not worry that my SO/friend/coworker will hate me forever.

(On a side note, my hormones make me bananas now! I should probably never be pregnant!)
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 12:02 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel your pain...I really do. I get easily irritated and that sets me off into a bad mood. Which then effects anyone near me and the whole household.

It may sound stupid and way to easy, but it totally helped me. One day I just decided I wasn't going to yell anymore. I wasn't going to stress and I wasn't going to try and control anymore.

I have 2 toddlers, a husband who works night shift, my brother and his family staying with us for awhile, so you can imagine the stress. OH and a cat who NEVER stops meowing. So yelling and stress were high on my list of things for the day.

So anyways, once I decided to stop yelling, trying to control and stressing over everything, I woke up the next day in a great mood.

I have a mentally challenged sister and she is exactly like your co-worker. She does not pay attention to social cues, never stops talking and will interrupt you mid sentence to say whatever thing she just thought of.

What I do with her is tune her out. I just respond with appropriate hmms, huhs, and yeahs. She never picks up that I'm not listening anymore (who can for 3 hrs straight?). Sometimes if it's really bad (I get so irritated with noise, talking, chewing i get headaches) I'll forget polite and tell her pointblank (never make it sound like their fault) " Jami, I have a headache right now from such and such. Could you please give me a little bit and I"ll finish our conversation later. I really need to focus on (insert whatever) right now and I can't with you talking and my headache.

So all you need is power over mind. I will not yell anymore. I will not stress over little things and I will be happy.

Try it. It sounds so easy and silly, but it really works. Once you claim ownership of your feelings and stop letting things get to you, life is amazing. Do it and maybe you'll wake up tomorrow in the best mood ever.
posted by Sweetmag at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Re: The Cat. Aw, Henri looks so cuuuute! He looks like a real sweetie pie. If I may speak for Henri, I can tell you that he really doesn't appreciate being yelled at. He is not a piece of livestock, to be herded, prodded, and treated like dirt. He's a fully-formed FurPerson and a member of your family. It's time to start treating him with the respect he deserves, especially in preparation for June, when his world is going to turn upside down and he's going to feel insecure about his place in the family. So practice kindness, respect, and affection on Henri. Quit yelling and use quiet, soothing tones of voice. Think of it as practice for what you'll soon be doing with your darling little Baby. And store this thought in your head: When you want to change a behavior, praise or reward works much better than yelling or criticism.
posted by exphysicist345 at 12:48 PM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Try being grateful you hear well enough to hear the stuff that's annoying you would help. I've lost a lot of hearing, and would give a great deal to be able to hear the kinds of things that used to annoy me. Think about what your life would be like if you couldn't hear. Spending time with some HOH (hard of hearing) people might help.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:33 PM on January 27, 2011

Best answer: I am usually a very calm, zen person, who could never understand how people around me seemed to get irritated by the tiniest things. Then my hormones went all wonky due to some medical shit and right now I am flooded by really really super-strong emotions on a hair-trigger. A significant amount of the time, those emotions are irritation.

Like, I drop milk on the floor and formerly would have just wiped it up and maybe laughed at myself. Now I swear loudly, stomp around, and feel angry for the next hour for no good reason.

I am trying really hard to deal with this and here is what is working and not working for me:

-making sure I am never ever hungry. If I am hungry, I will get SO grumpy. I eat every couple of hours right now "just in case".
- same with temperature. If I am too hot or too cold, it magnifies all other problems. I am using the air-conditioning a lot more than usual. (It's summer here).
- trying to see the funny side of things. I get a kick of surrealness and ridiculous over-the-top stuff, so sometimes deliberately overstating my own reactions helps. So in the case of the milk, I might say out loud, "Oh my god, my life is over because there is MILK on the floor. We can never be happy again. In fact, our apartment is probably ruined because of the MILK. We will have to move out and probably live in a box in the gutter. AND I am never going to be able to eat cereal again because that was probably the last carton of milk in the shop. We are DOOMED!"

Not working:
-taking a deep breath.
-counting to ten.
-distracting myself with music or tv or whatever. The grump persists.
-just deciding to be "rational".
posted by lollusc at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Maybe Henry is losing his hearing and feels isolated and lonely. You could try cuddling or petting him when he meows and see if he feels better. It would probably make you feel better than yelling at him too.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:53 PM on January 27, 2011

Excessive irritability is a symptom of depression. Do you have any other symptoms? I used to excessively freak out over "little things" a lot before I started taking antidepressants. Then a bunch of things that I didn't even know were depression related, like my irritability, began to clear up.

This may not be an option while you're pregnant but is something to keep in mind for the future.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:27 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: So many great responses, it is hard to choose the best, there's a bit of truth in all the answers.

slidell's response is probably one of the most illuminating. Since it's been unseasonably cold in the South this winter, I haven't been outside very much. I think I will incorporate a daily walk outside at work, even if it's chilly.

But also ldthomps is completely right. I take martial arts, and am normally very active, but I've had to cut back considerably lately due to my pregnancy. I find my karate practice extremely meditative and relaxing, and I'm missing out on that right now.

And also, sweetmag's advice on taking ownership of my feelings hit home. As did all the sympathy for my cat. He is in fact getting a little deaf, and sometimes he does start meowing in the other room, as if he's lost us and is lonely. When that's the case, we'll call to him to let him know where we are, and he'll happily find us. Or at least quit meowing. But when he's meowing for food, he's usually sitting right beside us, staring at us, meowing every few seconds, waiting for us to make a move towards the kitchen. And yes, he is adorable, isn't he? He was rescued from the pound by a volunteer because he's so cute. When he was three, he was on a cart, going to a room at the pound to be put to sleep when a volunteer saw him. She saw how adorable he was, and how he was part Siamese, knew she could easily find a home for him, and so saved him from certain doom. I've had him for 13 years, and he is a very special kitty.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 8:07 AM on January 28, 2011

Wear earbuds -- but don't listen to anything. Headphones leak noise so people think you can hear them -- and also, you can still hear them. But earbuds will block out other people and also make them think that you wouldn't hear them even if they approached you so why bother approaching you?

I often leave my earbuds in after a podcast or album ends, and it gives me extra peace & quiet. (I am a mamn, and not currently pregnant, but Hell Certainly Is Other People for me all day long.) When you are irritated less often, you get a longer fuze for the next time, and a virtuous circle can develop.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2011

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