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What are anger and irritability?

Everyone has been angry at some point, and even the most patient of people can get annoyed or irritated at times. Perhaps you’ve been in heavy traffic and become upset at other drivers. Or maybe you’ve gotten mad after someone broke his or her word or damaged your personal property. Being interrupted, or just the way someone did or said something, might have gotten on your nerves. Many people become angry or irritable in situations like these.

Anger is an emotion that can range from mild annoyance to intense rage. People may become angry when they feel threatened, harmed, or powerless. Some Veterans may be more likely to feel anger in everyday situations because of a traumatic event from past military experience, such as combat, physical or sexual abuse, injury, or the loss of a buddy from their unit. Others may experience anger because of the stress of such life events as preparing for deployment, transitioning from service, changing jobs, retiring from work, or because of family or job disputes.

Slightly different from anger, irritability is having a general tendency to be easily frustrated or impatient. Sometimes, irritability causes people to lash out at others, which can put a strain on personal and work relationships.

Constant anger and irritability can be bad for a person’s health, resulting in problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, ulcers, and other conditions. 

“I had a short fuse. If you looked at me the wrong way, I'd basically walk up to you and say, ‘You got an issue?’”

For most Veterans, anger and irritability do not interfere with day-to-day life. However, if the signs and symptoms associated with anger and irritability are affecting your work, relationships, or activities, or they seem to be happening all the time, it could be a sign of underlying issues that need to be addressed.

If I’m experiencing anger or irritability, what can I do about it right away?

Remember, you can’t always control situations that make you angry, but you can choose your response. Some anger management strategies include:

  • Taking a timeout. Walk away from the situation and give yourself time to calm down.
  • Adopting relaxation methods to avoid an angry response. Take slow, deep breaths or count to 10.
  • Breaking the cycle of anger. Acknowledge your feelings and then remind yourself that responding in an angry way may make the situation worse or result in negative consequences for you or someone you care about.
  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule. A good night’s sleep can help you handle situations during your day.
  • Exercising regularly. Physical activity can improve your mood and help you sleep better.

Talking with your family and friends about your anger and irritability can be a good first step. They may be able to provide support and help you find resources that are right for you. You can also begin letting people know about the types of situations that irritate you or make you feel angry to prevent negative situations before they occur.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for dealing with anger and irritability. If anger and irritability are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for anger management support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage anger even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing anger and irritability.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to anger and irritability, such as stress and anxiety, relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and bipolar disorder.

AfterDeployment
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for anger and irritability and other issues they commonly experience.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-anger

National Center for PTSD
This website provides information, resources, and practical advice for Veterans, their family and friends, and the public when dealing with trauma.
www.ptsd.va.gov/public/index.asp

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Anger and irritability may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1