Anger and Irritability

Key Points:

  • Many youth report feeling more irritable and angry after a concussion.
  • There are many strategies to help you cope with these emotions:
    • Manage concussion symptoms
    • Practice health habits
    • Build awareness of your warning signs and triggers for irritability and anger
  • If you need more help, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about anger and irritability and they may refer you to a specialist for more support.

Anger and/or Irritability is a Common Experience After a Concussion

Some youth have shared they feel irritable, easily frustrated, and have a “short fuse” after their concussion.

Irritability is common with health problems that affect sleep, cause pain, and increase stress.

"Why do I experience anger and irritability after a concussion?"

Symptoms following a concussion such as pain, headaches, and dizziness take up space in your life, and may leave you with less energy and less capacity to deal with day-to-day demands.

Imagine an empty container. Each concussion symptom takes up space in the container, such as headaches, pain, dizziness, or noise sensitivity.

Daily responsibilities also take up space in the container, such as homework, cleaning your room, and appointments.

Our container can get so full of “stuff” that any extra stress (e.g. friend drama, parent asking you to do a chore, an assignment due) can cause an overflow. An overflow can look like an outburst of anger, yelling, swearing, stomping, saying hurtful things, or shutting down.

The less space we have in our container, the more likely we are to react with frustration and anger when things don’t go our way.


Responding to Our Emotions in Helpful Ways

Anger and irritability are common feelings.

Sometimes too much anger can cause problems.

  • You can hurt people you care about.
  • Anger can make your symptoms feel worse.
  • You may feel guilty about an outburst or losing control.
  • Anger can actually get in the way of solving problems.

The good news is that there are many tools to help you manage anger and irritability!

Strategies to Manage Anger and Irritability

Manage Concussion Symptoms

Symptoms following a concussion such as pain, headaches, and dizziness can worsen irritability, so it is important to manage these symptoms. This can free up space for you to deal with stressors. For strategies to manage these symptoms, please see these topics on this website under Symptoms.

Healthy Habits

It is also helpful to build health habits into your day such as: eating healthy meals, drinking water, pacing yourself throughout your day, and getting a good night’s sleep. This will leave you with more energy, and more space, to deal with challenges. Please see these topics on this website under Self-Manager.

Build Awareness of Your Triggers and Early Warning Signs

When your container is full, you likely have less energy and less “space” to deal with stressors. You may be more sensitive to triggers and more likely to respond to triggers with anger and frustration. The next section will review warning signs and triggers, and provide tips on how to pay attention to these signs and respond to them in helpful ways.

Warning Signs and Triggers: Your Container is Getting Full

It is helpful to build awareness of your warning signs and triggers for anger and irritability. When you can spot your warning signs and your triggers, you can take action before you lose control.

Warning Signs

Warning signs are common symptoms we feel in our body and mind as we start to feel irritable or angry. Common symptoms include: feeling hot, racing thoughts, tense muscles, clenched fists and teeth, sweating.

What are your warning signs? Try to identify 2-3.

When you spot your early warning signs, you can:

  • Practise stress management by using an active relaxation strategy, for example calm breathing, to turn down the intensity of the emotion.
  • Take a “cool off” period.
  • Distract yourself until the intensity of the emotion passes. Here are some ideas of activities to try:
    • Stretch
    • Visualize a peaceful place
    • Cuddle or play with your pet
    • Colour, paint, draw
    • Get a hug
    • Take a shower or a bath
    • Practice Gratitude

Triggers are anything that tend to set you off: A caregiver asking you to do something, being criticized or ignored, arriving late, getting a bad grade.

What are your triggers? Try to identify 2-3.

When you spot a trigger you can:

  • Prepare - Some triggers are unavoidable. If the trigger is foreseeable you can prepare emotionally, physically, and mentally.
  • Practice - If a trigger is unavoidable, practice facing it a little bit at a time, or practice things you might say or do.
  • Avoid - If you are feeling really unwell, or the trigger is not important to you, sometimes the best thing to do is avoid the situation, at least for a little while.

Give it a try in the situations below.

Add to My Recovery Plan 📒

You’ve just learned about anger and irritability after a concussion. If this is something you want to work on, here are some common strategies that many teenagers find helpful. You can chose the one that you would like to add to your personalized Recovery Plan.

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