Q: I find myself snapping at my kids and husband over the smallest thing. I know I’m stressed, but I don’t know what to do. Help!
A: I think that almost anyone can relate to this situation. Snapping at your loved ones over “small” things is one of the first major signs that you’re stressed and overwhelmed—my husband could easily provide multiple examples from my own life! Here’s the good news: though this type of short-fuse behaviour negatively impacts both you and your family in the moment, it’s a very useful red flag that alerts you to when you need to make significant changes to your life. If you’re feeling irritable and prone to overreacting, here are some questions to ask yourself.
1. What situations are you typically reacting to?
Though you have labelled your triggers as “the smallest thing,” they may be more relevant than you think and could contain clues to important solutions. For example, Cora Coady, the 2010 Vichy Best Health Challenge featured participant, told me during a coaching session that she found herself overreacting in certain situations. When I asked her for an example, she told me that when her baby was hungry and fussing loudly, Cora would find herself simultaneously trying to prepare Beatrix’s food and trying to calm her baby down (pretty much physically impossible). Overwhelmed by it all, she’d often find herself snapping at her partner, Dave, during these moments.
When I dug deeper, we discovered that Cora had a hard time asking for help. She’d try to do too much herself and feel overwhelmed and irritable. Once she began asking for more support, her life began to calm down across the board. Do you need to ask for more help? Is there a certain situation that routinely makes you lose your temper? If so, what might be some creative ways that you might be able to change that circumstance to relieve the pressure on you?
2. Are you getting enough sleep?
The hours that you sleep each night directly affect your mood and ability to cope with stressful events throughout the next day. I once heard about a study in which they examined a group of mothers for the effect of different life changes on their happiness and life satisfaction. The researchers found that getting just one more hour of sleep a night provided a greater boost in overall life happiness for these moms than a $60,000 increase in income! Aim for eight hours a night and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
3. Are you feeding yourself properly?
If you go too long without eating, your blood sugar plummets. Symptoms include increased irritability, anxiety, moodiness and even weepiness. Again, just ask my husband: if I get unusually moody or cranky, one of the first things he’ll ask is, “When did you last eat something?” If you’ve been running around all day, you might not even realize you’re running on empty. Eating regularly will stabilize your blood sugar and your mood. Choose healthy meals and snacks containing protein and fiber to avoid blood sugar crashes that result from eating sugary or high-carb foods.
4. Do you have enough time for yourself?
During another one of our sessions, Cora told me that she’d been more moody and tired and was concerned there might be a medical cause, though her doctor hadn’t found anything wrong. When I asked her how much time she had on her own to relax, her answer was “none.” Small wonder she was feeling so moody! When she deliberately fit in time to relax and read or do something else that she enjoyed, she noticed an immediate boost in mood and energy that translated across her entire life.
When was the last time you relaxed and did something just for you? If it’s been too long, schedule in some me-time, ASAP. Doctor’s orders.
Again, when you feel stressed and start to snap at people around you, take it as a sign that you absolutely must make some changes in your life as a response. Improving the trigger situation (e.g., by asking for help), taking proper care of your body, and prioritizing time to unwind will all hugely benefit your mental and physical health, not to mention your relationship with your family! Everyone wins when you make looking after yourself a priority.
Dr. Susan Biali, the Embrace Life expert for the Best Health Challenge, is a life coach, medical doctor, international speaker, professional flamenco dancer and the author of Live A Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.
Web exclusive August 2011 Best Health magazine