Quick Facts

  • One of the most common changes following brain injury is an increase in irritability
  • Irritability refers to a feeling of agitation
  • It is a feeling that something is not right and not knowing how to stay calm
  • Frustration is an emotion that occurs in situations where a person is blocked from reaching a desired outcome

What does it
look like?

  • Impatience when completing a task or reaching a desired outcome
  • Inability to tolerate other’s mistakes
  • Irritated by interruptions that may disrupt their attention (i.e. noise of children, kitchen sounds)
  • Short-tempered when things do not work out right or when there is a difference of opinion
  • Physical or verbal outbursts when they are unable to do a task that they set out to complete

Possible Causes and Complications

Possible causes:

  • Emotional dysregulation due to damage of the frontal lobes
  • Sleep problems and headaches
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Reduced behavioural control
  • Over stimulating environment (excessive noise, light, visual stimuli, etc.)
  • Individual may have been an irritable person before injury and these tendencies are increased/amplified with injury
  • Inability to find the words they want to use or recall certain information

Possible complications:

  • Irritability and frustration may lead to anger and angry outbursts of verbal or physical aggression
  • Disengagement in activities and hobbies that they once enjoyed
  • May lead to loss of friendships, withdrawal and isolation

What can we do?

  • Identify triggers to frustration and avoid situations that may be triggering
  • Establish a routine that provides structure and predictability for the individual
  • Discuss possible ways to manage frustrating situations
  • Reduce unwanted noise or stimulation in their environment
  • Normalize irritability and highlight the importance of managing it
  • Encourage the individual to develop self-calming strategies, relaxation techniques, communication methods and to think positive thoughts
  • Know when it is time to take a break
  • Develop a signal to “stop”, cue to relax, and take deep breaths

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace advice from a medical doctor. Consult a health care provider regarding specific medical concerns or treatment.