Burnout Can Cause Irritability – Yup. It’s A Thing.

Feb 7, 2021

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND


When you’re running away from a bear, or at least your body thinks that you are running away from a bear, the last thing you care about is how nice you are to people. One of the cardinal signs of burnout that many people miss at first is an increase in irritability and snapping. This is due to a variety of causes, but most often an overproduction of the adrenaline and cortisol hormones and a decrease in the compensation hormones for our mood (like progesterone). We also tend to have a hard time filtering and focusing on our work. What does that do? It makes us more frustrated with ourselves.

Hello Irritation!

In cases of burnout, irritability is often the result of frustration over feeling ineffective and useless, and disappointment over decreased productivity, worsening performance, and a general sense that you’re not able to do things like you used to do them. You may snap at people and overreact to minor things. In the early stages, irritability may create a rift in professional and personal relationships. In later stages, it could even destroy a career, a marriage or a partnership.

Where does this irritation come from?

Irritation is usually the end result of your mood being impacted by burnout. Chronic anxiety, depression and anger are the starting points that generally result in irritation bubbling to the surface if nothing is changed.

Chronic anxiety is common to cases of burnout. Early on, the anxiety may be experienced as nagging feelings of tension, worry, and edginess, which may interfere with your ability to attend and concentrate. Physically, your heart may pound, and your muscles may feel tight. Over time, the anxiety may become so severe that it interferes in your ability to go to work or take care of your responsibilities at home. In some cases, the anxiety may become so severe that it results in panic attacks.

This can then lead you to experience more symptoms of depression. Although feeling sad from time to time is normal, in cases of burnout, depression is more than just temporary sadness. In the early stages of burnout, you may notice that you’re having more bad than good days. You also may feel like you have no energy, or you may feel irritable and restless. Guilt and feelings of worthlessness are common, and you may have trouble focusing and concentrating. 

We now know from some early research papers that as people progress through stages of burnout that these symptoms appear and disappear, or they start to pile on top of each other. As we start to feel more progressive symptoms of anxiety and depression our fight or flight response kicks in further and we start to lash out.

Because people experiencing burnout often feel like a failure and experience a lot of guilt, it’s not uncommon for these feelings to turn into anger and resentment as the stress continues, and you feel as if you have no control over it. At first, the anger may take the form of interpersonal tension with colleagues, family, or friends. As burnout becomes more severe, the anger may intensify and result in angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace.

The pile gets bigger and bigger until the irritability takes over.

So how do we support your mood before you actually go with that threat to divorce your partner?

At Cornerstone Naturopathic we take a two pronged approach. First we override your brain using fats, proteins and sometimes IV Nutrition Therapy to get energy up to your brain as efficiently as we can. Then we work on supporting the cortisol and adrenaline cascades that got you to this point in the first place. The timeline? Six to nine months of cell turnover to start to change the environment that caused this in the first place.


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