Stuck moment: Hey, did you see that waiter just bump into me and not apologize? How rude! That loud group over there is making me crazy… And that woman — can’t she control her kids? I’ve been looking forward to this party so much, but now I’m so irritated that I can’t even enjoy being here.
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It’s an awful feeling when self-control slips through your fingers. Your body floods with stress and irritation, and you feel like a smaller, pettier version of yourself — clouded by emotion and unpleasant to be around. And that unpleasantness can ripple outward, undermining relationships and affecting everyone’s mood.
Employing simple, mood-saving tactics to help you maintain your balance can make all the difference when dealing with everyday annoyances. Because, face it, annoying people are here to stay. (And sometimes, without intending to be, we can be annoying, too.) While you may not always be able to come to terms with the other person, you’ll be able to control your own vexation — allowing you to manage a frustrating situation with reason and grace instead of getting stuck in a sinkhole of frustration and negativity.
Here are 15 strategies to try to help you take the sting out of whatever (or whomever) is getting under your skin.
FOR CHRONIC ANNOYANCES
Use these tactics to deal with repeated annoyances by familiar offenders (e.g., the nosy in-law, the gossipy colleague).
1. Count what you’re grateful for
Think of three things you appreciate about the other person. Reminding yourself that they have positive qualities to balance the annoying ones will help you take the aggravation in stride.
2. Be aware of your pet peeves
It could be that the bee in your bonnet is due to your personal peeves and preferences. Replace a mindset of blame (“she is so obnoxious!”) with one of personal responsibility (“okay, maybe I’m a tiny bit uptight about this”).
3. Flag it for later
If your boss keeps giving you last minute work, or your neighbor keeps stealing your newspaper, you’ll need to have a confrontation for your long-term peace of mind — but when your blood pressure is rising is not the time. Stop. Breathe. Make a mental note to speak to the other person later, when you’re calm and in control. For some useful feedback strategies, use our guide “How to stop being a reluctant confronter”.
4. Avoid stockpiling your complaints
If you have to address an annoying incident in the moment, avoid dredging up every bothersome thing the other person had ever done. You’ll just get even more worked up — and antagonism rarely produces a positive result.
5. Offer an alternative you can both live with
When you do confront the other person, offer a solution. For example, if you’re annoyed that your coworker plays her music too loud, suggest a great, inexpensive pair of headphones that she might buy.
FOR ONE-OFF ANNOYANCES
Use these tactics for those random encounters with annoying strangers (e.g., the line jumper, the arguing couple in the subway).
6. Do a mental cost-benefit
A. Is it worth your energy to get worked up? Or, B. Are you likely to forget about this in an hour? Run through this mental A/B test to remind yourself that it’s probably just not worth it to get hot and bothered.
7. Catch a sympathetic eye
Sometimes, just knowing that you’re not alone in this experience can soothe your nerves. If you’ve got a witness to your suffering, catching their eye to share a sympathetic glance will release some of your tension.
8. But don’t make faces
Rolling your eyes, making rude gestures, or huffing to broadcast your annoyance can aggravate the situation. Controlling your body language helps the situation from getting out of hand.
9. Tweet it, text it, or micro-blog it
If it’s an option, pull out your phone and start narrating a comical play-by-play to a friend. This works if you’re victim to an annoying incident in a public setting, such as a rowdy table at a quiet café where you’re trying to work.
FOR ALL VARIETIES OF ANNOYANCE
Whether you’re dealing with road hogs or an overbearing family member, these tactics can help.
10. Make a funny story out of it
Another way to use humor and storytelling to take the edge off is to pretend you’re in an episode of your favorite absurdist TV show, like Seinfeld or Louis. Imagine how you’d retell the incident for maximum irony and laughs.
11. Make a graceful exit
An oldie but goodie: If it’s an option, make a polite getaway before you lose your cool. A 10-minute head clearing walk can works wonders.
12. Or make a virtual exit
If you’re stuck in place, try an exercise in which you focus on an image of a place you love (e.g., your favorite armchair, a summer beach house) and visualize yourself there. Count to 10 and let your happy place’s restful effects wash through you.
13. Kill it with kindness
Ask politely how you can fix the problem, or help put the other person at ease. The honey vs. vinegar strategy can halt someone’s — even a stranger’s — insensitive behavior in its tracks, helping the person to see the incident from an outside perspective.
14. Remember that you’ve been there too
We’ve all been the annoying person before — even you. Reminding yourself that no one’s perfect will help you dial up empathy to stay calm and disengaged.
15. Buffer your patience by taking care of yourself
Stress and lack of sleep are notorious causes for a short fuse. If you find yourself in a constant state of irritation, take some time to think about how poor diet, exercise, sleep, and work habits might be affecting you. And then make some changes so you can stop letting your exasperation get the best of you.