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Agitated in the Presence of Agitated People

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Hi! I’m wondering how to keep your calm around very agitated people. I can usually be peaceful in crowded/loud places no problem, but my mother-in-law is a very dynamic and anxious person, and whenever we have a conversation I feel exhausted and drained at the end (even physically). She gesticulates a lot with her hands but also moves her head very rapidly up and down and to the sides when she talks. She also has a high-pitched voice and talks very loudly, borderline screaming (not usually because she’s mad but because she’s very expressive). I also get cut off a lot when I speak, and she finishes my sentences for me, but most of the time, it’s not even what I wanted to say… And it’s not mean spirited, she just rolls at a faster pace than me, and told me many times that she’s impatient. I also have very sensitive ears, which does not help in this situation and feel easily excitable around her, like a golden retriever, but in a more stressed/anxious way. I try taking deep breaths when I notice myself getting agitated, but is there anything else I could do to keep myself calm and peaceful? Thank you so much for your help! (age 30, from Canada)

Agitated in the Presence of Agitated People

Answered by on -


I’m wondering if you also get agitated around other high energy people or just your mother-in-law. Taking some time to reflect on this might also help you know how best to respond. It’s one thing to be sensitive to all loud, gesticulating communicators and another if you really only feel drained after interacting with your mother-in-law. Either way, staying calm will be key.

Try mentally preparing as much as possible before the interaction. If she gets loud, keep your voice at a low volume. If she speaks faster, keep a steady pace yourself. Focus on listening to the content of what she is saying rather than trying to take in all the extra movements and tones. Finally, with her in particular, I would speak to her about the differences in your communication styles and see if you can find ways to meet in the middle.

In general, it can also be helpful to use imagery and metaphor to keep your energy separate from others. You can imagine that you are surrounded by a bubble of light, that a window is between you and the other person, or imagine a mirror between you and the speaker with the mirror facing toward them. It can also be helpful to ground yourself before and after the interaction. There are many ways to do this but saying a mantra or prayer and taking a deep cleansing breath are great techniques. You might also benefit from taking a class on communication, or even meditation or yoga. Hope these suggestions help.

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts

Agitated in the Presence of Agitated People

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Holly Counts, Psy.D.

Dr. Holly Counts is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She utilizes a mind, body and spirit approach to healing. Dr. Counts received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Wright State University and her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Counts has worked in a variety of settings and has specialized in trauma and abuse, relationship issues, health psychology, women’s issues, adolescence, GLBT, life transitions and grief counseling. She has specialty training in guided imagery, EMDR, EFT, hypnosis and using intuition to heal. Her current passion involves integrating holistic and alternative approaches to health and healing with psychology.

APA Reference
Counts, H. (2018). Agitated in the Presence of Agitated People. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 1 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.