Hi, Carolyn: Do you have any advice to help me get less irritated at little things? I've been like this for many years, but I do think the pandemic has made it worse. I try my best not to take this out on anyone else, and I can often talk myself down after the fact, but I really wish I could not get irritated in the first place. I am already in therapy for the overall anxiety issues.

— Irritated

Irritated: I expect the two are connected, the anxiety and irritation.

Anxiety lives in the gap between what you have and what you fear.

Irritation lives in the gap between what you have and what you want.

Overcoming both involves finding peace with what you have, so your work in therapy will probably mitigate both problems over time.

But here’s something to try in the meantime.

Imagine for a moment how you feel when you’re late for a meeting and you miss your train.

Now imagine the same missed train, when you aren’t late for anything.

I’m guessing the difference is pronounced? And in the latter case you’re much calmer and more accepting.

When you’re dealing with irritation over small things, it can be helpful to think of this difference. Since you will never (ever) achieve a state of being that doesn’t include missed trains, figuratively speaking, your only option for stress reduction is to work on the other side of the equation. The calm-perception side, where you accept what you can’t control.

So, what can you do to break out of the “late” state of mind? How can you manage your schedule, moods, expectations toward approximating the state of mind of people who can calmly occupy themselves till the next train comes (still figuratively speaking), instead of freaking out?

There are many ways to do this, and you can use as many as you think apply. For example: Expect little things will go wrong, so you aren’t surprised or let down when they do, or give yourself extra time or leeway, especially for things you know are stressful. You can plan your responses ahead, too — bring a book for when you’re stuck in a waiting room; or repeat a mantra or breathing exercise; or stretch; or take a walk.

You can plan ahead for when people irritate you, too. A hard look at your own flaws, and how others put up with them — whether out of fondness for you or their own general sense of decency — can clear a path to your showing them the same forgiveness.

And you can prepare for when you’re annoyed at yourself. Since whatever self-maddening thing you just did is already in the past, make a deliberate choice to refocus yourself on what comes next. Your next step, your next hour, your next day. Keep making this choice to refocus until it becomes habit.

“Stuff happens” is the DNA in each of these strategies. The people who accept the inevitability of small irritations upfront — and bigger risks, if we fold the anxiety in, too — are the ones whose definitions of happiness, success, beauty, good fortune, art, love and virtually everything else worth having, have an allowance for “stuff” built in. There’s no other, perfect, “if only” to block your view of what you actually have.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.