What is the word for someone who is in a condition of being stressed so that they are in a constant state of "the straw that broke the camel's back?"

I'm looking for a specific word, not a broad term. Informal is fine, so long as it doesn't sound silly, but I'd prefer formal. This is for an academic paper.


"Ever since the CEO's business started failing, she's been in an irritable depression, because she yells at and blames her employees for every minor problem."

"My friend is irritably depressed from not getting a job. She just stays at home and yells at her mom for being unsupportive."

Examples of words to avoid:

  • worn-out
  • frayed
  • enervated

A "worn-out" person seems describe someone who is traditionally depressed. Someone who doesn't do much. Someone who internalizes their problems and blames themselves, instead of externalizing their problems and blaming others.

The words (to me) "irate" and "irritable" specify permanent traits about a person instead of a temporary, but long-lasting condition that are not tied into depression. Are they the words I'm looking for?

  • I'm looking for one word. There's plenty of idioms and phrases. The shortest one I can find is the two worded "irratable depression." Which doesn't turn up a lot of results, but does accurately describe the issue.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 16:13
  • 1
    Something like the neologism "hangry" for "hungry" + "angry", except for exhaustion instead of hunger? Commented May 16, 2016 at 17:19
  • 2
    Is there some reason why you aren't simply going to go with irritable depression? It has the advantage that people would know what you're talking about.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 18:54
  • It has to do with whether the person is externalizing or internalizing their problems and how they direct their anger. Either at others or themselves. It exists on a gradual scale and people exhibit it in varying degrees. There probably isn't any singular word to describe it and "irritable depression" may be the most concise it can be. I just need to make sure I'm not including vague phrases on my paper. You can imagine what it would sound like if I say "a person becomes frazzled..."
    – Andrew
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 19:09

13 Answers 13


snappy is an informal British term. It's the adjectival form of 'to snap;'

From http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/snap;

to suddenly become unable to control a strong feeling, especially anger: When she asked me to postpone my trip to help her move to her new house, I just snapped.

  • The more I look at this word, the more it seems to fit.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 17:23
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    @Andrew Just as a FYI, in AmEng, "snappy" generally means "quick." Commented May 16, 2016 at 18:14
  • It has the same meaning in British English, too -- "make it snappy" -- but "the circumstances had made him snappy and irritable" too Commented May 16, 2016 at 18:16
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    Maybe related in some dialects of American English would be 'snippy' Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:08
  • How about Snappish? Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:25

to be on edge

to be nervous or worried: Sorry for shouting - I'm a bit on edge todayCambridge.

So for OP's sentences:

[...], she's been on edge, and she yells [...]. My friend is on edge due to not getting a job [...]


The word is frazzled from

Frazzle: to put in a state of extreme physical or nervous fatigue

However, it is considered informal.

  • 2
    I disagree. "Frazzled" more often conveys exhaustion, and lacks both the "irritably" and "depression" components asked for by the OP.
    – CPerkins
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 21:20
  • @CPerkins In my opinion, "frazzled" may not entail irritability or depression, but it does have connotations of both. Commented May 18, 2016 at 0:25

They are in a stew over something

This is one of the few idioms that has the sense of duration you are asking for. It is a conniption turned down to a simmer.

informal : excited, worried, or confused
He got himself in a stew over nothing. She's been in a stew for days.

"In a Stew." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.

However, the state itself is one of suppressed anger. It describes what's happening when the person isn't flying off the handle and yelling at someone.


"Ever since the CEO's business started failing, she's been a crank, yelling at and blaming her employees for every minor problem."

"My friend is cranky from not getting a job. She just stays at home and yells at her mom for being unsupportive."


Why not go back to older terms like worn-out or frayed?

Prostration is probably not quite what you want, since while it can mean being made powerless (connected to the idea of exhaustion), it can also mean abasement (in a prostrate position: 'he prostrated himself before the idols of the tribe').

  • Older terms are fine, but they need to have the connotation that the person is hostile. I'll add more to my question explaining why I don't want words like "worn-out"
    – Andrew
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 17:13
  • These are good suggestions, but you included some additional text that should really be turned into comments. I edited out the spelling comment, since the spelling has already been fixed. I would suggest moving the info about "prostration" to a comment on that answer, so that your answer can stand alone. Links to a dictionary entry would also help improve it as an answer. Commented May 16, 2016 at 17:22
  • Frayed is not a bad term.
    – PCARR
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 20:17
  • How about 'hostile' then? Hostility is a well-understood term.
    – user126158
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:02


1. cowering fear; state of great fright or terror.
2. a dejected mood: "He's been in a funk ever since she walked out on him."



I think prostration is close to what you are looking for:

  • complete physical or mental exhaustion.


  • This usage may be correct, but I've never personally encountered it. You might note that it's uncommon (perhaps due to the unfortunate similarity to the word prostitution). Commented May 16, 2016 at 15:16
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    @ChrisSunami - I'm not sure it is so uncommon, and it definitely does not sound as "prostitution" to me. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 15:19
  • Too broad of a term. I'm wanting something that specifically only deals with the condition of a person in stress, and their defense mechanism is to lash out at others.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Josh61 I didn't mean that the word is uncommon, but that the usage is uncommon. The M-W entry you cited lists 4 definitions, and in my experience, the other three are all more common than this one. Commented May 16, 2016 at 17:16
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    If I heard this I would think someone was physically laying on the floor, in some form of worship or subservience - "to cast (oneself) face down on the ground in humility, submission, or adoration." dictionary.com
    – David K
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 19:59

It's possible that you're looking for anxious. (as you're describing signs of anxiety).

Note that it's not necessarily stating that the person is also depressed, but they're frequently linked to each other.


Fractious: "irritable and quarrelsome". If often implies "childish behaviour" which also matches the OP's examples.



What about high-strung?

Very nervous or easily upset



If you're open to a phrase, how about "at the end of [his] rope" (or "end of his tether" in British English).

(idiomatic) The limit of one’s patience, when one is so frustrated or annoyed that one can no longer take it.

My friend is at the end of her rope from not getting a job. She just stays at home and yells at her mom for being unsupportive."

Now that the CEO's business is failing, she's at the end of her rope, blaming her employees for every minor problem...

  • I'm looking for a concise term to use throughout my paper. Something specific like "weltschmerz" or "ennui." I don't want to come up with a new word.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 21:23

Overwhelmed is the best word to describe the base feeling that you're describing. Anger, frustration, depression, hopelessness, these things all often stem from overwhelm, a general feeling of not having enough physical, mental, or emotional resources to deal with the difficulties of one's life.

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