Published on March 26th, 2021 | by Nancy F. Clark0
How To Combat Frustration When You’re At Your Wit’s End
By Renee Goyeneche—
When pursuing a goal, we’re often faced with challenges that slow our progress and try our emotions. It’s to be expected; after all, we can’t anticipate every bump in the road. When tested, we normally evaluate our options, make adjustments and keep moving. Sometimes, however, we’re faced with a set of circumstances that stop us in our tracks. It might be a single roadblock or series of impediments, but over time, as we’re unable to achieve our goal, we become frustrated. Frustration occurs because the insult is two-fold; we’re not able to get what we want, and we’re wasting valuable time dealing with the very circumstance that’s preventing our success.
The Link Between Frustration and Chronic Stress
Frustration isn’t just a temporary emotional reaction to being thwarted, however. It has wide-ranging physical, emotional and mental repercussions. In fact, the physiological and psychological responses we experience in the wake of frustration are identifiable indicators of chronic stress.
Why does that matter? Chronic stress is the least productive, most dangerous type of stress. People who experience it are statistically more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Chronic stress can also negatively affect cognitive processes such as attentiveness, judgment, and decision-making.
What We Know About Frustration
Historical studies demonstrate that men and women process anger and frustration differently. To be more specific, men tend to recognize those emotions as a positive response to an unacceptable circumstance and use them as a catalyst for action. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to view anger and frustration as counterproductive. They are also more likely to guard the outward expression of those emotions and tend to internalize them in an effort to maintain relationships. That can translate to diminished protection of self-interest, a sacrificing of self to “keep the peace.”
The key to overcoming frustration rests in first understanding the scope of our control and then taking steps to advance our own interests. However, doing so requires us to build resilience skills to channel emotion productively and effect change.
Identifying the Source of Frustration
There are really only two methods of dealing with frustration; we either give into it or find a way to mitigate its effects. Giving in—having an emotional meltdown, for example—might make us feel better in the short term but does nothing to improve the underlying circumstance. To break the cycle of frustration, you must first correctly identify its source.When you’re overwhelmed, you may feel ineffectual and powerless to change your situation. That’s why it’s important to evaluate different factors and parse out what you can and cannot control.
Types of Frustration
There are different varieties of frustration, but all fall into two broader categories: internal and external. You may be more prone to one type than another.
This stems from the pressure you exert on yourself. It’s a form of perfectionism—a dissatisfaction with your performance in what you consider to be a key area of your life. Some examples may include interpersonal relationships, educational performance or progression, and professional achievements. It may be characterized by a lack of self-confidence or fear of failure.
This occurs due to things we feel are outside the influence of our control. These are the roadblocks that keep us from “getting things done”—people, places and things that call a halt to forward movement. It might be as simple as a traffic delay or something more complex, like failing to secure a business startup loan.
How to Take Control
Conventional wisdom might tell you to take certain steps when you’re feeling frustrated; take deep breaths, do something to distract yourself, practice gratitude. All are good advice for managing emotion in the moment, but a long-term solution requires deeper introspection.
- Start by listing out specific instances when you’ve felt a pronounced flare of frustration. Try to come up with several examples, and detail them to the best of your ability.
- Now, because rumination without action can lead to increased anxiety and frustration, make a list of what you’re learning about your reaction to the situation. Are you more frustrated when you’re tired? Hungry? Feeling unheard? (Remember, the key to overcoming frustration is identifying its source and then implementing strategies to combat it. You’re not looking to repress your reaction to an unacceptable situation entirely, but to recognize factors that contribute to a heightened, ineffectual response.)
- Next, think about what your response in these situations tells you about the stress you’re experiencing. Be honest with yourself; we’re all guilty of sabotaging our own efforts sometimes. Are you playing a disruptive role in your own plans?
- Last, look at the situation and create an action plan, listing at least three proactive steps you can take in the face of a frustrating circumstance. In some cases, they might be simple fixes. Lay out your clothes and make your lunch the night before so you can leave for work 10 minutes earlier, thereby avoiding the traffic jams that raise your blood pressure and have you fuming before you even begin your day. In other cases, your action plan may need to be more in-depth and address the root causes of a frustrating circumstance. If you didn’t get that promotion you’d been hoping for, you may need to develop interpersonal, professional, or technical skills.
Managing the stress that leads to frustration requires cultivating awareness of your own role and reactions as well as seeking and employing external solutions. Once you’ve recognized the circumstance and root cause of the issue—and have taken action—you’re less likely to feel frustrated by a lack of progress toward your intended goal.