Frustration is an emotional state you experience when your needs, wants and desires are blocked and seem to be difficult to attain. It typically occurs when your actions are producing fewer or less desirable results than you think they should. While some frustration is a normal part of human life, if experienced in excess it can lead to a defeatist attitude and lack of motivation to achieve.

Frustration tolerance is the ability to overcome obstacles and withstand stressful events. If someone has low frustration tolerance, they might find themselves getting distressed easily in the face of obstacles. The resulting feeling is dissatisfaction and even anger in some cases. 

If you keep getting frustrated, it can have a long term effect on your emotional state. This makes it important to understand why you get frustrated, and how you can learn to tolerate your frustration. Let’s take a look at some possible explanations along with strategies to help you overcome your frustration.

Shift your locus of control

The degree to which a person perceives control when it comes to the outcome of their work or even everyday life situations is called locus of control. One is said to have an internal locus of control if they believe that they control their own destiny. Having an internal locus of control is better from a mental health perspective, because when you feel that you can affect the outcome of your work, you are likely to feel more satisfied and experience a greater sense of accomplishment. If you are a person who is prone to an external locus of control, you might find yourself feeling helpless in the face of frustrating situations in life. Fortunately, there are things you can do to develop an internal locus of control. For example, you can:

Acknowledge your own choices

Just being alive means that you make thousands of small choices every day, and those small choices add up to make a major impact on your life. Recognise that you do have the power to take control of the decisions that are really important in life. If nothing else, ask yourself, “What can I control?” Identifying what you can do in a difficult situation will shift your attention to whatever scope you have to take action and make choices.

Set achievable goals every day

Being able to check even minor things off a list each day will improve your self-esteem and increase your internal locus of control. Each night, make a to-do list for the next morning. Plan for different things you would like to do – include not just work, but chores, leisure activities and social time as well. Over time, you will be able to make realistic plans for the day, and getting through the day in itself will help you feel more in control of your life.

Practice making decisions

Decision-making is a skill that needs to be learned. Think about your day – it is full of decisions to be made. Identify the decisions that you have to make each day. It could be something as simple as deciding what to eat for dinner or something relatively complex – like deciding between two solutions for a problem you are facing at work. Spend time listing and evaluating the pros and cons of different options and coming to a conclusion on your own rather than relying on the opinions of others. Once you make a decision, look for feedback to understand how effective it has been. Use this feedback to tweak your decision-making process.

Change your thinking

If a thought such as “I’m helpless and there’s nothing I can do” finds its way into your head, quickly dispose of it by focusing on what you can do to better the situation. For example, you can:

Imagine how things could be worse

Some people have low frustration tolerance – which means that they are irritated by life’s minor inconveniences. For instance, if FedEx is late in delivering your package, you might yell at the customer service rep or stare blankly at your computer while your anger simmers just below the surface. Since these types of situations crop up in life all the time, it’s in your best interest to rein in your negative reactions to them. A very helpful strategy involves imagining how things could be worse. As an example, FedEx could have lost your package instead of delivering it late, or you might have lacked the funds to buy the contents of the package in the first place or pay for their shipping. Comparing the current situation to a worse outcome can help you experience positive emotions like relief and gratitude and can reduce the intensity of negative emotions like frustration.

Practice exposure

You may also want to try a little of what psychologists call “exposure therapy.” This involves making a list of the everyday situations that annoy you (driving on the highway at rush hour, waiting on hold for a customer service representative) and subjecting yourself to them gradually so that you can increase your tolerance. As you’re experiencing these situations, you might ask yourself why you’re frustrated in the first place. Is it that you feel helpless or put out? If so, you might put processes in place to eliminate that negative feeling. For example, you might get frustrated by sitting in meetings because they make you feel inefficient. A process you can put in place is to schedule these meetings to last just 30 minutes (enough time for quick status updates and to-dos). This way, you won’t be nearly as anxious about your time being wasted.

Retool your perspective

Psychologists recommend an additional strategy to increase your ability to cope with frustration, and that is to put the frustrating situation in context. Ask yourself how frustrating a current problem is in context of all the upsetting things that have happened to you in life. You can even rate how frustrating something is for you on a scale of 0-10. Understanding that an annoying remark by a coworker is just a 3/10 can automatically help you feel better, as you can then remind yourself that you have dealt with more frustrating situations in the past.

Stay positive

You may have too many negative thoughts about yourself and may find it difficult to believe in your own ability to deal with frustrating situations. This can make it even tougher for you to manage your frustration. Here are some strategies that you can use to stay positive:

Use positive self-talk

Remind yourself that you can cope with feelings of frustration or distress. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself, “I am a strong and capable person who can deal with this situation without losing my cool.” Repeating positive affirmations can induce a feeling of calm and can train your mind to focus on the positives.

Calm yourself down

Use coping strategies to help yourself deal with the situation. You can try taking deep breaths, meditating, grounding yourself, visualising a peaceful place, or try counting backwards from 50. This can reduce the intensity of the negative feelings you are experiencing, and can empower you to respond to the situation in a much more balanced manner.

Laugh about it

Use humour and laughter to become resilient in the face of negativity. Try to find something humorous about the frustrating situation or just recall a funny memory. You could also try watching funny shows or movies, listening to podcasts, or reading joke books. This can help you improve your mood. After all, it’s hard to feel frustrated and angry when you’re laughing.

The next time you feel frustrated, you can try to identify the cause of your frustration and use some of these strategies to stay calm. Remember: change takes time and requires patience. You might not notice a change immediately, but know that eventually, you will get better at managing your frustration.


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