How to beat frustration when you’re at your wit’s end
By Renée Goyeneche—
When pursuing a goal, we are often faced with challenges that slow our progress and test our emotions. This is to be expected; after all, we can’t anticipate all the bumps in the road. When testing, we normally evaluate our options, make adjustments, and keep moving forward. Sometimes, however, we are faced with a set of circumstances that stop us in our tracks. It may be a single roadblock or a series of obstacles, but over time, as we are unable to reach our goal, we become frustrated. The frustration occurs because the insult is twofold; we are unable to get what we want and we are wasting precious time dealing with the very circumstances that prevent our success.
The link between frustration and chronic stress
However, frustration isn’t just a temporary emotional reaction to being thwarted. It has far-reaching physical, emotional and mental repercussions. In fact, the physiological and psychological responses we experience as a result of frustration are identifiable chronic stress indicators.
Why is this important? Chronic stress is the least productive and most dangerous type of stress. People who have it are statistically more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, lung disease, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. Chronic stress can also negatively affect cognitive processes such as attention, judgment and decision making.
What we know about frustration
Historical studies show that men and women treat anger and frustration differently. To be more precise, men tend to recognize these 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 keep these emotions on the outside and tend to internalize them in an effort to maintain relationships. This can result in a decrease in the protection of self-interest, a self-sacrifice to “keep the peace”.
The key to overcoming frustration is first understanding the extent of our control, and then taking action to advance our own interests. However, it requires us to develop resilience skills to productively channel emotions and effect change.
Identify the source of frustration
There are really only two methods of dealing with frustration; either we give in to it or we find a way to mitigate its effects. Giving in – having an emotional crisis, for example – may make us feel better in the short term, but does nothing to improve the underlying situation. To break the cycle of frustration, you must first correctly identify its source. When you are overwhelmed, you may feel ineffective and powerless to change your situation. That’s why it’s important to assess different factors and analyze what you can and can’t control.
Types of frustration
There are different varieties of frustration, but they all fall into two larger categories: internal and external. You may be more inclined to one type than another.
It comes from the pressure you put on yourself. It’s a form of perfectionism, dissatisfaction with your performance in what you see as a key area of your life. Some examples may include interpersonal relationships, educational performance or progression, and professional accomplishments. It can be characterized by a lack of self-confidence or a fear of failure.
It happens because of things we think are beyond our control. These are the obstacles that keep us from “getting things done” – the people, places, and things that stop us from moving forward. It can be as simple as a traffic delay or something more complex like not getting a business start-up loan.
How to take control
Conventional wisdom can tell you to take certain actions when you are feeling frustrated; take a deep breath, do something to distract yourself, practice gratitude. All of these are great tips for dealing with emotions in the moment, but a long-term solution requires deeper soul-searching.
- Start by listing the specific instances where you have experienced a marked surge of frustration. Try to find 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 learn about your reaction to the situation. Are you more frustrated when you are tired? Hunger? Don’t you feel heard? (Remember that the key to overcoming frustration is identifying its source, and then implementing strategies to combat it. You are not trying to completely suppress your reaction to an unacceptable situation, but to recognize the factors that contribute to an increased and ineffective response.)
- Then think about what your reaction to these situations tells you about the stress you are going through. Be honest with you; we are all guilty of sabotaging our own efforts at times. Are you playing a disruptive role in your own plans?
- Finally, review the situation and create a plan of action, listing at least three proactive steps you can take in the face of a frustrating circumstance. In some cases, these may be simple fixes. Put on your clothes and have lunch the night before so you can go to work 10 minutes early, avoiding traffic jams that raise your blood pressure and make you fulminate before you even start your day. In other cases, your action plan may need to go deeper and address the root causes of a frustrating circumstance. If you didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for, you may need to develop interpersonal, professional, or technical skills.
Dealing with stress that leads to frustration requires cultivating awareness of one’s own role and reactions as well as seeking and using external solutions. Once you recognize the circumstances and the root cause of the problem, and take action, you are less likely to feel frustrated with the lack of progress towards the intended goal.