How to Deal with Frustration
Negative emotions like frustration and anger are part of the human experience. When you’re aware of them, they can be a force for positive change. At the same time, you need ways to cope with these emotions when they occur. Sure, you may try ignoring them in hopes that they’ll go away, but dealing with frustration is the best way to move forward. Since everyone feels frustrated from time to time, it’s worth exploring what it means, the common causes of frustration, and how you can deal with it. We’ll also look at how frustration is different from anger, how it shares a relationship with stress, and how it differs between men and women.
What is Frustration?
There are various definitions of the term ‘frustration,’ all of which are linked to an unpleasant emotional state. According to the APA dictionary, frustration is an emotional state that occurs when one’s impulses are thwarted, preventing them from obtaining a desired outcome. The outcome is usually something they expect based on past experiences. It can also be an emotional reaction to stress. It’s quite common to feel frustrated when you experience different stressors at work, at home, or in interpersonal relationships.
Frustration isn’t necessarily bad because it’s short-lived and situational, like being stuck in traffic. Similarly, it can be an indicator of things in your life that need to change, such as your attitude towards a person. Unfortunately, it’s also possible for it to cause other reactions, like resentment and irritable mood. This usually happens when frustration is long-lasting, and you constantly find yourself falling short of aspirations or goals. Consequently, it can have a lasting negative impact on your well-being and health.
Examples of Frustration
Everyone feels frustrated from time to time. Perhaps the most common example is when we face interruptions in our daily routines or activities. Getting stuck in traffic, waiting in a long line at the grocery store, or being halfway across town when you realize that you forgot something important at home – these are textbook examples of situations that can make you feel frustrated.
But these are situations that resolve quickly, which is why frustration is often short-lived. Some situations, in contrast, are much more complex, which can contribute to long-term feelings of frustration. These can include being a caretaker for a loved one, facing financial problems, or not having the resources to meet a specific goal.
Signs of Frustration
People can express their frustration in different ways, but the most common sign is that they become irritable. Other signs include:
- Restlessness, often manifested by bodily movement like shaking your leg or tapping your fingers
- Having trouble sleeping due to recurring thoughts about the thing that causes frustration.
- Alcohol and drug abuse is a way to cope with stressful situations that cause feelings of frustration.
- Self-harm or disordered eating is another way that people cope with difficult situations that leave them feeling frustrated.
- Losing your temper in other situations is a means of projecting frustration about a previous event onto the current situation.
Causes of Frustration
Most people feel frustrated when their expectations aren’t met or when they make an effort, but things don’t go according to plan. According to a research article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the most common causes of frustration include finances, work-related struggles, relationship conflicts, and daily interruptions to one’s routine.
Even among these common causes, frustration can be internal or external. If the source of frustration is internal, it means that you’re unhappy with some part of yourself, whether it’s the way you behave or the amount of effort you put in. And if the source of your frustration is external, you’re stressed because of something in your external environment. For instance, when your partner doesn’t meet your expectations or when you’re running late for an important meeting and spill coffee on your clothes.
Anger vs. Frustration
When you think of the term ‘frustration,’ it’s easy to cluster it with other terms like anger and aggression. But are ‘frustration’ and ‘anger’ the same thing? Despite sounding similar, you express these emotions differently.
A simple difference is that anger is an emotional response when we feel offended, and the cause of anger is usually external. In contrast, frustration is a sense of dissatisfaction with a situation. Perhaps you or someone else failed to meet your expectations, causing you to feel a mix of disappointment, discouragement, and hopelessness. Another possibility is that frustration builds up over time, while anger develops quickly, making it a much more explosive emotion.
Stress and Frustration
Although there’s a link between stress and frustration, they’re not the same. Feelings of stress and frustration can act upon and perpetuate each other. For instance, if you’re stressed about how you’ll pay for rent next month after losing your job, it can lead to feelings of frustration. Similarly, this frustration can generate symptoms of stress.
When you’re stressed, you become more emotionally reactive to things that, on any other day, wouldn’t bother you. This can lower your tolerance for frustration, causing small failures or losses to become much more frustrating. And if you’re struggling with chronic stress, it can start to feel like you’re not in control of your life, contributing to further frustration. The cycle can run as follows:
- Stressors like a bad financial situation can make you feel like you don’t have the resources to meet your goals – a common source of frustration.
- When you’re frustrated, you may also show emotional reactions characterized by impulsivity, hostility, and aggression, which can lead to additional stress if you don’t cope with them in a healthy way.
In fact, research also indicates that high levels of frustration are associated with chronic stress. It’s why mental health practitioners point to stress management as a way to deal with frustration.
Frustration in Men and Women
Just like any other mental health concern, there’s a difference in the levels of frustration among men and women. These days, women report higher levels of frustration than their male counterparts. According to a recent survey conducted by TIME and The Harris Poll, a majority of women used the term ‘frustrated’ to describe how they currently felt. And it didn’t stop there; women also scored higher on other negative feelings like anxiousness, sadness, and tiredness.
This could be attributed to how women have been experiencing higher and higher stress levels. In 2020, women were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as they had to take on more hours handling responsibilities like childcare, household chores, and providing emotional support to their partners. While problems like increasing inflation, growing fuel prices, and shrinking wages affect men as much as women, recent sociopolitical changes have had a greater impact on women’s autonomy, contributing to their feelings of frustration.
How to Deal with Frustration
Your ability to cope with frustration is referred to as your frustration tolerance. Suppose you have a higher frustration tolerance; it implies that you’re able to cope with challenges easily. But if your tolerance is low, even minor inconveniences may lead to distress.
If you feel like you have a low frustration tolerance, some strategies can improve your response to stress. Preferably, you should seek professional treatment, especially if your low tolerance for frustration is impairing functioning in different areas, such as work or relationships.
A few signs of low frustration tolerance include:
- Avoiding tasks that may cause distress,
- Procrastinating because you can’t tolerate the frustration of a difficult task or
- Impulsively trying to fix an issue rather than letting it correct itself.
If you feel like the above-mentioned symptoms relate to you, you can try a few ways to cope with frustration, such as:
Try Distracting Yourself
One of the simplest ways of dealing with frustration is to find a distraction. Otherwise, fixating on the thing, person, or situation that’s causing it can only make you feel worse. Of course, keep in mind that this distraction is only temporary. By distancing yourself from the source, you’re better equipped to process what’s bothering you.
Any activity that’s a source of pleasure is a great idea. For instance, watching a movie or TV show, being creative by writing or painting, listening to music, or heading out for a workout. That being said, it’s important that you eventually come back to the problem and find possible strategies to address the issue.
Use Mindfulness Meditation
Ever wonder how you can stay calm and not let your anger take control? Research shows that practicing mindfulness can help. Mindfulness means paying attention to your emotions and current situation without judging it as good or bad. In the study, researchers found that participants who engaged in mindfulness meditation were less likely to inflict harm on a person than people who didn’t meditate – even if both groups felt angry.
Whether you practice mindfulness throughout the day or as part of your meditation routine, it’s a major part of coping with stress and frustration. Being mindful of the sounds, sights, and smells around you, as well as your sensations and feelings, is an important part of coping with stress and frustration. After all, you need to know what you’re feeling before you can take measures to fix the problem.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
If you’re already frustrated and have a hard time calming down, relaxation techniques are meant to stop your body’s stress response. This has a domino effect that calms your mind by calming your body. You can start by trying the square breathing method. It’s a simple exercise that involves inhaling, holding your breath, exhaling, and holding your breath for four seconds each.
Another proven technique is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves purposely tensing and relaxing large muscle groups. By teaching the body to relax the muscles after they tense up, your body learns to do this automatically. When the muscles relax, they send a signal to the rest of your body, telling it to relax. Start by focusing on one large muscle group, like your right arm. Contract your muscles by making them tense up. Then, let go and relax. Move on to the next muscle group, i.e., your right leg, left leg, and left arm.
Make Lifestyle Changes
When the slightest inconvenience is enough to cause frustration, perhaps the solution is to change something about your lifestyle. Certain changes, like not saying ‘yes’ to extra responsibilities, eating balanced nutrition, and getting enough sleep, allow your body to deal with less stress.
- Nutrition: Just as some foods are associated with better mental health (think foods enriched with B vitamins, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids), others are linked to higher stress. Diets that are high in sugar, trans fats, and sodium can lead to increased inflammation, which activates your stress response.
- Leisure Activities: Try to find time for leisure activities and creative expression. Remember that taking a break isn’t a luxury but a necessity to restore your frustration tolerance. When you’re constantly exposed to stressors, your tolerance decreases, and you’re more likely to feel frustrated by minor inconveniences.
- Get Moving: Whether you go out for a walk, take a weekend dance class, or try HIIT, exercise provides an outlet for your stress and improves your mood at the same time. Study after study has shown how working out is positively associated with the release of endorphins. This explains why you tend to feel good after an intense workout.
See a Professional
If your low tolerance for frustration isn’t linked to a disorder, your therapist will help you build productive coping skills. This also includes building your emotional intelligence, which is associated with the ability to tolerate frustration. It’s the ability to understand and evaluate your emotions, as well as those of other people.
With help from your therapist, you can learn to regulate how you express yourself when you’re frustrated and waiting for a better time to say something. You’ll also learn to:
- Be empathetic towards the people who frustrate you, whether it’s a child, parent, or romantic partner.
- Remember that feelings of frustration are only temporary.
- Notice your emotions so you can react in a way that’s appropriate.
Natural Remedies for Anger
The American Psychological Association describes anger as an emotion that’s characterized by feelings of hostility towards a person or object. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. If channeled properly, it gives you an outlet to express negative feelings. For instance, if you’re angry about the lack of wheelchair ramps on a school campus, you may try to find ways to install more of them. However, excessive anger can lead to a string of problems, like poor decision-making and high blood pressure. Let’s take a look at some natural remedies for dealing with anger.
One of the most common, scientifically proven remedies for anger is to get some exercise. In addition to helping you overcome feelings of anger, exercise changes how you respond to things that make you angry. One study found that physical activity was a major factor in reducing aggression among participants. The most common theory as to why this is the case is the Cross-Stressor Adaptation Hypothesis. It implies that exposing the body to lengthy periods of physiological stress during a workout is what helps you adapt to other stressors.
Keeping an eye on what you’re eating is important for two main reasons. Firstly, eating more of certain foods can make you susceptible to anger. For instance, some studies have found a correlation between eating spicy foods and showing aggression. Secondly, the gut-brain connection plays an important role in regulating emotions, including anger. Therefore, maintaining a healthy gut and reducing inflammation with balanced nutrition can have positive effects on your ability to manage anger.
Another natural remedy for anger is aromatherapy, which involves the use of essential oils to improve emotional well-being. While it’s not an alternative to professional help, one study indicated that a four-week-long aromatherapy intervention reduced the severity of aggressive behavior among participants. Although the study focused on the use of lavender oil, you can use other essential oils, like sweet orange, cedarwood, and lemongrass.
Different types of herbal tea, including chamomile tea, contain bioactive phytochemicals like flavonoids, which can act as antioxidants. Flavonoids, particularly apigenin, which is present in chamomile tea, have neuroprotective effects that can relax the body. Herbal and green teas also contain l-theanine, an amino acid that’s helpful for relieving stress.
Of course, it’s not just chamomile tea that can have a relaxing effect on the body. Herbs like ginger, ginseng, rosemary, peppermint, and hops have stress-relieving effects that can calm you down when you’re angry.
Therapies for Addressing Frustration
If you see a mental health practitioner to help you deal with frustration, it’s likely that they’ll have a specific approach. Some of the commonly used therapeutic approaches include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is often regarded as the gold standard when it comes to evidence-based psychotherapy. It’s a psychosocial method that’s based on the idea that how you think impacts the way you behave. Therefore, the aim of this therapy is to change how you think about a situation so you no longer feel frustrated. Studies have found that participants who complete CBT interventions are better equipped to regulate frustration and have improved problem-solving skills.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
An offshoot of CBT, DBT is specially designed for people who struggle to control their emotions. These people usually have a hard time coping with stressful situations as well. In DBT, your therapist will apply a comprehensive approach to stress management. By learning skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation, you can overcome stressors without feeling frustrated. Studies have also shown that implementing DBT as part of a treatment plan can significantly reduce aggression among participants.
If you feel like you’re constantly frustrated and those feelings can be traced back to a core problem, solution-focused therapy can help. Unlike lengthier therapies, SFT is brief since it’s goal-directed and future-focused. Instead of focusing on the problems that cause your frustration, SFT helps you come up with solutions.
It involves thinking about how your life would be different once the problem in question is addressed. Then, you’ll work with your therapist to consider the resources needed to come up with a long-term and practical solution. Studies have shown that the solution-focused approach is highly effective when it comes to reducing feelings of aggression in participants.
How to get rid of frustration?
There are plenty of ways to deal with frustration, like distracting yourself with an enjoyable activity, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking professional help from a mental health practitioner. If you’re considering seeking therapy, some of the most effective approaches for addressing feelings of frustration include cognitive behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. Other strategies include practicing mindfulness meditation and making lifestyle changes such as getting balanced nutrition and exercise.
Why do I feel frustrated?
There are various reasons why you may be feeling frustrated. Some of the most common causes of frustration include daily stressors that interfere with our routine, interpersonal conflicts, and work-related issues. The source of frustration can be internal or external, so it could be due to factors related to your own performance or aspects related to your external environment.
What are some creative ways to deal with anger?
It’s possible to turn your negative emotions into possible actions with creative activities that express your anger. Some creative ways to deal with anger include
- trying out sports like tennis or boxing
- creative writing, such as writing poetry or stories
- dancing is a great way to express negative emotions
- painting or drawing your anger
- using the empty chair technique from Gestalt therapy, which allows you to verbalize your anger by projecting it onto an empty chair.