We’ve all been frustrated with something at some point. Chances are, you’re frustrated right now. It could be that math homework that you’re taking a “5-minute break” from or the fact that there are still dishes piling up in the sink. Frustration ranges from minor irritation to a major problem. Wherever you go and whatever you try to achieve, you will always encounter it and so, it’s important to learn how to manage it.
If I asked you to name one emotion that you associated with frustration, you might have a hard time choosing. Sadness, anger, even anxiety. When I tried to name some emotions, my mind always came back to describing them as just ‘frustration’. I think we can argue that frustration is its own emotion. A mixture of all those listed above.
Frustration occurs when something prevents us from reaching a desired outcome or that we’re receiving fewer results than we’d like. So, for the math homework situation, your desired outcome would be to finish it but your procrastination or lack of understanding is preventing you from completing it.
When we achieve a desired outcome, we’re full of positive emotions. When we’re prevented (or unintentionally prevent ourselves through laziness and procrastination) we might feel negative emotions that lead to the beauty that we call frustration. Usually, the more important the outcome, the greater the frustration.
Two Types of Frustration
There are two types of frustration. Each is a different kind of blockage that prevents us from achieving our “goals”.
This one is super common. You can recognize it when you’re stuck in traffic and haven’t moved in the past five minutes or when you’re waiting in line to get into the grocery store in sweltering heat or being put on hold after waiting a long time for someone to even pick up. The point is that the cause of your frustration is something that you can’t influence.
This gets a lot of us. These days there’s a lot that we have to do. When you’re standing around and doing nothing it’s easy to think of what you could be doing instead.
External frustration can sometimes be averted like taking a different route around the traffic or going to a different grocery store, but sometimes you can’t change the situation. At this point, it’s good to remind yourself of some positive things to get your mind off the negative. Negativity will only make the situation worse and more frustrating.
Internal frustration is a bit more complicated. It’s usually influenced by the disappointments of not reaching our personal goals or expectations. Maybe it was a failed date because you bragged too much. Something that you could’ve influenced and changed the outcome of. This one is hard to change but when done, it is super beneficial and worth it.
Responses to Frustration
There are a couple of responses to frustration. They, again, range a lot depending on the situation. I’m hoping that I wouldn’t burn down the whole house just because my pencil broke. Each is appropriate to the circumstance. Noticing your reaction to frustration can help you identify the level of problem that the situation is causing and can also help you address your feelings.
Anger is a really common reaction to frustration. Why wouldn’t we be angry if nothing is going our way? It is said that “Frustration begets anger and anger begets aggression.” Often, people direct their anger at the object that is frustrating them. If the printer is malfunctioning, again, after trying to fix it a gazillion times, you might slam your hand on top of it (not that that helps the situation but it helps relieve you of some anger).
Hitting the object releases endorphins in the brain which calms down the brain. It also relaxes the tension in your muscles that remain from the stress. All of this contributing to you feeling better after being active.
If the source of frustration isn’t there or is too threatening to directly confront, we often take out our frustrations on something else. This could be your parent, friend, partner.
When you’re angry you act without thought and give up restraint. Sometimes anger can motivate you to do something about the situation but most of the time, it leads to destruction, not restoration. When you feel this emotion building up, it’s good to step away from the situation (if you can). It can also help to breathe for a few seconds or doing meditation. It may seem ridiculous but even one breath can help remove the “anger filter” and help you have a clearer perspective.
In some cases, it may not seem to be worth continuing to pursue the goal. If the goal is truly out of reach then it may be productive to let it go (once you’ve done everything in your power to make it succeed). Most of the time, it’s like anger. Giving up causes more harm than good. Think about it.
We quit all our goals so that we’re not frustrated trying to reach them.
It seems easier that way and that’s what our pre-civilization monkey brains want. The easier path won’t hurt us. Where we don’t take risks. But since when is that beneficial?
In these situations, it’s good to remember that quitters never win. That’s like entering a marathon, preparing and training for it and after 500 meters deciding to leave because you got a cramp. Recover, and keep your head in the game. We can’t leave the first time things get hard.
Loss of Confidence
Oftentimes, a loss of confidence is a byproduct of giving up. If we quit once, and admit that we lost, we push that belief into our next goals. We failed at that so maybe we shouldn’t even try this. You stop trusting in yourself and your ability to accomplish something.
It’s good to learn that when things start to get tough, look at what you did accomplish. Something that you succeeded in. What is something that you can apply to this challenge right now? It’s good to remember as a rule of thumb that completing something not only finishes the job, it builds your self-confidence.
Blessing? or Curse?
We get stuck in this feeling that frustration is a bad thing. That we should stop it in its tracks and move on to more positive thoughts. It depends on how you handle it.
Frustration can be an indicator of problems in life. If you’re constantly frustrated with something or someone it may be worth looking into changing. Since it helps with spotting what’s going on, it is also a motivator for change. This is not to say that frustration will scream in your face and tell why you’re frustrated and what to change. You need to look into your life and see where you can improve.
However, intense frustration can get out of hand. Especially if it’s around something that you care about. Stress, resentment, depression are common examples of frustration getting out of hand. It’s good to talk to someone about these feelings. Also, you shouldn’t let yourself give up. It may be hard but keep going.
“One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” — Henry Ward Beecher
In my experience with frustration around something you care about, you just need to keep pushing. It might seem like nothing is going your way and so it’s easy to fall into a circle of victimization and giving up. Continue pushing, while changing your approaches and you might be able to work things out.
To truly deal with frustration, we need to accept that in life there will be ups and downs, failures and victories. Sometimes, stuff happens that we can’t influence and it’s about acknowledging how you feel and then looking for options how we can try to improve the situation. As long as you don’t get frustrated by trying to improve the situation.
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