Building Frustration Tolerance

Many of us struggle from time to time with low frustration tolerance.  Perhaps you find yourself fuming at small inconveniences, or a minor infraction by your partner, peers, or children.  When our lives become overly stressful, it can be difficult to keep little things from becoming major annoyances, and it can be hard  to stop yourself from exploding verbally or mentally when one more thing goes wrong, even if it is just a minor thing, like a stubbed toe or being cut off in traffic.  Over time though, when we do not keep our frustration tolerance in check, our moods can start to feel out of control.  We can become angry and resentful in our daily lives, and snap at people we care about, contributing to the overall negativity in our environment.  It’s important to recognize when low frustration tolerance has become a problem, so that you can start to build more resiliency in your life and stop allowing minor frustrations to become overwhelming.

First, ask yourself a few questions to determine if frustration tolerance has become a problem in your life:

  • Do I find myself becoming disproportionately angry at minor inconveniences or mistakes?
  • Do I sometime snap and yell at people I care about (or strangers) when something frustrating happens?
  • Does anger and frustration seem to be impacting my overall mood in my daily life?
  • Do I regret or feel ashamed about my reaction to things when I become frustrated?

 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, recognize that you may want to focus some attention to building more resiliency to frustration, and improve your frustration tolerance.  There are several reasons why having better tolerance to frustration is an important skill.  Most importantly, having better frustration tolerance will help you spend less energy on things that are not worth getting angry about.  Our lives can be busy, complicated, stressful, and exhausting.  Focusing your energy where it will best serve you will help you feel better on a daily basis, and more in control of your emotions.  Having low frustration tolerance is just unpleasant.  Your mood is affected, you may ruminate on unimportant problems, and you waste time and energy reacting to stressors that should really be brushed off.  Of course this all sounds good, but how do you stop letting frustration affect your mood and relationships and keep your energy focused on what’s really important?

First, assess your priorities.  Take stock of your life and identify 5 areas that are most important to you.  This may include your relationships with your family and friends, your success at work, making room for quality down-time in your life, working on special projects you care about, or accomplishing goals that you have set for yourself.  Recognize that these are the areas in which you want to focus the most of your energy.  Everything else is secondary, and thus does not deserve to have too much of your attention and energy.

Next, identify how low frustration tolerance has negatively impacted your life.  Perhaps you have said things you regret when you were frustrated, destroyed property when you were angry, or your overall mood has been soured because you get stuck in a negative mindset.  Recognize how this negativity has taken up space in your life that detracts from your real priorities. Make a commitment to re-focus your energy back on your real priorities, and stop giving energy to the frustrations that drag you down.

Finally, start working on ways to reduce the power that frustration has over your life, and begin to develop the skills you need to minimize that impact.  Some strategies to building better frustration tolerance include:

  • Start your day off with a positive affirmation. This can be as simple as a mental note you make to remind yourself that you are going to have a good day and not let small things affect your mood.  Alternatively, it could be a devotional or prayer that speaks to you and helps you center your priorities for the day.  Another possibility is starting your day with uplifting music that will help you get your mood in the right place for the day.
  • Build an arsenal of coping skills that you can use in the moment when a frustrating experience happens. Deep-breathing exercises, counting practices, worry dolls or a talisman, a personal mantra (“Serenity Now!”), and walking off or removing yourself from an overwhelming situation are all examples of coping skills that will help you deal with frustration in the moment and prevent the situation from taking control of you.
  • Allow yourself a designated amount of time to vent or process your frustrations, and then choose to let them go. It’s fine to give a voice to or acknowledge the things that get you down or cause frustration in your life, but don’t allow this time to go on forever.  If you have a friend, for example, that you talk to or vent to when you feel frustrated, allow yourself to spend no more than half of your time together ruminating or discussing frustrations, and then consciously change topics to more uplifting messages or acknowledge the positives you can identify in your life or day as well.
  • Use humor or comedy to help you build resiliency to negativity and improve your mood when you find yourself stuck in negative mindset or feeling angry too often. Watch comedy programs you enjoy, listen to comedy podcasts or radio shows, read humorous materials or writers you enjoy, and talk to your funniest friends.  Use inside jokes with your friends or family to lighten the mood or remind you about times that were fun or funny.  It’s hard to feel frustrated and angry when you’re laughing.
  • End your day with affirmations of gratitude. If you are partnered you can have a gratitude practice that you engage in right before you go to bed or at another time during the evening, when you identify at least one thing you are grateful for that day.  You could also do this practice with your kids if you have them, or just do them solitary.  You can write your ideas down, or just mentally take stock with intention.  Finding space to recognize what you are grateful for will help you keeps those priorities centered, reducing the power that frustration has over your life.

 

As you incorporate these strategies into your life, you are intentionally giving more energy to positivity and priorities, and taking energy away from the frustrations and negativity that life throws at you sometimes.  Keep practicing and building good habits, and you should begin to build your tolerance to frustration in a way that helps you feel more empowered over your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

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