How to Deal with Frustration – Ways to Cope in the Moment


Let’s face it, frustration is a part of life.  There are times when things aren’t happening as fast as we would like, or people are not behaving the way we think they should.  Or we are trying to learn something new and it is confounding us. Essentially, our expectations aren’t being met. But if you are quick to lose your temper when things aren’t working out or tend to give up easily, then you might want some tips to deal with frustration.  The good news is that frustration tolerance can be learned, and there are simple ways you can better cope in the moment.

First, let’s look at why you are frustrated.  Typically the main reason is that you are projecting your opinions or expectations onto a situation and then are unhappy when they don’t align.  In other words, what is actually happening (reality) is at odds with how you think things should be. We all do this from time to time, but how willing we are to adjust our thinking is key.

Here are some approaches to try when you find yourself frustrated:

  1. Accept reality.  Another way to say this is:  you can’t fight the Universe.  I mean, you can try, but who do you think is going to win?  For example, if I am running late to the airport and my taxi is stuck in traffic, I can have an internal temper tantrum, but that is not going to change reality.  So instead, I might a) say a little prayer that I make it on time, which is a way of surrendering to what is happening and letting go of trying to control something that is beyond my control.  And in staying grounded in the present reality, I can b) trust that I will be able to handle the situation if I am late, which is to say that I am letting go of worrying about the possible dreaded outcome (which has not yet happened.) 

  2. Be patient.  Patience really is a virtue, one that most of us in the 21st Century have precious little of because we live in an era of instant gratification.  We have become so used to getting our whims met in an instant with a click, that it confounds us that everything doesn’t work that way.  In fact, the most important things don’t actually work that way. If you want to learn a musical instrument, it takes dedication. If you want to build a successful business, it takes time, effort and persistence in the face of adversity.  If you want a romantic relationship to work, you have to suffer through the anxiety and confusion of the early stages as you get to know someone and find out if you are a compatible match. The fact is that we don’t control the timing of things, and the more we let things unfold naturally, the less frustrated and more satisfied we will be in life.   

  3. Slow down and simplify.  Similarly, when we are trying to do too much too fast, we are more likely to become frustrated.  Things done well are usually done one at a time with focused attention. Many people practice mindfulness meditation in order to get better at this.  If we don’t have the time and attention to give, it usually means we need to simplify our lives, take some things off our plate, be more discriminating in what we say yes to.  What can you take off your to-do list right now?     

  4. Step away.  At times when we become frustrated, it might be time to take a break.  This could be a 20-minute break if we are trying to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture, or a yearlong break if the novel we are working on just isn’t coming together.  This is not the same thing as giving up, and that is an important distinction. Sometimes what we need most is to get some distance from the task so we can come back to it with fresh eyes.  It’s similar to “sleeping on it,” knowing that if we are more relaxed and more clear-headed, we will have the renewed energy and interest to adjust our expectations and tackle it again.  

When it comes to dealing with frustration, it simply takes some small attitude adjustments and lifestyle tweaks.  Paradoxically, the more we slow down to the speed of life, the faster our progress in all our endeavors.