How To Combat Frustration When You’re At Your Wit’s End

Do you know how to handle frustration?

By Renee Goyeneche—

When pursuing a goal, we’re often faced with challenges that slow our progress and try our emotions. It’s to be expected; after all, we can’t anticipate every bump in the road. When tested, we normally evaluate our options, make adjustments and keep moving. Sometimes, however, we’re faced with a set of circumstances that stop us in our tracks. It might be a single roadblock or series of impediments, but over time, as we’re unable to achieve our goal, we become frustrated. Frustration occurs because the insult is two-fold; we’re not able to get what we want, and we’re wasting valuable time dealing with the very circumstance that’s preventing our success.

Frustration isn’t just a temporary emotional reaction to being thwarted, however. It has wide-ranging physical, emotional and mental repercussions. In fact, the physiological and psychological responses we experience in the wake of frustration are identifiable indicators of chronic stress.

Why does that matter? Chronic stress is the least productive, most dangerous type of stress. People who experience it are statistically more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Chronic stress can also negatively affect cognitive processes such as attentiveness, judgment, and decision-making.


Historical studies demonstrate that men and women process anger and frustration differently. To be more specific, men tend to recognize those 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 guard the outward expression of those emotions and tend to internalize them in an effort to maintain relationships. That can translate to diminished protection of self-interest, a sacrificing of self to “keep the peace.”

The key to overcoming frustration rests in first understanding the scope of our control and then taking steps to advance our own interests. However, doing so requires us to build resilience skills to channel emotion productively and effect change.

There are really only two methods of dealing with frustration; we either give into it or find a way to mitigate its effects. Giving in—having an emotional meltdown, for example—might make us feel better in the short term but does nothing to improve the underlying circumstance. To break the cycle of frustration, you must first correctly identify its source.When you’re overwhelmed, you may feel ineffectual and powerless to change your situation. That’s why it’s important to evaluate different factors and parse out what you can and cannot control.

There are different varieties of frustration, but all fall into two broader categories: internal and external. You may be more prone to one type than another.

This stems from the pressure you exert on yourself. It’s a form of perfectionism—a dissatisfaction with your performance in what you consider to be a key area of your life. Some examples may include interpersonal relationships, educational performance or progression, and professional achievements. It may be characterized by a lack of self-confidence or fear of failure.

This occurs due to things we feel are outside the influence of our control. These are the roadblocks that keep us from “getting things done”—people, places and things that call a halt to forward movement. It might be as simple as a traffic delay or something more complex, like failing to secure a business startup loan.

Conventional wisdom might tell you to take certain steps when you’re feeling frustrated; take deep breaths, do something to distract yourself, practice gratitude. All are good advice for managing emotion in the moment, but a long-term solution requires deeper introspection.

Managing the stress that leads to frustration requires cultivating awareness of your own role and reactions as well as seeking and employing external solutions. Once you’ve recognized the circumstance and root cause of the issue—and have taken action—you’re less likely to feel frustrated by a lack of progress toward your intended goal.

Renee Goyeneche: I am a writer and research editor focusing on information that benefits women, children, and families. Find me on Twitter and blogging at Imperfect Perceptions.

I’m Nancy F. Clark the curator of Forbes WomensMedia, author of The Positive Journal, and CEO of PositivityDaily. After studying physics at Berkeley I started out in…


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