Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Nobody understands what it’s like to feel frustrated better than someone who lives with a chronic condition. Medication regimens, changes in routine, dealing with insurance companies . . . how many reasons for feeling frustrated do you need, right?
Frustration is a normal human reaction to situations in which, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to get what we want. Frustration occurs when we reach the end of our ability to remain patient. And it’s accompanied by feelings like annoyance, if not downright anger, along with sadness and anxiety.
Frustration is a psychological response to stress. And you know how unhealthy stress can be. Just think back to the way you felt the last time you were frustrated about something. Most likely, in addition to all those emotions that your frustration brought up in you, you also wanted to do something to feel less frustrated.
Here’s what we need to accept about frustration: It is part of life. And certainly part of living with a chronic condition. That means it’s probably not going to go away.
Why? Because the unfortunate truth is that, regardless of our efforts, things are not always going to go as planned, or as, in a perfect world, they should go. Life is going to get in the way.
The trouble with fighting frustration
So is there something we can do to make our frustrations go away? Well, probably not. Fighting frustration is most likely just going to cause more frustration as we do battle with our own human reactions and emotions.
Which brings me to the problem with frustration: It can lead to some negative ways to cope. Like blowing up at other people, overeating or drinking . . . or even just shutting down and sitting with all those emotions churning up inside of you. Not great for your overall wellness. And chances are, the problem remains unsolved.
So, we can’t make frustration go away. And the ways we cope with frustration are often not very effective.
A better way
Let’s consider another approach. How about learning to tolerate your frustration? When you tolerate frustration, you are basically withstanding situations in which obstacles are being placed between you and what you are trying to get or accomplish. Effective frustration tolerance begins with accepting that you are frustrated instead of trying to push it away, or coping in ways that may not be so physically or emotionally healthy.
Ready to learn how to tolerate frustration? Here’s how:
Vent! Don’t keep all those feelings bottled up. Sitting down with someone you trust and having a good vent accomplishes a couple of things. First, it is a healthy way to let out the bottled-up emotions that can have a negative impact on your wellness. And by doing so, you make space in your mind so that you can look at the situation more clearly. So vent away. If you don’t have a listener, writing it out can also help.
Take a look at your self-talk. In the midst of all that frustration, you’re probably beating an old drum from the past. Examples include, “This always happens to me.” “No matter how hard I try, I never get what I want.” “As usual, I completely messed things up.” If you’re beating the drum, then chances are you’re going to feel more frustrated because the current situation is going to feel the same as frustrating situations from your past. Whether there’s any actual resemblance or not. As a result, your feelings of frustration may be much stronger than the situation warrants.
Reframe. Take a step back and look objectively at whatever it is that is frustrating you. Imagine you are in a room that is filled with picture frames. The picture in that frame in front of you looks like the worst thing that could possibly happen in your frustrating situation. But in the frame on the other wall, it’s an annoying setback that can be worked out with some patience. And in that third frame, you might see an opportunity to make a change in how you do things—a change that you have been contemplating for a long time. See how your interpretation of the situation shifts—and feels less catastrophic—when you view it in a new frame?
Look for a Plan B. When something blocks your path—like a delay or just plain no—consider the alternatives. You may find an even better way to get what you need, along with giving your coping skills a good workout. Don’t forget your brain is a muscle you can exercise here, too. And ask for support!
Use some humor. Sometimes we just have to step back and laugh about how absurd life can be. I mean, you did everything right, or it seemed like it, and still things didn’t come together the way you assumed they would. Something, or someone, wandered into the road between you and your goal. Injecting a little humor can take the edge off feelings like anger and help you to accept situations that, not for lack of trying, you can’t change. (And humor can free you up to consider Plan B.)
Feeling frustrated is part of life. But your frustration doesn’t have to leave you feeling like the world is crashing down around you. Practice frustration tolerance. Free yourself up to be the best problem solver you can be!
What frustrates you about your health issues? What helps you cope with that frustration? Share your experience by adding a comment below.