Frustration happens when reality does not match our personal expectations. It is a common emotion that arises in situations where we encounter opposition, either from within ourselves or from external sources. It is not a pleasant emotion and it can be quite difficult to deal with it, but if not handled successfully, it tends to lead to aggression, passive-aggressive behavior and escalation of any existing conflict.

frustrated woman

Disability and chronic illness provide many situations for frustration to arise. There are many symptoms and impairments that prohibit us or make it a lot harder for us to do the things we would like to do, be the person we would like to be and fulfil the dreams we may have. There are two options for dealing with frustration – the first is to try and change reality to match our will, desire and sense of how things should be and the second is to change our perceptions and expectations to match reality.

It is not always possible or wise to try change reality, but it is always possible to change one’s expectations. I doubt that it is an either or choice. I think a healthy approach is to try and do both and have reality and expectations meet somewhere in the middle.

Frustration can lead to learning experience, personal growth and the development of better coping strategies as well as provide a bit more drive and incentive to get through the difficult parts in order to achieve our goals, but it can also lead to anger issues, aggressive or destructive behaviour which makes it that much harder to both achieve our goals and keep an open mind in managing our expectations. I try to deal with my frustration with a logical approach that can be summarized into 7 steps.

1. Avoid triggers

Some causes of frustration can be avoided and this can have a positive impact on life. I find waiting very frustrating. As a result, I choose services that provide what I need promptly and go out at off-peak times. I prefer shopping on-line and tend to buy tickets in advance. Avoidance alone isn’t a perfect strategy, but I think it’s a good place to start. There is no benefit in placing yourself in a bad situation that can easily be avoided without any significant consequences.

2. Look for Solutions

Not all triggers are avoidable, but some unavoidable frustrations have potentially straight forward solutions. My husband used to hate commuting to work in city traffic and wasn’t able to work at different times. He was stuck in traffic for hours six days a week until we bought a motorbike and suddenly his commute was the highlight of his work day. Focusing on solutions rather than problems is a good strategy and I am often surprised how easy some frustrations can be turned into enjoyment by taking a few steps that just hadn’t occurred to me whilst I was so fixating on the cause that I had tunnel vision.

3. Be kind

Kindness goes a long way. Internal sources of frustration are lightened by showing yourself a bit more kindness and understanding. Cut yourself some slack and give someone else a break. Sometimes circumstances are beyond anyone’s control and the most punctual individuals run late (and leave me waiting), but even when that isn’t the case, accepting someone else’s flaws and focusing on their good intentions rather than their habits, beliefs or goals that conflict with yours, tend to lead to less frustration.

4. Focus on the goal

The more fixated I become on the source of my frustration, the more frustrated I get. It is a positive feedback loop that steadily worsens the situation. I get past it by thinking of why I am subjecting myself to a particular frustration so that the present experience is just one unpleasant step towards a positive goal I really want to achieve. The more I think about the bigger goal, the less important a few frustrations along the way become. It’ll be worth it in the end and when I look back, the little hiccup that at the moment seem like a huge obstacle, will not matter any more.


5. Focus on the positive

I try to remind myself that someone’s good qualities usually outweigh the ones that I find frustrating, including my own. If a colleague is always ten minutes late for a meeting, I try to think of the things I like about her the most, for example, although she’s always running late in person, her reports are flawless and always on time or her contribution during the meeting is invaluable. I try to focus on a positive quality I value more than the frustrating quality that I cannot change.

6. Persist, hold people accountable for their actions and make the world a better place

It may not always be possible to change reality, but sometimes it is. Handling personal frustrations with acceptance and grace is a wonderful attribute to have, but sometimes the best action is to persist and overcome obstacles in order to achieve the goals I want to achieve. When I feel strongly about something, when I have set a positive goal that I really want to achieve, I know that conflict is inevitable and frustration will arise at regular intervals. I accept the fact, persist and don’t give up. Some things are worth fighting for and sometimes, the only thing to do is to change reality to match your expectations. If I can make the world a better place, not just for myself, but others as well, I will keep trying and keep moving forwards.

7. Let it go

Never allow frustrations to have a knock on effect. Don’t ruminate, don’t stew, don’t get drawn into rants, tirades or obsession. I do what I can to address the causes of my frustrations and when it is time, my goal is to walk away from it. If issues at work are causing a lot of frustration, leave work at work. If it’s hospital appointments or government bureaucracy that causes the frustration, deal with it and then go do something fun and uplifting.

It is easier said than done, but once I start to put the right spin on the issue, it becomes easier to let it go. I always give myself a little time to react, but then I try to choose the best course of action to address my frustration. As soon as I have done all that can be done, I mentally close that chapter. I found it easier to do when I was working as I used my commute home to switch gears and never brought work home, but with medical issues and red tape that involve home appointments and assessments of me and my home, it is much harder to draw distinct lines, but I try.

Life is almost always bigger than the causes of our frustrations and reality is very slow to change. Frustration can be useful as a temporary emotion, it’s a beautiful red flag that a problem that needs solving has arisen and when handled well and overcome wisely, it can open doors to bigger and better things. Keep an open mind, be kind but firm and whatever happens, don’t let it lead to bitterness, anger, resentment and aggression.