Help! I need coping strategies when frustration sends me over the edge!
For some of us, it’s the small frustrations that bring us down: The shelving box says “easy assembly” and the directions are a nightmare; the GPS says turn right and you find yourself miserably lost; traffic is clogged and you’re stuck for two hours.
Then there’s the spouse sleeping soundly and you lie awake as he gently snores.
So what is the real problem here? Isn’t frustration the result of an inability to change our situation? Or more specifically, trying to change it and failing – over and over?
Everyday Sources of Frustration
Not long ago, I was driving out of state and seemed to be constantly lost. Detours, construction, and unfamiliar neighborhoods left me with mounting frustration.
Other examples of everyday frustration include the usual suspects: the healthy eating and exercise regimen that isn’t knocking off pounds, erratic Internet connectivity though I keep calling my provider, construction in my neighborhood making simple errands take too long, writer’s block (from time to time), and yes… that snoring.
In each case, I’ve attempted what I consider to be creative problem-solving.
Zip, nil, bubkus.
Many will tell you that when frustration hits, you need to push back on negativity, because anger and a self-defeatist attitude will worsen the situation.
Do you agree?
I might, certainly in principle, yet I find that response simplistic. If Google Maps provides inaccurate counsel, I’m likely to be more frustrated (and negative) if I’m hungry, tired, or otherwise stressed – for example I risk being late for a meeting. On the other hand, circling neighborhood streets with time on my side, I will go with the flow, consider it an adventure, and stop somewhere to ask for directions. So while a positive attitude is certainly better, my ability to unearth it is tied to physical and circumstantial elements, not only my emotional resolve.
Dealing With Frustrating Situations
Frustrating situations are not the same as frustrating people, though we don’t always make that distinction. Perhaps we don’t make the distinction because the feelings are the same, although the solutions to the underlying issues may in fact require a different approach.
If I use my example of furniture or appliance assembly, what I’m up against may be time constraints, but more likely, my own limited understanding. I expect one level of difficulty and encounter another; I expect one level of competence in the instructions and am disappointed; I’m up against my own lack of ability to follow diagrams of a certain complexity – and I need help.
Walk away, drink Earl Grey, regain perspective… call a friend.
In the example of inadequate maps, if I’m wandering winding, wooded roads, here’s hoping it isn’t night and my cell phone is working. I need to be clearheaded (patient and calm) enough to mitigate any risks, then call or stop and again, and ask for help.
Asking for help is key not only because it solves the “problem,” but it replaces the sense of powerlessness that is inherent in frustration.
How to Deal With Frustrating People
Frustrating people? They’re a whole other ballgame. If we think we’re out of control when we collide with frustrating situations, it’s more the case with people who stonewall, confound, or complicate matters every. damn. time. This isn’t always intentional, but the fact of it is the problem and how to cope is the challenge.
Examples on this score?
- the kindly boss who nonetheless keeps changing her mind
- the department head who doesn’t understand your job
- the obstinate spouse who wants to “fix” rather than listen
- the lovable but clueless pal who falls for the wrong guy time and time again
Psychology Today’s Dr. Judith Orloff makes several recommendations when it comes to dealing with frustrating people and effective communication.
… Focus on a specific issue… Listen non-defensively [and] without interrupting… Intuit their feelings… Respond with clarity and compassion…
In other words, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and don’t complicate, blame, or antagonize, which will worsen the situation.
Dealing With Powerlessness
Frustration, to me, is always linked to a sense of powerlessness. When that powerlessness is a matter of my own capabilities – the assembly instructions for example – I’m more able to see my way to searching out an assist.
When I feel as though I’ve done everything “right” – followed the rules, been cheerfully persistent – as in the case of trying to lose weight and finding myself at odds with the result – I will experience anger, can find no blame, and then I look for alternative solutions. Creative problem-solving will kick in (and I’ll change something in my behavior).
But depending upon the scope of the challenge – for example a legal proceeding, and here I’m thinking of the long months that my divorce dragged on – this goes beyond the “everyday” frustration. It calls for bigger guns than deep breathing or a soothing cup of tea, which isn’t to say those won’t help, but talking through the emotions will ease the stress of the powerlessness. And that’s where supportive family or good-natured friends come in.
Frustrating people? When there is no malicious intent, I find Psychology Today’s tips to be smart. My challenges with online maps? I remind myself to call ahead for detailed directions. The items that need repair? The couple of extra pounds? I’m looking to my “adult” perspective.
The snoring during the night? Yeah. Pillows over the ears. And otherwise?
More perspective, though I’m open to suggestions.
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