Sanat was nervous for his AP Physics exam. He had studied for months and wanted to get it over with. He was hoping to get to school a few minutes early so he didn’t have to rush to find parking and could prepare himself for the exam to begin. He got up early and was out the door 15 minutes prior to his normal leaving time. He didn’t realize that there would be construction traffic. He sat in his car, yelling at the cars in front of him to go. He really wanted to get to school early, how would it be possible now? He hit his steering wheel, upset.
Nandita came out of a meeting with her boss and sunk into her desk chair. She knew the recommendations her boss had made were wrong. She also knew that her ideas were going to make this project soar but no one was listening to her. Whether it was because she was new to the company or perhaps she wasn’t loud enough but she made it clear why she thought her ideas were better. What’s worse, she thought, her colleague, who has far less experience than her, was given the opportunity to lead the project instead.
Shravya, who was 11 months old, was sitting on the floor with her grandmother. She wanted her pacifier but her grandmother was on the phone and did not notice what the baby was doing. Shravya babbled trying to get her grandmother’s attention. When that failed, she tried to reach for it herself but was unable to open the zipper of her diaper bag where she knew it was hidden. She hit the bag, pointed at it while looking at her grandmother and then started crying.
Praneet was at home with his two young children while his wife was away. He wanted to watch a baseball game but his 3 year old son, who was sick, was whining. Praneet tried everything to help him feel better: giving him a snack, stroking his hair and even playing a game with him. Nothing seemed to make his son feel better. His 5 year old daughter was getting bored staying cooped up in the house. She started running around the house and accidentally ran into a vase and broke it. “Can you kids just for one second let me watch this game?” Praneet said, upset by how many interruptions he had in the first 15 minutes of the game. He only had one day off every week and while he loved his children, he really wanted to relax for a few minutes with his favorite activity.
Frustration is defined as an emotional response when reaching a goal has become blocked and it is an emotion every person feels from as early as infancy. Whether that is due to construction traffic preventing you from getting to school on time or physical size being a hindrance to getting what you need, the reaction is due to perceived resistance or opposition.
For a few, frustration proves as a motivator and encourages increased hard work or creativity to find a solution to work around the obstacle. However, often frustration can present itself as anger, with people like Praneet snapping at those closest to them. In others, it can present itself as conceding to the obstacle and giving up trying. Yet others become avoiders and as soon as they perceive a frustrating situation developing they will withdraw, drop all goals or expectations, and move on to an entirely different situation. This is often seen in couples who like to avoid conflict instead of working toward resolving their differences.
Frustration is an emotionally and physically taxing experience that causes our bodies significant stress. When we perceive a goal as thwarted, our brains go into overdrive trying to figure out how to solve the problem. This overdrive can only last in short bursts as it is an energy-consuming process. While some amount of frustration is inevitable and necessary in life to keep us flexible in achieving our goals, constant frustration creates chronic stress in our bodies. This can lead to burnout and numerous physical ailments at any age.
Here are some tips on how to reduce frustration and take care of your body when it feels you are presented with obstacles:
1. Expect frustrations in life. Many South Asians who experience frustration feel as if they shouldn’t be frustrated. However, frustration is an emotion that we feel as young as infancy and is one that we will continue to feel our entire lives. Everyone becomes frustrated a by being mindful of this reality, you will increase your chances finding a successful outcome.
2. Change your perspective. Most of the situations that we find frustrating often do not have long-term consequences. Missing a baseball game or having a less than successful meeting at work does not determine how your future will turn out. Think about 2 weeks, 6 months or 1 year from now and how you will view this situation. Similarly, think back to the last time you were very frustrated. You probably don’t feel nearly as intensely as you did in that situation and you might even laugh at yourself or how seriously you were taking the obstacle.
3. Take a physical break. Similar to the first point, taking a break can help reset your overworked brain and help you identify an alternate solution to reach your goal. Engage all of your senses. Take a walk, touch a handrail, smell a flower, look at the sky or pay attention to what you are hearing. You will automatically feel a bit refreshed as your brain gets a rest from being in overdrive.
4. Identify what is working? Often when we are frustrated, we begin to think in absolutes and believe that nothing in the situation is working or can be improved. Challenge that thought pattern and force yourself to identify at least three things that are working in your favor. This encourages your brain to be more flexible in thinking and increases your creativity in goal-directed behavior.
5. Remind yourself of the ultimate goal. When frustrated, we tend to wrap ourselves up in the process to get to the goal, sometimes forgetting what the goal actually is. Whether it is coming to an understanding with your partner about your family planning timeline or getting more exposure at your job, remind yourself what you are working toward. This might help you identify alternate solutions that may have less resistance than the path you are currently on.
6. Visualize a positive outcome. By shifting your attention to the positive, you can remove yourself from the cycle of negativity that can come with frustration. It can act as a motivator to find alternate solutions and work through the current frustrations.
7. Don’t procrastinate or avoid the problem. Avoidance, which can lead to procrastination, only exacerbates the problem. Decisions will still need to be made and deadlines will not move just because you avoid the work to get there. By following all of the above tips, you can identify all the tools you need to be successful in any frustrating situation.
Frustration is a high-energy emotion and experience that takes a toll on our bodies and minds. Since we will not be able to avoid situations that cause frustration, the best thing we can do for ourselves is learn how to manage frustration in a healthy manner so that we do not experience long-term side effects of the stress that our bodies experience every time our goal-directed behaviors are thwarted.
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