How to Cope With Frustration

Three Methods:Coping with Acute Instances of FrustrationCoping with Long-Term FrustrationDealing with Frustration in a Relationship or Friendship

Everyone is familiar with feelings of frustration, whether stemming from your efforts falling short of achieving a goal or someone else’s efforts failing to meet your needs. Coping with frustration is all about recognizing the sources that trigger the feeling and using the proper techniques to choose a different emotional response.

Method 1
Coping with Acute Instances of Frustration

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    Learn your triggers. A trigger is an element in your environment that causes a sudden emotional reaction in you that is disproportionate to the trigger itself. There are some common triggers, but everyone has a different set of circumstances that causes these frustrated feelings.[1]
    • Do you get frustrated when you are forced to wait and do nothing? For example, traffic jams or waiting in a check-out line.
    • Do you get frustrated when people do not meet your personal expectations or disrupt your work? For instance, someone sending you a text or email that throws off your day.
    • Do you get frustrated with difficult problems? For instance, does difficult homework tend to provoke an outburst?
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    Avoid your triggers whenever possible. Knowing what tends to touch a nerve will help you recognize when these feelings are likely to strike and avoid the trigger as often as possible.[2] Triggers are often automatic reactions, so simply knowing your triggers can often help control when you’re presented with one.
    • For example, keep your phone on silent when you need to work without disruption or get up and take a break from a difficult work or school assignment if you can feel it building toward an outbreak of frustration.
    • If you simply cannot avoid the trigger, try your best to realize that triggers are themselves thought patterns that you can choose to allow or not despite how hard it is to change them.[3] Once triggered, take time to think rather than reacting impulsively.
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    Practice stress-management breathing. Relaxed, regulated breathing changes the chemistry of the brain so activity is dominated by the thoughtful neocortex, not the fight-or-flight amygdala.[4] This is how conscious, focused breathing can help you to avoid impulsive action or rash words. Breathe deeply. Before you act out of anger or frustration, pause and a take a deep breath. Count to four slowly as you breathe in, then count to four again as you breathe out. Repeat until you feel calm.[5]
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    Manage your expectations of others. Other people can be very frustrating, because humans can be amazing and wonderful. People can also be irrational, self-centered, unfair, and inconsistent. It can be infuriatingly frustrating. You can always control your own reaction, but never their behavior.[6]
    • For instance, say you have a friend who is always late for everything but is otherwise a great friend. Manage your expectation by realizing that you simply cannot make your friend show up on time, but you can control what you invite her to. If you know that punctuality is one of your triggers, then avoid putting her in situations where promptness is an issue.
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    Check in with yourself. Frustration is a stressor that causes the release of adrenaline and other neurochemicals, which can act together to make you act impulsively and even aggressively.[7] Before you shout, make a rude gesture, or insult someone, stop and mentally go back over the relevant events. Check that your response is neither excessive nor insufficient. The goal is not to let others walk all over you, while not over-dominating and walking all over others yourself. Ask yourself these questions to help you figure out how to respond to the current situation:
    • Are things really as I perceive them? What might I be missing here?
    • Will what happened now matter in a day? A week? A year?
    • Can I express my concerns without hostility?
    • Is there information I am trying to share?
    • Am I as interested in seeing the situation clearly as I am in my own reaction or being "right"?
    • Am I interested in the other person’s needs? Can we cooperate?
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    View frustration as "delayed success" rather than "failure". How you frame your situation will change your reaction and emotions. If you see your situation as a setback that you will get over, you are more likely to know immediately you can overcome the frustration.
    • For instance, say you’re saving for a new car but have to take some money from the fund to fix your current car. Instead of fixating on not getting the new vehicle when you’d want, remind yourself that it will only set you back a month or two and that you will overcome the obstacle.

Method 2
Coping with Long-Term Frustration

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    Try something new. Changing your routine or developing new hobbies can help with long-term frustration.[8] If you’re having trouble allowing yourself to indulge in a hobby rather than work all the time, choose something that has a pragmatic side, such as learning how to make your own bread, soap, clothing, etc. You may find inner as well as outer benefits in learning to master one or more of them.[9]
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    Gain some perspective. Coping with frustration is about coping with feelings of helplessness. To counteract frustration, exercise some form of personal agency. “Agency” is literally the capacity to do something, while helplessness is the feeling that you can do nothing to improve your situation. Choose something within your grasp at this moment—however small it may seem—and do it. Merely washing your hands or changing your clothes may seem trivial in comparison to your problem, but it is not nothing, and because of the way our brains work, that is crucial.
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    Spend time with supportive people. Find friends you can talk to about your frustrations, who will listen and won't judge you. If you do not have close friends you feel comfortable doing this with, find someone who can provide good company during frustrating tasks, such as searching for jobs or using dating websites. Social time is generally beneficial to the regulation of mood. Even if a problem seems obvious, discussing it may help you discover hidden issues such as low self-esteem or specific anxieties.[10] A supportive mentor or counselor can help you talk these through.
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    Treat yourself. Frustration can build tension and anxiety, which can have deleterious effects on our mood, sleep cycle, and general body chemistry. By improving your self care--especially care of your body--you can relax and let go of the feelings that were stirred up by frustration. Seriously consider taking a bath, going for a walk, baking a nice loaf of bread, or reading a book. These slow, soothing activities can help change your body chemistry from alarmed and dysregulated to calm and focused.
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    Keep a log of your accomplishments. Frustration is often accompanied by the feeling that you lack purpose or meaning, but frustrated people rarely have a realistic view of themselves. Fight this by keeping a record of all your achievements, including daily tasks that you have difficulty with.[11] If you have trouble recognizing any of your accomplishments, you may be suffering from self-esteem issues. Have a friend or family member help you come up with moments or achievements of which you feel proud.
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    Exercise to reduce stress. Physical activity can relieve tension and stress caused by frustration, especially if you exercise in the right environment.[12] Walk, jog, or hike outdoors in a natural environment if possible.[13] If you are not used to exercising regularly, take it slow so you feel refreshed, not exhausted.
    • If you aren't able to take an exercise break while working on a frustrating task, take a shorter break to practice deep breathing or meditation instead.
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    Fight procrastination. Frustration can cause apathy, or severe lack of motivation. This can result in spending hours on activities that are neither productive nor enjoyable, or failing to meet goals due to procrastination. If this description fits, break the cycle with the following tips, if applicable to your situation:[14]
    • Remove needless distractions. Whether you are easily distracted, or tend to distract yourself to put off doing a task, take charge of your attention. Turn off your phone, other electronic devices, or the internet, unless required for the specific task you are working on. Clear your work area of all unnecessary items.
    • Set your own deadlines and rewards. Unpleasant or difficult tasks can weaken your motivation. Add additional pressure with a positive spin, by rewarding yourself with a snack, entertainment, or other reward on the condition that you meet a mini-deadline within the hour, or by the end of the day.
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    Change your course. If a personal project or repeated task is frustrating you, find another project or hobby to work on for a while. If you are frustrated at work, brainstorm ways to make your work go more smoothly, or request a shift in your work duties or scheduling.
    • Stay focused on one task at a time. Stop multitasking. Multitasking almost always makes each task more difficult and easier to avoid, even if you personally think you are good at it.[15] Instead of working on two tasks concurrently, alternate between them if they’re frustrating.
    • Consider alternating between projects to avoid hitting a wall of frustration while staying productive. Spend thirty to sixty minutes on each one with five-minute breaks in between.
    • If your job is causing severe stress and frustration, consider a vacation, take a sabbatical, or even look into changing jobs.
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    Manage expectations of your world. If you hold expectations that things will go easily, that nothing can or will go wrong, and you will achieve everything effortlessly, then you will likely be frustrated and disappointed. The important things in life—work, school, relationships, mastering a skill—are rarely quick or easy. If they start out easily, rarely do they remain so.
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    Recognize negative behavior. Frustration often leads to thoughts and behavior that only make the situation worse. Try to catch yourself when these negative events occur, and immediately take a break using the advice above. Negative behaviors stemming from frustration include:
    • Thinking about what could have happened or what you wish your life was like.[16]
    • Spending hours on a task that is neither enjoyable or productive, such as watching a television show you don't like.
    • Sitting and doing nothing at all.

Method 3
Dealing with Frustration in a Relationship or Friendship

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    Do not talk while you’re still angry. The expression of strong, negative feelings rarely helps a relationship. If you are often frustrated or angry at a particular person, a calm discussion is much more likely to be productive. Step away until you've calmed down.
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    Bring up one issue at a time. Start your discussion by talking about a single issue, such as a specific action or repeated behavior that frustrates you.[17] Try to stay focused on this topic until you've seriously discussed it. Talking about possible underlying causes or related actions is allowed, but try to avoid turning the discussion into a list of things that irritate you.
    • Try to agree with the person at the outset that you’ll both stay focuses on the issue at hand.
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    Give the other person opportunities to respond. Allow the other person an opportunity to speak uninterrupted and to be heard. Try to listen intently to the other person, and then decide how to respond rather than responding impulsively. If you find this difficult, try repeating the other person's words silently to yourself to keep yourself focused, and keep your face and body aligned toward the other person.[18]
    • For instance, if you’re having a relationship fight, make it a point not to interrupt the person. Allow him or her to finish a point before responding and consider your response rather than going with your gut reaction.
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    Mirror back responses in your own words. This will demonstrate that you understand what the other person said, give the other person a chance to consider what he or she said, and clear up some ambiguities in the discussion. This can be a very difficult step because actually listening to the other person—instead of thinking of your next thing to say—can be a tricky thing to do.
    • For instance, if a friend says that you never make time for her, repeat it back and ask, “Do you really think that I never make time for you?” This can allow the friend to hear the complaint as you did.
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    Be honest but compassionate. Have an honest discussion of how you feel, and what you want to change, and ask the other person for honest opinions as well.[19] Refrain from making insults or hurtful comments. Use sentences that start with "I" to talk about how you feel, and avoid sentences with “you,” which can often sound accusatory.[20]
    • Avoid passive-aggressive behavior, such as hiding your real emotions or insulting someone behind his or her back.
    • Avoid sarcasm or insults during this discussion, even as a joke.
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    Avoid using absolutes. These are words such as ‘always’ and ‘never.’ These words invite the person to become defensive by invalidating the other person’s attempts, even if those attempts fell short.
    • For example, don’t say, ”You never take out the trash!” Instead try, “You take out the trash less often than we agreed.”
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    Brainstorm solutions with the other person. Try to reach a compromise that you are both satisfied with. Writing down a list of ideas together can sometimes help. You don't need to come up with a perfect answer on the first discussion, either. If necessary, make it clear that the solution you decide on is temporary, and set a time to discuss it in a couple weeks to see whether it is working.
    • If you’re frustrated that the friend hasn’t repaid a debt, for instance, see if you can compromise with a payment plan rather than being frustrated that you can’t get all of the money back at once.
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    Show appreciation for effort. Thank the other person when making an effort to change his or her behavior. Even small changes—smaller than you would like—may lead to more change if you encourage the person.
    • Using the same example of frustration over a friend owing you money, tell the friend how much it means that he has agreed to a payment plan or even agreed to sit down and talk about it again when he might be able to enter a payment agreement. By validating the friend’s effort, you’re more likely to see future cooperation.


  • If you are not certain what is causing the frustration, seek the advice of a trusted friend, mentor, counselor, or therapist.


  • Alcohol and other drugs are not successful or healthy long-term coping mechanisms.

Sources and Citations

  1. Dodes, Lance (2002) The Heart of Addiction: A New Approach to Understanding and Managing Alcoholism and Other Addictive Behaviors (NY: William Morrow).
  2. Dodes, Lance (2002) The Heart of Addiction: A New Approach to Understanding and Managing Alcoholism and Other Addictive Behaviors (NY: William Morrow).
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