OPINION: How to fight frustrations and find peace of mind

We all must cope with things beyond our control, and inability to do anything about them annoys us enormously. What can we do to avoid or at least mitigate this feeling?

There is a theory that the secret to a happy and fulfilling life is our ability to cope successively with challenges that life presents. Sounds compelling, doesn’t it? However, there is a catch. The challenges must be of an appropriate difficulty. Too easy is boring, while too hard is frustrating and discouraging.

From time to time, we all must cope with things beyond our control, and inability to do anything about them may annoys us enormously. This feeling can be described as “This should not be this way!” As in “people should not treat me like this”, “operating laptop should not be a rocket science”, “the sun should not be this scorching”, etc. We feel frustrated when something (or someone) does not play by our rules.

Know your triggers

There are particular sensitivities to all of us. They are colloquially known as “pet peeves”. Psychology calls them “triggers”. Triggers are parts of our environment that cause an acute and disproportional response. The reasons may vary, but that is not the point. We all must know our own triggers if we want to prevent ourselves from being frustrated.

The next step would be to decide which triggers are within and which ones are beyond your control. Depending on that, you may either eliminate triggers from your life, avoid them whenever it is possible, or change your attitude towards them.

For example, I hate waiting when I am in a hurry. I hate things that hold me back, whether they are some slow-walkers in a crowded place or my Mac that is suddenly in a sluggish mood when I have an important task to accomplish.

Now, it is absolutely within my control to clean up my Mac so it will not bother me anymore (I do in automated mode with MacFly Pro, which is an additional time-saver). There is no need to force frustration upon myself when things depend on me only.

People in the street, however, are beyond my control, but it is up to me to leave the house fifteen minutes earlier and take a longer, yet less jammed path. Thus, I will avoid the need to hurry, so the slow walkers suddenly do not bother me all that much.

Furthermore, say, there is a construction site right under your window and all the clamor and rattling gets under your skin. You cannot remove the source of disturbance, and you cannot move away from it. Then, a good idea will be to buy earplugs instead of grumping away and getting all worked up.

Coping strategies

If there is no way you can influence the trigger – neither eliminate, no mitigate it – it is still in your power to adjust your reaction.

If we feel powerless, procrastination may start to set in, and then we just spiraling down the frustration vortex. Procrastination is a coping mechanism of a sort. Only this way you cope with your frustration short-term, instead of working on a problem that is causing it.

For example, you have a particularly unpleasant task to accomplish. You try to put it off by distracting yourself with something less unpleasant. You persuade yourself that you do need to sort out your email inbox, while in fact you just trying to put something between yourself and the looming deadline on that toilsome report. Thus, you reduce you current frustration and lull yourself into thinking you are being productive, when in fact all you do is losing precious time.

However, by avoiding the problem you lay the foundation for the upcoming new onslaught of frustration and anxiety.

There are coping techniques that are more effective. For instance, the good old deep breathing. Taking a deep breath and counting to ten really, works and that is a scientific fact. Relaxed, deep breathing changes the chemistry processes in our brain, passing the rains from the fight-or-flight amygdala to rational neocortex.

Another way to reduce your frustration is managing your expectations. If you expect that every plan will work out smoothly, that things will be quick and easy and you achieve everything effortlessly than life will most probably disappoint you several times a day. You may think positively as much as you like, but it never hurts to have a plan B and build some safety nets.

Unreasonably optimistic thinking can be ineffective, even detrimental. Instead, try to acknowledge and fight negative behaviors that stem from being frustrated.

For example, if you catch yourself doing something neither productive nor enjoyable for hours or doing nothing at all and thinking about the way it could have been if life was the way you want it to be, try reframing those negative thoughts into questions. For example:

  • When have I done this before?
  • What if [insert worst-case scenario] happens?
  • Will it matter in a day? A week? A year?
  • How can I influence this?

This will help you to stop hitting the wall of frustration and change your course towards actually tackling the problem. If you have a lot of those and that is causing your frustration, manage one at a time and break a big problem into little manageable chunks – avoid multitasking. It usually makes unpleasant tasks even more difficult to do and easier to avoid.

Finally, try seeing your frustration as “delayed success” instead of failure. After all, being an optimist is not about expecting only good things to happen to you, but about seeing a bright side and an opportunity in every situation.

Darren Beauchamp

Darren is a freelance graphic designer, passionate about technology and creative process.