Frustration is a type of emotional reaction to stress. It's common to have this feeling when you encounter daily stressors at home, at school, at work, and in relationships. For example, you might get frustrated when your partner forgets to take care of an important errand, or you might become frustrated with yourself for how you responded to your partner's mistake.
In many cases, this frustration is short-lived and tends to pass as the situation changes. But sometimes, such as when you find yourself falling short of your goals or aspirations, it can be longer-lasting and take a more serious toll on your health and well-being.
Frustration can affect a person in a variety of ways, including psychologically and physically. Learn more about how to recognize the signs of frustration, what causes it, and what you can do to minimize the harm it might have on your mood, health, and relationships.
Signs of Frustration
Frustration can show up in a number of different ways. While these expressions can vary from one person to the next, some of the common signs of frustration include:
- Anger or losing your temper
- Avoiding the people you are frustrated with
- Experiencing changes in your eating habits
- Feeling annoyed
- Feeling anxious or on edge
- Getting overwhelmed and giving up on tasks
- Having trouble sleeping or experiencing other changes in your sleeping patterns
- Using alcohol, nicotine, or other substances to cope
It is also common for people to engage in physical actions to express feelings of frustration. They might sigh, frown, tap their feet, or engage in other repetitive body movements that express their feelings of annoyance and displeasure.
Causes of Frustration
Frustration tends to happen when your goals or expectations don't pan out. You might be engaging in an action or effort that doesn't work as expected or produce the results that you wanted.
Common causes of frustrations include:
- Daily hassles
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Stressful current world events
- Work-related problems
These sources of frustration can arise from either internal or external causes. Internal frustration involves feeling unhappy with some aspect of yourself, whether it is your efforts or your behaviors.
External frustration involves being stressed by something in your external environment. Getting stuck in traffic when you are in a hurry to get to work is an example of an external cause of frustration.
Effects of Frustration
In addition to the immediate symptoms of frustration such as irritability and annoyance, it can also have more lasting effects on your health and well-being.
Research suggests that after a frustrating event, people are left with a lingering mixture of emotions including anger, stress, sadness, and rage.1
Frustration can also lead to other problems, including:
- Aggression: Feelings of anger can lead to aggression that may be directed at yourself or at others.
- Depression: Over time, frustration and disappointment can contribute to feelings of sadness and depression.
- Poor self-esteem: Frustration may also cause you to lose confidence in yourself, particularly when the sources of your feelings tend to be internal.
- Unhealthy behaviors: It isn't uncommon for people to cope with feelings of frustration in maladaptive ways, such as turning to alcohol, drugs, food, or other behaviors that can negatively impact health.
Stress and frustration are connected. Both of these feelings act on each other; feeling stressed can cause you to experience frustration, and frustrating situations often generate stress.
Stress can make you feel more emotionally reactive to events that normally wouldn’t bother you, and it can reduce your tolerance for frustration. Small failures can seem much worse (and much more frustrating). Chronic stress may cause you to feel like you’re not in control of your life, leading to further frustration and even depression.2
Managing stress can help you alleviate feelings of frustration, and improving your tolerance for frustration may help lower your stress levels.
Stress and frustration act on each other in a variety of ways.3 Stress may cause you to feel like you don't have the resources to overcome challenges, and feeling unable to reach your goals is a key component of frustration.4
Frustration is a common reaction to a recurring, unresolved stressor. Frustration is often accompanied by aggression, hostility, impulsivity, and defensiveness—and these emotions can generate their own stress if you don't deal with them in a healthy manner.
Increased frustration, irritability, and sensitivity can be signs of burnout, which is often caused by chronic, unmitigated stress.5
How to Deal With Frustration
The ability to deal with frustration is known as frustration tolerance. Having a high frustration tolerance indicates that you can cope with challenges successfully, while a low tolerance means that you may feel distressed at small inconveniences.
If you have a low tolerance for frustration, there are strategies you can use to improve the way you respond. Seeking professional treatment is also a good option, especially if you're experiencing an underlying condition or your low tolerance is causing negative consequences in your life.
Feeling stressed, tired, or unsure of yourself in a new situation can reduce your frustration tolerance, as can certain conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD), autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).4
Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is linked with the ability to deal with frustration.6 Emotional intelligence is your capacity to notice and evaluate emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to regulate the way you express your feelings.
You can improve your emotional intelligence by:
- Regulating yourself during moments of frustration and waiting for an appropriate moment to express yourself
- Practicing empathy for others, especially people who tend to frustrate you
- Remembering that all emotions are fleeting, including frustration
- Noticing your feelings so you can react appropriately
Fixating on the source of your frustration can actually worsen your feelings. Temporarily distracting yourself can give you the space you need to process.7 Choose an activity that you enjoy, like exercising, doing something creative, listening to music, or watching a movie.
It's important not to let distraction become a pattern of avoidance, however. You should eventually return to the source of your frustration and determine if there are any strategies you can use to solve the problem.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully and nonjudgmentally aware of the present, noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you, as well as the feelings and sensations within you. You can practice mindfulness throughout the day or as a form of meditation.
Staying mindful is a key component of dealing with frustration and stress, as you have to be aware of what you're feeling before you can take steps to address the issue. Mindfulness also encourages you to retain an attitude of acceptance rather than resistance or judgment, and this can have a positive impact on the way you react to frustration.
Use Other Relaxation Techniques
If you find yourself feeling less patient, more frustrated, more emotional, and less able to handle stress, there are several things you can do to feel better. Together with improving your tolerance for frustration, managing your stress is also an important part of maintaining your health.
Stopping your stress response early can help you to respond more calmly, instead of behaving in a way that you might regret.
Quick stress relievers such as breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, for example, can calm you down and help you feel less frustrated and more able to handle what comes.8 Be prepared with quick stress relievers to use next time you feel overwhelmed.
Change Your Attitude
Much of whether or not we see something as stressful depends on our habitual thought patterns and how we process the world around us. For example, those who see things as under their control tend to be less stressed about what happens to them, as they see that they always have options for change.
Change Your Lifestyle
If you feel like you're continually on edge, it’s possible that something needs to change in your life. If you cut down on commitments, take good care of your body, and make other healthy lifestyle changes, you’ll be dealing with less overall stress and you’ll be more effective at managing what you do encounter.
Good nutrition, proper sleep, and regular exercise can work wonders on your stress levels.10
Making time for leisure activities and creative expression is vital as well; downtime is not just a luxury, but a necessary aspect of a balanced lifestyle. Creative activities can be stress-relieving for artists and non-artists alike.
Try engaging in regular stress-relieving activities that fit your personality and lifestyle. Those who regularly walk, meditate, or enjoy other stress-relief activities tend to feel less stressed in general and less reactive to specific stressors that arise throughout the day.11
Draw on Social Support
It's also helpful to have the release and support of sharing your troubles with close friends, family, or loved ones. While it’s not healthy to constantly complain, talking to a trusted friend about your frustrations now and then (and returning the favor by being a good listener) can help you process what’s going on and enable you to brainstorm solutions.12
If you don’t have someone you’re comfortable sharing your situation with, seeing a therapist or starting a regular journaling practice have benefits as well.13
A Word From Verywell
We all feel stressed and frustrated from time to time, but you don't need to allow these feelings to take over your life. By learning to manage your response to stress and frustration, you can reduce the impact they have and improve your overall well-being.