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Emotional fitness- Enhancing Frustration Tolerance:

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Increasing our tolerance for frustration can have profound positive effects on both personal development and interpersonal relationships. Let's explore effective strategies to achieve this goal.


Frustration tolerance not only influences our reactions to the outcomes we desire but also shapes our initial attitudes. How much does frustration tolerance impact our behavior, relationships, and personal growth?


Learning to be tolerant toward ourselves and our frustrations is an integral part of mastering the art of living. Life doesn't always conform to our wishes or satisfy our desires. While there are times when the path to our aspirations may seem clear, there will be instances when we encounter obstacles. In such cases, what choices do we have? Do we become disheartened or embrace the challenges?


As human beings, we possess diverse desires. We yearn for possessions such as cars, jobs, specific cell phones, or university degrees. Consequently, we find ourselves in a constant pursuit of what we lack or attempting to eliminate what we dislike. Both acquisition and relinquishment stem from the desire for what is absent in our lives, like saying, 'I need to own a motorcycle' or 'I need to change to become a better person.' We are all beings with needs.


However, what happens when life seems determined to obstruct our path towards realizing our desires? Frustration arises. The tension between longing for something unattainable generates anger, helplessness, discomfort, anxiety, and despair. This feeling doesn't solely arise from the difficulty of achieving our desires, but from our interpretation, handling, and acknowledgment of unfavorable outcomes.


The impossibility of achieving everything we set out to do is an inherent aspect of being human. Frustration reminds us of our limitations and grounds us in reality. So, what can we do about it? The key lies in fostering tolerance and learning to manage and accept the discrepancy between the ideal and the real.


Frustration tolerance is central to this context. It refers to our ability to navigate unpleasant emotions when faced with unforeseen events that hinder the path to our desires. It's the art of embracing what doesn't align with our expectations.


Characteristics of individuals with low frustration tolerance include:

  • A tendency to procrastinate or engage in avoidance behavior due to an inability to tolerate frustration.

  • Impulsivity in trying to 'fix' situations due to impatience.

  • Experiencing exaggerated discomfort.

  • Pursuing immediate gratification.

  • Giving up when faced with challenges.

  • Avoiding tasks and responsibilities that may cause anguish or frustration.

However, it is possible to cultivate frustration tolerance. We can develop this capacity by gradually experiencing small frustrations. The best way to enhance our tolerance is by immersing ourselves in the experience and allowing the associated emotions to arise. Therefore, any moment of frustration presents an opportunity for practice.

Here are 11 exercises to increase your frustration tolerance:


1. Maintain peace of mind: When faced with frustration, it's essential to remain calm and unaffected. You can practice a Stoic exercise proposed by Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory López in their book 'Live Like a Stoic.' This exercise involves three steps:

  • Imagine a potentially frustrating situation you may encounter today.

  • Mentally repeat the affirmation: "I want to engage in this activity while maintaining inner calm and accepting whatever may happen."

  • Visualize yourself acting calmly in the face of the frustrating situation.


2. Accept your frustrations: Acknowledge the feeling of frustration and the thoughts accompanying it. Accept these emotions with curiosity and kindness, rather than self-criticism. Embrace the present moment, allowing yourself to move towards what you value. To promote acceptance, try the following:

  • Embrace the experience as you would embrace a crying child.

  • Approach your experience with the compassion reserved for someone with a serious illness.

  • Breathe in the experience as deeply as you would take a breath.

  • Surrender the fight against your experience, just as a soldier would lay down their arms upon returning home.


3. Observe your emotions: Once you've identified and accepted the emotions accompanying your frustration, create some distance from them to gain perspective. This will allow you to view your frustration from a broader standpoint. Here are some strategies to help you detach:

  • Consider the larger process and see yourself as part of an ongoing journey of growth.

  • Embrace and accept contradictions, as they enhance tolerance for uncertainty.

  • Shift your perspective by imagining how someone else might view your feelings.

  • Verbalize your worries, acknowledging them as thoughts or emotions, and formulate statements such as "I'm having the thought that..." or "I'm feeling the emotion of..."


4. Practice breathing and maintaining calm: Find a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes, and place one hand on your abdomen just above your navel. Breathe in slowly through your nose, feeling your abdomen rise. Exhale through your nose or mouth, allowing your abdomen to return to its original position. Employ a technique where you inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. You can mentally repeat the words 'calm' or 'quiet' during each exhale. Breathing and relaxation exercises are invaluable for managing frustration and emotional regulation.


5. Anticipate future frustrations: Every morning, reflect on potential situations that may not align with your expectations and could present challenges in satisfying your desires. This exercise helps reduce the impact of unexpected adversities. Use reminders or mantras to reinforce your commitment to improve and increase your frustration tolerance.


6. Embrace small adversities: To enhance your frustration tolerance, deliberately expose yourself to minor discomforts or adversities. These experiences help expand your comfort zone and prepare you to face greater challenges. Pigliucci and Gregory recommend the following exercise:

  • Spend a minute or two listing the types of discomforts that frustrate you.

  • Choose a mild discomfort that you'd like to become more tolerant of, ensuring it's not too overwhelming.

  • Develop an action plan and consistently expose yourself to this discomfort.


7. Transform frustrations into opportunities for personal growth: When circumstances prevent you from attaining what you desire, seize the adversity as an opportunity for personal development. Embrace the adage 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' View frustrating situations as occasions to cultivate frustration tolerance. At the end of each day, reflect on your reactions to moments of frustration. Consider how you could have responded differently and develop new strategies for similar situations.


8. Restructure your thinking: Cognitive restructuring is an exercise that can significantly increase your frustration tolerance. This technique recognizes that thoughts influence emotions and behavior. Modifying your thoughts can, therefore, alter your emotional experience. To apply cognitive restructuring:

  • Identify your thoughts, feelings, and actions when experiencing frustration.

  • Question the accuracy of your thoughts, search for evidence to challenge them, and replace them with more adaptive perspectives.


9. Engage in physical exercise: To boost your frustration tolerance, prioritize your physical well-being. Regular exercise is an effective strategy, as it improves emotional regulation. The American Psychological Association emphasizes the positive impact of physical activity on mental health, reducing anxiety and depression while enhancing mood. Therefore, incorporating exercise into your daily routine will contribute to increasing your frustration tolerance.


10. Develop problem-solving skills: Enhancing your problem-solving abilities can significantly improve frustration tolerance. Becoming proficient in solving difficulties instills confidence and competence when facing adversity. To develop this skill, follow these steps:

  • Identify the problem at hand.

  • Generate potential solutions.

  • Evaluate each solution option.

  • Select an alternative and take action.

  • Monitor the results.

11. Seek professional assistance: If your low frustration tolerance significantly affects your relationship, and your ability to compete, consider seeking help from a psychologist or qualified professional. They can provide valuable tools and guidance to support your journey.


Final thoughts: Living means accepting life's misfortunes and adversities. Understanding and applying these exercises will increase your frustration tolerance, enabling you to navigate problems without unnecessary resistance that disrupts your well-being.

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