Frustration Tolerance

Post Traumatic Growth
August 3, 2022
Back to School for Resilience
August 17, 2022

Frustration Tolerance

I was able to stop myself just before I threw the wrench through the nearest window. OMG! We had been working on the shower for way too long and way too many trips to the hardware store. I don’t tackle plumbing problems often because I always end up super frustrated.  

Frustration tolerance – the ability to tolerate (recognize, manage, regulate) your emotions when faced with disruption, failure, setbacks, and things generally not going as planned. This is a foundational emotional skill largely absent in small children as seen by their throwing themselves on the floor and shrieking because “I want the gween bowl!!!!” 

We grown-ups handle setbacks and disappointments with far more grace and far less noise. Although there are times that our internal toddler is one moment away from shrieking. This is when I say, “I need to use the restroom, I’ll be right back” even though I don’t, and I won’t. Instead of having a fit, I wash my hands very, very slowly, take a few or many deep breaths, and take stock of the situation.  

If you are working on anything that is hard, new, or involves other people, there will be setbacks. How does frustration tolerance help build your resilience? Being able to tolerate frustration allows you to manage your day-to-day existence rather than having your emotional reactions rule the day. Your emotional energy draws from the same well as all your other energy. Having a fit is exhausting and leaves you with fewer resources. 

What helps?

Notice Your Stress

Notice how you are feeling. Frustration often builds underneath your awareness as you tackle something else.  

Example: My conscious brain was working hard on the plumbing problem, “What is the trick to this? Did I get the right part? If I turn this harder, will it fix the problem or break it?” Underneath this focused thought another conversation was stewing: “I did not plan to spend all day on this! Why don’t parts come with instructions? Did that guy at the hardware store even listen to me? I am too weak to turn this. I was stupid to do this. I’m going to spend all day on this and still have to pay a plumber.” I turn the wrench a little harder – and the dripping gets worse. My frustration bubbles to the top and it is all I can do to not throw the wrench through the window. My urge to shatter the window alerts me to just how fed up I am. 

Take a Break

Having noticed you are feeling frustrated, take a break. Take a break for your body, your mind, and your emotions.  

Example: I put down the wrench and step away from the project. My body is stiff, I need to use the bathroom, and I haven’t eaten. I stretch, use the other bathroom (being very grateful to be away from the dripping), and get a snack. I listen to my thoughts – wow! Some toxic self-talk is going on. I challenge the negative stream of consciousness. Yes, this is hard. No, I am not stupid, and if I need to hire a plumber I will. And my emotions – I breathe, look around for some beauty, and read a comic strip taped to the fridge. Yes, this is a tiring way to spend a Sunday, but I can smile at the ridiculousness of it all. 

Make a Plan

Once you’ve had a break decide on a plan: Consider your options. You could quit for now, take baby steps, reenergize and step back in, get more information, or ask for help. There are more options than your frustrated brain could realize. Choose a step to start with.  

Example: I decide to call the 1 -800 number on the parts package with a pencil and paper to take notes.  She clearly states that I am almost there. Keep turning in the same direction. The dripping stops!!! We are done. (Note – this project would have been finished sooner, with less stress, if I had tuned into my frustration and managed the growing tension sooner.) 

Accept Your Limitations

Accept your limitations. The goal is moving forward in life, not absolute perfection.  

Example: It is now that we realize that that the ring around the faucet is backwards – hot is cold and cold is hot. But it works and we saved a lot of money by doing it ourselves.  Good enough. 

The next time your internal toddler is about to lose it, tune into your body, thoughts, and emotions, and name your frustration. Remember to take a break, take care of yourself, and come up with a new plan. Work for progress, not perfection, so that we all can live in a more resilient world.  


Laura A. Gaines