Help me be less frustrated!
October 4, 2013 8:15 AM   Subscribe

My default emotion seems to be a mixture of annoyance and frustration. This is itself frustrating. I don't want to be like this.

Usually my frustration or annoyance arises when I am attempting to accomplish a specific task but am hindered by some obstacle. These are usually things which are not actually meaningful/changeable so I am basically just making my own experience of life more stressful and not fixing anything. I've been this way for pretty much as long as I remember, but I'm over 30 now, so it's time to figure out how to stop.

Concrete examples:
* I enjoyed learning in high school but felt hindered by (and was therefore frustrated with) the people who needed more time to grasp a subject.
* Where I live, many people have bikes with kickstands, and they park them all over (behind other bikes, jammed between bikes, etc); I get frustrated when trying to remove my bike from such a bike rack.
* I worked as a programmer where our workflow was constantly interrupted by marketing requests (argh!)
* When I am answering technical questions, certain people will ask (seemingly) non-related questions which interrupt the flow/structure of the explanation.

There's perfectly reasonable explanations for things being the way they are, but while they're happening I get frustrated and annoyed and sort of stressed out, which in turn can lead to me being an impetuous dick (which is something I'm working on not being, but better to attack the cause; thus this question).

So, what kind of tactics/whatever can I use to combat this?
posted by beerbajay to Human Relations (32 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, this happens to me for sure. The two main culprits these days are public transit and computer issues.

This will sound corny, but what works for me is to pay attention to my mood and, if I notice myself getting frustrated, say "Wait. Right now, am I hot, hungry, thirsty, or tired?" Because those things make my frustration far worse. But! Even if I'm NOT any of those things, the act of pausing and doing a mental health check on myself is usually enough to take me outside of my obsessive irritation and make me look at it more objectively.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:23 AM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Firstly, it's important to acknowledge that your frustration is justified. All of those examples are annoying because you can't do the thing you want to do quickly and efficiently. As a biker in a city, I feel your pain.

However, as you've learned, you can't control other people, you can only control your reaction to them. For example, in cases where they aren't there, just say to yourself, "ugh, annoying other bikers. But they were just trying to find a spot, and I can't change them. So I'll get my bike out and think about something else fun." And then thinking about your destination or people you like or just be in the moment and notice the beauty of biking around.

When people ARE there, you can minimize the annoyances. If someone is asking a non-related question, try saying, "Good question, I'll get back to that. But to wrap up this...".

So basically, be assertive when you can, and let it go when you can't. And by letting it go, I find what works best for me is just distracting myself. I say, "self travels, fellow traveler", to remind myself that they're not Trying to annoy me by cutting me off, even if it's frustrating. And then I think about that pretty tree or my beloved or dinner or Anything but dwelling on the frustration.
posted by ldthomps at 8:28 AM on October 4, 2013

For me, I employ a bit of "fake it 'til you make it" in these situations. I try to find the frustrating aspects funny and laugh at them, even if they're annoying the crap out of me. So disentangling the bikes from the rack? I'd try to see it as a Gordian knot of silliness and picture myself in a "Mr. Bean" type of situation. Just changing the viewpoint on it can help.
posted by xingcat at 8:29 AM on October 4, 2013

Another thing to watch for is whether the annoyance is mostly projecting. When I'm at my most frustrated and annoyed, I will sit myself down with an empty screen and ask myself why the commute/that meeting/something else mundane is making me so angry. Usually there's an underlying anger and frustration that I'm ignoring. Therapy helped me identify that, and now I can do it pretty well myself.
posted by ldthomps at 8:30 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I'm depressed, my patience level decreases dramatically. I could be way off base, but how's your overall satisfaction with life? Anything else going on mentally or emotionally that may need your attention?
posted by Specklet at 8:41 AM on October 4, 2013

The idea of "learned optimism" - and particularly the ABCDE technique - is something I have found helpful. So when there's a frustrating event, dispute your initial reaction. When I take a minute to do that and give the other guy the benefit of the doubt, I feel better.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

if I notice myself getting frustrated, say "Wait. Right now, am I hot, hungry, thirsty, or tired?"

I came in to say basically this. Is it possible that, due to your lifestyle or whatever it may be, you tend to be a little dehydrated, or have slightly low bloodsugar? Do you have any chronic low level pain issues? My particular go-to list when I want to punch something and cry for seemingly no good reason is "Am I ouchy, hungry, thirsty, do I need to go to the bathroom, do I need a hug, am I cold?" Sometimes it's all of them, to a small extent.

Since you're working on the "don't be a dick" problem look at caring for yourself in this way as going to the source. Sometimes a lifestyle change as small as getting comfortable shoes, or keeping a protein bar for a mid-morning snack in your pocket, or just asking your SO for a hug in the morning can make the difference between shrugging off life's little injustices and biting someone's head off.
posted by Mizu at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

People are annoying, there is no doubt. Having someone/where to vent makes life easier.

Also, acknowledging to yourself that you are also annoying can sometimes take the sting out of things because fuck knows that you're not actively trying to annoy people so it seems reasonable to think that you not alone in this. Sometimes shit happens. Turn it into an anecdote and shake it off.

If you can find someone to mention it to you'll probably feel better.
posted by h00py at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2013

I went to bed frustrated last night and woke up frustrated this morning. Then I sat down and listed the things that were bugging me. Fourteen in all and none that I could do anything about in the moment. One was a high electric bill I just received at my new house. So I called the energy company and they explained this was actually the last bill for my old house - an antique energy sieve, and the amount was in line with what I'd been paying in prior months. My mood instantly lifted, just because I could strike off one of the 14 items on my list, as if the remaining 13 didn't still bother me.

What I am getting at is that a little bit of positive seems to be able to erase a lot of negative, at least for a time.
posted by Dragonness at 8:59 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

The mnemonic I use for frustration is HALT

Am I:


These things drastically decrease my ability to cope.

The more I am knitting the better I am able to handle frustration. Knitting has a lot in common with meditation (some would say it is meditation) with the added bonus of something tangible at the end. I recommend dishcloths for this. Just make a square in cotton.

Yoga helps too, and so does getting a nice long walk.

The secret seems to be practicing decreasing frustration when there are not so many frustrating things going on, so that when something does happen, I have the skills polished and ready to go.
posted by bilabial at 9:10 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find I do best dealing with my frustration and annoyance when I am not already stressed out to begin with. That way when something stressful/frustrating happens it isn't adding to the pile of existing stress/frustration. What has helped me the most is doing guided meditation every night before bed. It has brought my net stress levels WAY down and now my knee jerk isn't to be frustrated and annoyed. I can handle annoying situations more calmly.

How are your stress levels in general?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Learning how to let things go is a skill and it takes constant vigilance while you're learning it. A few tricks I've learned when I become aware of being unreasonably irritable include:
  • Practicing gratitude -- thinking about things I'm grateful for and writing them down on a regular basis really helps put things into perspective and helps raise my tolerance for life's daily BS.
  • Becoming hyper-aware of the present moment -- if I start breathing consciously and becoming really present by noticing how it feels to be in my body, the colors and sounds around me, unbiasedly observing the thoughts I'm thinking, somehow the thing that is irritating me doesn't seem so important.
  • Observing what is annoying me -- specifically I ask myself, does this actually hurt me enough to justify dwelling on this, what good outcome is there by not just letting people be people and forgetting about this, would I honestly rather be annoyed about this or not be annoyed about this?
  • Acknowledging that I have the power to change my thoughts -- I really do have the power to stop thinking about things a certain way. I can decide that I'm done being mad and I'm going to start being calm. Note: Sometimes this is harder than others, during the hard times, pictures of cats doing silly things helps me a lot.
When I first started working on these things, it took a lot of conscious effort, now the only real conscious effort on my part is recognizing that I'm being a jerk or making myself miserable. Once I've noticed that, these practices just kind of kick in naturally.
posted by Kimberly at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I feel like I say this all the time BUT this can be a symptom of ADD/ADHD. I get an incredibly intense frustration when someone needs something from me (that I can easily and would otherwise happily provide) but just WILL NOT GET TO THE POINT. Similarly I also cannot bear small talk.

It is entirely possible that I am just a jerk.

My solutions are to scream internally a lot and imagine those who vex me being eaten by dragons. The shiba inu puppycam is also very helpful.
posted by elizardbits at 9:16 AM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

You need to practice the skill of radical acceptance. Over and over again. It means recognizing what you cannot control (many of the things you listed as examples are not within your control) and remind yourself with some statement or mantra, like "This is how it is. Even though I don't like it, I can accept/tolerate it." Even if you believe you can't tolerate it, you have actually been tolerating it because you're still alive and have not exploded from sheer annoyance. You've just been making yourself and others miserable in the process by acting frustrated. You can stand it; you've already stood it for a long time. Now you are going to work on standing it more calmly, with less misery.

If there IS a reasonable way of making something better in the future, you work on it, but only after practicing a basic acceptance of the current reality.

Acceptance isn't something you do once and then it's done, it's a practice that will need to be repeated indefinitely. But it does ease frustration and can feel more natural over time. I say this as a similarly frustrated and annoyed person who hates the fact that the world in general is set up in such a stupid and inefficient way. But that's how it is.
posted by Ouisch at 9:27 AM on October 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

Holyyyyy crap, this is me. Me me me.

Hopefully, this isn't too hokey or woo, but mindfulness meditation has made a huge difference for me.

I'm not up on the Buddhist path to enlightenment, and it isn't for me, but I love the idea that none of this little crap matters. Hell, none of the big crap matters either. What matters is how you treat yourself, and others. What matters is learning to acknowledge and re-direct your thoughts and emotions, and let that inner peace (sorry, dumb phrase) translate into behavior.

Rather than getting frustrated with my frustration, or annoyed that I'm annoyed, I've started seeing the horrible tourists in Times Square or the keys to my front door as an opportunity to further my mindfulness skills and life-long practice.

The idea is that maybe, someday, hopefully these things won't bother me anymore.


If you're interested, my meditation teacher introduced to me the idea of "always having a project."

Pick one small Annoying Thing and work on not being annoyed with it. Try to start seeing that Annoying Thing as another opportunity to quiet your mind, your frustrations, and emotions.

So, maybe don't start with the marketing requests—if that seems more difficult. Start with the bike lock. Spend one day not getting mad at it.

Commit to it. Breathe through it. Make up a DIY mantra, like, "It doesn't fucking matter. Thank you, bike lock, for giving me this moment to gather myself, and prove to myself that I can be peaceful, even though I want to hurl you into the street."

(FWIW, my current project is "Not Huffing And Tailgating Tourists On The Sidewalk." I'm two months in. Last week, a friend and I were walking in horrible Herald Square, when we encountered another group of confused tourists, and actually said to me, "Gee, you're so patient with tourists. Amazing." So, it's working!)
posted by functionequalsform at 9:36 AM on October 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

To piggy back on Ouisch, the other piece of that is to start recognizing that your own judgments are a big factor in being frustrated. Try to catch yourself making those judgments. So for example if you are annoyed that someone is asking a question you're probably judging them negatively for that "I'm trying to explain this and they're interrupting me....that's rude" is going to lead you to feel annoyed. Vs. "They just asked me a question (no judgment attached)" you're probaby not going to be annoyed. Try to be mindful of your emotions and tell yourself "I'm making a judgment." as a way of breaking yourself of the habit.
posted by goggie at 9:36 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

(1) Perhaps there is something missing from your life that brings a level of fulfillment or joy great enough to outshine the pain in the ass stuff. (2) Perhaps some things that bring you the greatest dissatisfaction can be eliminated from your life. (Also, Kimberly's comment above very much rings true to me.)

Two years ago I was telling my shrink how, everyday at work, I battled intrusive thoughts of clamping my jaws into the carotid arteries of the idiots I worked with... I was so angry and miserable! I received advice from the shrink similar to the above advice, and made baby steps towards acceptance of things I cannot change and gratitude for all that is good, etc. THEN, I was laid off from the job. It scared the heck out of me to be unemployed, and I would never have quit, but as I drove away from that job I left with it all of those crazy, pissed off fantasies and feelings. Moral of the story: Sometimes you just gotta walk away from a bad situation (and I found new job the next day! And, I found a better job the next month!!)

My early 20's were the most frustrating for me. I used to curse the weather, and curse Everybody Doing It Wrong in supermarkets and in cars. What got me out of that rut was not eliminating bad things, but adding good things. Love, passion, etc.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 9:43 AM on October 4, 2013

IANAP, but to me, this sounds like a classic symptom of clinical depression. It's exactly what I experienced until I got on meds, and it's exactly what became 90% less of a big deal once I got on them. So my suggested tactics are: Go to a psychologist (NOT a GP, or anyone without "PhD" or "PsyD" after his/her name), who can size you up and refer you to a psychiatrist (who can do the actual prescribing).
posted by Rykey at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2013

Here's something a therapist showed me years ago that is blazingly fast in curing this kind of a thing:

1. Go to a quiet room with a chair in it.
2. Sit in the chair and think for as long as you can about everything that pissed you off that day, all of it- the bikes, the co-workers, the infinite distractions.
3. Don't do anything else in that chair but think about these problems.

4. See how long you can sit in that chair before you get sick of it and leave.

Sounds a little harsh, but The Worry Chair is remarkably efficient in reminding you that there are better uses of your time than letting the world wear you down.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:25 AM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Before you go all out on deep spiritual/mindfulness stuff, try getting more sleep. An earlier bedtime, or a midday nap, might do the trick.
posted by The Toad at 10:50 AM on October 4, 2013

You understand the source of anger - that your wishes are being thwarted. This is great!

One - Let go of wanting to have your way all the time. Having your way all the time will not make you happy. Letting go of the anger WILL make you happy. Anger itself is the obstacle to your happiness, not the "imagined" obstacle of not getting your way. Furthermore, statistically speaking, you won't get your way all the time. It's just a fact of life!

Two - Contemplate the faults of anger.

One of the most harmful effects of anger is that it robs us of our reason and good sense. Wishing to retaliate against those whom we think have harmed us, we expose ourself to great personal danger merely to exact petty revenge. To get our own back for perceived injustices or slights, we are prepared to jeopardize our job, our relationships, and even the well-being of our family and children. When we are angry we lose all freedom of choice, driven here and there by an uncontrollable rage. Sometimes this blind rage is even directed at our loved ones and benefactors. In a fit of anger, forgetting the immeasurable kindness we have received from our friends, family, or Spiritual Teachers, we might strike out against and even kill the ones we hold most dear. It is no wonder that an habitually angry person is soon avoided by all who know him.

Next time you feel yourself getting frustrated, remember that no one gets what they want all the time, and remember how anger itself is the problem. This will help you get a grip on your anger before it balloons into full-blown anger.

Finally - Because you are also angry at being "interrupted," it strikes me that you may think the other person knows how concentrated you are, how important your current task is, then doesn't care and interrupts you anyhow. I can assure you this is not the case. The interruptor is only thinking about him/herself, and stopping to ask because they have a need that they think you can fill. So try to see things from their point of view - they are not intentionally trying to annoy you or interrupt your work. They are simply thinking about themselves. Each time you call someone up to ask a question, consider how THEY might currently be in the middle of something, and feel as though your question is an annoyance. You will soon see that in a work place we all rely on each other for things; sometimes you get and sometimes you give. This will help you see things in a more balanced way, as opposed to the "me"-centric way you are seeing it now.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:50 AM on October 4, 2013

Not sure this will stop you becoming annoyed in the first place, but it could help turn your mood more positive fairly quickly: come up with the most ridiculous insult you could (but of course don't actually) call the person who is the source of your annoyance. Sometimes my husband and I play this game in the car (when another driver does something stupid), and we end up laughing.

Maybe your sense of humour is more developed, but our insults usually involve bodily secretions/excretions or functions with an additional adverb or adjective. Oh, and the if the insult includes the word "bubble" or "noodle", it is always a winner. :)
posted by Halo in reverse at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

So one of the common things in psychology is your reactions are tied in to your physical state. Like if you have a spider phobia, the fight or flight response kicks in and you get all tense and part of your reaction is to the state of being tight and ready to fight in addition to the spider.

Or people who are stressed are frequently tensed, physically, like their muscles are all a'clench and they're on the edge ready to pounce. I know people who walk around with this massive physical tension that keeps them on a knife edge because they constantly subject themselves to things that make them angry, then they feel tense and angry, then they are more likely to be angry and react to other things.

One of the ways they desensitize you when they're treating you for your spiderphobia or whatever is getting you to relax, because you can't be tensed and worked up and panicky AND relaxed and meditative, the two physical states conflict.

This is where exercise comes in handy for me because let me tell you, after a few hours of nearly killing myself at the gym, the last thing I am even physically capable of is being tense and angry about anything, but even something slower and meditative like yoga is useful because like I said, you can't be relaxed and maintaining that tension. Even a quick meditation may help. Shut your eyes and be aware of your body. Are you feeling tense? Where are you feeling that tension? Try to relax that and see if you're as annoyed. You probably won't be.

And go through your list and try to figure out what you're really angry about. Like at the bike rack, are you annoyed just because it's SOOO DIFFICULT to remove your bike, or are you annoyed because other people aren't following the "rules" and you are? Is that maybe a constant theme in your frustration? Likewise, the marketing requests, are you annoyed just because of the interruption or are you annoyed because you think their requests are dumb or invalid? Because if they're interrupting you, you may be able to change your workflow or situation by being more assertive (shutting your office door? putting on headphones? setting up a ticket system they can use to submit requests formally that you can get to on your own time?), but if this is a higher "Marketing is dumb and asks for stupid stuff" problem, well, you have a much deeper well of frustration to plumb.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:21 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your examples all seem to be about you feeling impatient. Maybe it would help if you just took your time and let others take theirs.
posted by rue72 at 11:35 AM on October 4, 2013

I thought of another thing that helps me.

Imagining that there is a really really good reason that the person 1driving like a maniac/2dawdling on the sidewalk/3being extra chatty in the express line with their 25 items.

(this is informed by what are known as funadmental attribution errors/ focal errors in sociology/social psychology)

Basically, I try to convince myself that the other person isn't being a selfish jerk, but is experiencign circumstances that I can't see.

1Rushing a laboring wife to the hospital, 2nursing a twisted ankle, 3just really fucking lonely in the grocery line and the express checkout lady is the only person who is consistently nice over the course of a day.

In these cases, bristling at the inconvenience doesn't speed things up, and speaking up doesn't either. But speaking up (or honking) usually does escalate the situation/embarass the other person/otherwise make things worse.
posted by bilabial at 1:37 PM on October 4, 2013

In addition to bilabial's technique, I also view my feelings as a symptom, not reality. This lets me quickly pivot from "argh!" to "hmm... frustration levels in the 80th percentile... intriguing... what could be the cause?" I have one or two indicators I consistently track; annoyance with other carts at the grocery store is one. I usually discover that I've overscheduled myself or am not getting enough sleep.
posted by salvia at 2:14 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

See how long you can sit in that chair before you get sick of it and leave.

Sounds a little harsh, but The Worry Chair is remarkably efficient in reminding you that there are better uses of your time than letting the world wear you down.

I'd be careful with this advice, depending on your sense of self, because some of us are inclined to sit there forever.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

JOURNAL! I have this exact same problem, and while sitting in the worry chair may work for some, I honestly know that I will not go and sit and do nothing but rage for a few minutes because it is too passive, journalling on the other hand involves activity and venting and it calms me down.

-make sure you have enough air (deep breaths) and water (get water)
-mumble to yourself 'calm down, calm down...'
-journal!! what i usually do e.g. in class when i feel very terse and NOT AMUSED at whatever bogus it is that day, I might just whip out my journal and start scribbling 'hey diary, I feel frustrated. It feels like there is an invisible monster locked in my chest that wants to get out and all my muscles are tense and i want to PUNCH SOMEONE and SCREAM because I am forced to learn at the same speed at these DUMMIES!! HOW CAN PEOPLE BE SUCH DUMMIES and why should I have to suffer because of it??? However I guess this is good practise at patience and being zen, and I guess the way I could make the most of this situation is by reviewing what was taught last lesson until the teacher moves on to something new so I am revising while they are learning...'

So basically by rambling you let out some of the steam and gradually either justify why this is the only way things could be, and accept that, or you find a solution.

Exercising regularly also keeps you healthy and keeps your anger levels normal
posted by dinosaurprincess at 12:19 AM on October 5, 2013

I find HALT golden for understanding my mental state in dealing with minor frustrations, and a small bit of mindful introspection for the bigger one, identifying my particular emotion and bringing it into my conscious awareness.

Overall being able to give a name to your feelings and understand why you feel as you do, is really useful for me in getting me off the hamster wheel of frustration and deal with them productively .
posted by Middlemarch at 3:01 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found getting enough sleep to be key to managing anger and frustration. Cutting way down on caffeine also helped a lot: before I switched to decaf I used to want to kill someone before I even got in to work. Now it takes at least one "team meeting" in which our admin person takes half an hour to tell us that there is a new form to fill in for leave...
posted by rpfields at 6:22 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are myriad reasons for being frustrated and almost as many for being habitually frustrated. The people I've known who I knew were like this* were all constantly seeking validation from other people. Something to think about. Waiting for the world to change is not a good strategy.

* Distinguished from people who may be seething inside but do not show or complain about their frustration.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:13 AM on October 5, 2013

I've been using a simple mantra to help me through some difficult times recently. It's from Kristin Neff's "Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave Insecurity Behind." I feel a lot of the same kinds of frustrations as you do, and I've found saying this to myself really helps. There are four parts, but I feel better by step 2 if I stop and try to connect with others.

1. You're experiencing a moment of suffering. [Sometimes I identify the actual type: and it's caused by anger, frustration, loneliness, sadness.]

2. Everyone in the world feels this way sometimes.

3. May I be kind to myself in this moment. (Usually this take the form of some calming breaths)

4. May I give myself the compassion I need.

Once you're kind and compassionate to yourself, I've found, you can then be kind and compassionate to others.
posted by LynnDee at 9:48 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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