If you are easily flustered, bothered, or angered by everyday inconveniences, you may need to raise your tolerance for frustration. Thankfully, anyone can build emotional regulation with science-backed skills to feel calmer in the face of stressful triggers.
Let’s dig into the roots of low frustration tolerance and how to build more emotional regulation so you can enjoy better relationships, greater productivity, and a more optimistic mindset.
What is Low Frustration Tolerance? (Definition)
People with low frustration tolerance have a hard time coping with inconveniences, discomfort, or difficult everyday situations. In simple terms, they are very easily frustrated. Low frustration tolerance is marked by a high sensitivity to stressors due to a lack of emotional regulation skills.
From minor annoyances to full-fledged rage, a low frustration tolerance can make even the smallest hindrances, like traffic or waiting in line, lead to major emotional reactions or outbursts. In contrast, high frustration tolerance is the ability to withstand and overcome stressful events healthily. Frustration is a natural human emotion, but we all need the skills to cope.
Key Note: Low frustration tolerance is not a personality disorder or medical condition, although it can be associated with other conditions. Nothing here should be misconstrued as medical advice. If you’re struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a licensed therapist or mental health professional. Mental Health America’s helpful list1https://www.mhanational.org/finding-therapy is a great place to start.
Signs of Low Frustration Tolerance
A very low threshold marks low frustration tolerance for daily frustrations. Lost keys? Traffic? A miscommunication? Work problems? A small inconvenience? If you have a low tolerance for frustration, you may assert, “there is no such thing as a minor inconvenience.”
When things start going awry, you can feel the annoyance or anger bubbling up inside you. Maybe you begin to feel the tension in your body, an urge to yell or cry or an impulse to throw your hands up and give up entirely. You may know that your reaction is illogical or exaggerated, but you don’t know how to stop it.
The key signs of low frustration tolerance include:
- Feeling easily irritated by others
- Getting angry at everyday stressors
- Giving up on tough tasks immediately
- A tendency to lash out at people who are close to you
- Frequent procrastination because of an inability to endure tedious or difficult tasks
- Exaggerated reactions to inconvenience or discomfort
- Lower-quality relationships due to intense communication or “lashing out”
- Impatience or restlessness
Causes of Low Frustration Tolerance
Frustration intolerance can stem from a variety of causes, from mental health conditions to personality quirks. A few common causes include:
- Negative thought patterns
- Neurodivergent mental health conditions like ADHD, depression, and anxiety
- Belief systems like “life should be easy” or “unfair things always happen to me”
- Lack of stress coping mechanisms
9 Strategies to Cope With and Avoid Frustration
Frustration is a natural emotion, but it can be hard to manage without the proper skills. If you find yourself easily angered or irritated, your mental health, productivity, and relationships can suffer. Add these 9 science-backed tips to your frustration toolbox so you can be more resilient when stressful situations arise.
#1 Use the emotion wheel to identify your feelings
Sometimes we don’t have the vocabulary to clearly communicate how we feel. The result is a bunch of confusing feelings mushed inside our minds and bodies with seemingly no way to escape.
In comes the emotion wheel! Psychologists developed2https://www.jstor.org/stable/27857503 an emotion wheel to help identify complex emotions and productively work through them. This is the ultimate tool for emotional regulation because labeling how you feel helps you increase your emotional intelligence and redirect your behavior.
When you look at the wheel, you realize that annoyance (frustration) is really a component of anger. But annoyance can easily shift upward into interest and curiosity (e.g., “Wow, why is this know-it-all person irritating me so much? Maybe my mind is reacting to something I feel insecure about in myself. Perhaps, I could work on being less dominating in conversations.”)
Take some time to study The Emotion Wheel: How to Use it And Master Your Emotions.
#2 Put things in perspective
Reframe frustration as something positive. Any strong emotion appears in your life to teach you something or draw your attention to an area where you can improve. When you zoom out your perspective beyond the present challenge, you may realize that your past frustrations were actually the fuel that pushed you forward.
For example, imagine you hate your job, and just about every daily task could boil your blood. A positive reframe for this frustration would be channeling your frustrated energy into starting a side hustle, searching for new jobs every evening.
You may adopt a mindset of, “I will do anything to get out of this job.” In this instance, your frustration ignites a fire for positive change. On the other hand, a negative form of frustration would be going home from work every day and unloading your emotional stress on your dog or spouse.
The latter response would leave you stuck in the same cycle of hating your job and harming your relationships. A positive view of frustration could help you take your power back!
Reframe frustration as:
- A powerful catalyst for change: “I can’t take this anymore!” could be the ultimate push for you to create a positive transformation in your life.
- An opportunity to learn something new: When you feel angry, stressed, or overwhelmed, remind yourself that the difficult challenge you are facing is an opportunity to learn. This is the hallmark of a growth mindset. Once you finally figure something out, it can boost your confidence and improve your skill sets for your career or hobbies.
- A sign of growth: Frustration can indicate that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, which is a key indicator of personal growth and development
#3 Prevent explosions with healthy anger release
Suppressing your anger or frustration tends to make it worse. While emotional repression is mostly subconscious, emotional suppression involves intentionally avoiding your emotions because you don’t know how to deal with them.
But pushing down your feelings is like continuously pouring soda into a bottle and shaking it up. Eventually, it will explode. In order to prevent explosions, you can face your frustrations head-on as they arise.
Instead of avoiding your frustration, psychologists recommend3https://mhanational.org/10-healthy-ways-release-rage managing and releasing anger in a productive way. Here are some ideas:
|Unhealthy Anger Release||Healthy Anger Release|
|Yelling or screaming at other people (“This is all your fault!” or “Why the heck would you do this?”)||Screaming into a pillow or singing loudly to a song in the car|
|Avoidance or passive-aggressive communication (“It’s fine, I’ll deal with it later.”)||Clear, assertive, premeditated communication (“Honestly, when you did X, it made me feel very frustrated. Next time, could you do Y instead?”)|
|Physical aggression toward others (this should always be avoided)||Hitting a punching bag, doing an intense workout, or going on a run|
|Derogatory comments to yourself or others (“I am such a failure,” or “You always mess things up.”)||Reframing negative thoughts (“I can overcome this challenge,” or “If we work together to figure this out, it will make us stronger.”)|
|Accusatory comments that focus blame on others (“This is all your fault! You did XYZ, and it caused this problem for me.”)||Taking accountability and using “I” statements (“I feel very overwhelmed and irritated by this situation, but I recognize that I did XYZ wrong. How can we find a solution together?”)|
#4 Break the negative thought loop
We all know how easy it is to get stuck in a negative thought loop. When you have low frustration tolerance, you can easily fall into degrading thoughts about yourself or other people.
Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)4https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886907001286 are strong feelings or mental reactions that happen as automatic reflexes. Over time, your brain has created a strong neural pathway that sends you spiraling into a negative mental space each time you have a similar experience.
For example, let’s say you are trying to figure out a difficult task. You have no idea what you’re doing and can’t seem to find the right information. Your inner self-talk starts reeling: “I am so stupid. Why can’t I figure this out? This is so dumb, I quit.” Clearly, these are harmful thoughts that reduce your self-esteem and make it more difficult to accomplish the task.
Breaking and rerouting these pathways takes time and work, but every time you break the cycle, you build more resilience. Interrupt your negative thought spiral with silent or spoken reminders to yourself:
- “Wait, that is not true. I can figure this out.”
- “I am smart and have all the resources I need to get this done.”
- “My life is so much bigger than this moment. This too shall pass.”
- “I refuse to believe that thought. I know I am capable.”
Learn more about stopping automatic negative thoughts in this video:
#5 Do little things to practice more patience
Mild challenges can build the groundwork for future frustration tolerance in more stressful scenarios. When you are feeling calm and relaxed, build your problem-solving and patience with low-stress activities. Try:
- Solving a puzzle
- Coloring in an adult coloring book
- Putting together a piece of furniture
- Solving a Rubik’s cube
- Practice deep breathing while waiting in line at a store
- Going to a yoga class
- Practicing mindful eating without distractions
#6 Refocus your energy
When you get stuck in a stressful moment, it’s natural to obsess over the trigger. In fact, psychologists call this the “amygdala hijack.5http://shibleyrahman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/For-Jenni.pdf” The amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for emotional processing and “fight or flight” reactions.
When stress or frustration takes over, the prefrontal cortex (the logical part of your brain) shuts off, and the amygdala takes hold. You become hyper-focused on the perceived threat because your body is trying to protect you.
Overcoming the amygdala hijack is all about self-awareness and redirection. For example, notice when your frustration starts rising in traffic. Instead of getting road rage or fuming at the stand-still traffic jams, consider redirecting your focus by:
- Turning on a podcast (if you can safely use your phone)
- Singing along to a song on the radio
- Taking a deep breath
- Looking for shapes in the clouds
- Smiling at a car next to you
- Calling a friend or family member with hands-free Bluetooth calling
- Playing with a fidget toy
#7 Ask for help or space to vent
Venting can be a very positive form of emotional processing and problem-solving. You can process your frustrations out loud in a safe space with someone you trust. However, improper venting or emotional dumping can also have very negative impacts on your mental health and relationships.
The secret to healthy venting is choosing the right person to vent to. Ironically, research shows that venting6https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/AMD.2018.0066 to a “supportive” listener rarely makes venters feel better. Instead, try venting to someone who:
- Is emotionally available for venting: If someone doesn’t have the mental space to help you, they are not a good choice for a venting listener. Ask in advance— “Is it OK if I vent to you about this work problem for a second? I would really appreciate your perspective.” Don’t take it personally if their answer is “no.”
- Challenges your thoughts and feelings: This is not the friend who tells you what you want to hear. They love you and want to see you grow, so they may offer constructive criticism or ask you questions that help you develop more self-awareness. It may seem counterintuitive, but research shows6https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/AMD.2018.0066 that a “challenger” listener is far more helpful for overcoming frustration.
- Remain calm and neutral: It is essential to approach venting with a calm, collected mindset. Be sure both people have taken some deep breaths and relaxed before a venting session starts.
When you vent, take care never to take out your frustrated emotions on the person who is listening. They are trying to help you and do not deserve to be treated as an emotional “dumping ground.”
Take some time to journal and process your feelings before you vent out loud. Then, if you want to build that relationship further, let them know that you will gladly listen to their venting as well.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone in your personal life, consider speaking to a therapist about your frustrations. They can offer a neutral third-party assessment of your life and help you implement tools that are specifically catered to your mental health needs.
#8 Allow yourself and others grace
If you are a perfectionist, it can be very irritating to see things go differently than you imagined. You may be angry at yourself for not being able to meet your own expectations. Other people can also be a major source of frustration when they don’t meet your standards.
The remedy for this is grace. This means that you can forgive yourself and others for shortcomings and extend more courtesy. Here are a few ways to overcome perfectionism with more tolerance:
- Allow yourself to make mistakes. Instead of seeing mistakes as failures, reframe them as lessons. Ask yourself, “What did I learn from this?”
- Focus on positive accomplishments. When someone achieves something, recognize and celebrate it. Practice self-recognition and self-praise as well.
- Understand that not everyone has the same standards as you. It is OK for them to set their bar at a different level because they may have other priorities.
- Remember that you are only responsible for your work. You cannot control other people’s actions or emotions.
- Learn how to give constructive criticism and How to Handle Criticism Gracefully: 12 Pro Tips.
#9 Decompress with these quick relaxation techniques
In the heat of the moment, you may just need a quick way to calm the heck down.
Here are some of our favorites:
Progressive muscle relaxation: This is a popular skill for people who face anxiety, but you can use it in any scenario when you need to relax.
Here is how to do it:
EFT tapping: Emotional freedom techniques (EFTs)7http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe/article/view/33 are proven to reduce anxiety and enhance focus. This simple relaxation method helps calm the mind and rewire subconscious thoughts using pressure points on your face and body.
Here is a great EFT tapping sequence for overcoming frustration:
5-second countdown: Mel Robbins’ famous 5-Second-Rule can be used to overcome frustration because it catapults you into action. When you feel irritated, think of an immediate response that will help you move out of that state. If you feel overwhelmed by how dirty a room is, count 5-4-3-2-1 and pick up one thing, and put it away. If you feel frustrated by a huge project, count 5-4-3-2-1 and take one small step to get started.
Learn more in this video:
We are so honored to help you build more frustration tolerance! If you are still looking for the help you need, please note that all content found on this website is not to be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns concerning your physical or mental health. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list1https://www.mhanational.org/finding-therapy.
Key Takeaways: Raise Your Frustration Tolerance With Healthy Habits
Ultimately, a low frustration threshold can make it difficult to build healthy relationships and enjoy your daily life. As you learn to regulate your thoughts and face your emotions healthily, you may feel calmer and more equipped to face life’s inevitable challenges.
You cannot change what happens to you, but you can always control how you react. Try to:
- Reframe frustration as a positive fuel for growth and learning.
- Deal with anger in a healthy way. Don’t suppress it!
- Create a plan for refocusing your energy in moments of intense frustration.
- Practice self-regulation by identifying your emotions.
- Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist using healthy venting practices.
Want more ways to cope with stressful events? Here are 24 Powerful Tips to Deal with Anxiety.
How to Deal with Difficult People at Work
Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.