How Do You Handle Frustration?

September 7, 2023

Man, was I pissed! And I had every right to be. I had relied on someone to handle a task for me. I’m their client. They’re supposed to handle it. It’s their job! But they didn’t. And there I was getting upset, realizing I had wasted half a day—trying to fix the problem—only to conclude that there was ultimately nothing I could do to solve it. The opportunity was lost. Gone. Couldn’t get it back. I had to surrender and accept it.

I’ve been doing men’s work for about 30 years. I counsel and I’ve been counseled. I’ve participated in men’s retreats and I’ve run them. I help men every day, and I continue to ask for help to be the best man I can be.

Yet despite all the work I’ve done to be a better me, occasionally, still, something can happen, someone can screw up, some set of circumstances can throw me off track, make a mess of my day, obliterate my good attitude, ruin my evening, or otherwise make me feel or behave like the man I once was. And depending on the situation and my state-of-mind, the impact can make me angry, sad, self-pitying, discouraged, numb, disconnected, and absolutely no fun to be with…or to be.

And I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s part of the human experience. Overcoming these external influences to remain that centered, loving, and compassionate individual you’ve worked so hard to become is what this work of self-improvement and transformation is all about. No one can make us feel any way we don’t choose to feel ourselves, so the ancient wisdom tells us. And I agree. Yet in those moments, many of us would tend to disagree, vehemently.

Though I’d rather not have to remind you of what those awful consequences look like, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay a little attention to the damage we can cause when we’re not the captains on our own ships.

As men, when we overreact we act out in numerous and damaging ways. We yell, berate, break stuff, whine and complain, ruin vacations, undermine trust, chip away at relationships, scare children, lose friends, destroy business relationships, and ultimately feel pretty crappy about who we are. Oftentimes this leads to shame, doubt, fear and depression.

To avoid these awful potentialities, we need a few tools to help us make our way through the frustration and anger, so that we can get out of the problem and into the solution.

As I mentioned, there was no immediate solution to the problem caused by my vendor, at least not that occurred to me. But the more important problem facing me was the way in which I came to feel as I responded to my sense of being wronged, let down, and my inability to fix it, NOW! My blood pressure was rising, my breath became shallow, my world view was shrinking, fast.

This is what needed my immediate attention. So, I went about doing what I’ve learned to do when things don’t go my way.

I’ll tell you specifically what I did in this situation, and then list a few other options we have to manage and move beyond our frustrating and angry reactions.

When negativity is coursing through my veins, I’ve learned that my immediate concern is to gain objectivity. Why? Because when I’m pissed, I’m an idiot! I have no perspective, my world shrinks, nothing else matters, and everything is colored by this clear and present problem. Though I’ve learned over the years to keep from acting out, the thoughts, feelings, and physical manifestations can still send me for a loop.

As soon as I pulled my attention from the initial problem to my desire to get centered, I asked myself what lessons there were to learn. And there were a few. I thought about what I could have done proactively to avoid the problem. It occurred to me that I had been unhappy with this vendor in the past, but had avoided having an uncomfortable conversation with them to discuss it.

Within moments, I had a new perspective on my situation that was more about what I could do better in the future, than how I was wronged in the present. My heart rate slowed, my breathing deepened, and I felt like me again. It was much easier now to accept and to let go.

Here are some other ways you can reconnect with you when faced with the inevitable frustrations of life:

  • Get some food. Sometimes we’re just hungry and grumpy and need to address our blood sugar levels.
  • Call a buddy. A quick chat with a close friend can quickly get you to think and care about someone else instead of focusing on you and your immediate concerns.
  • Breathe. A simple breathing exercise of slowly breathing in for a count of seven, and out for a count of seven, can reconnect you to your body and to a healthier outlook.
  • Journal. Writing it out often brings us back to our senses.
  • Get physical. Working out, running, yoga, stacking wood, or even vacuuming. Working our bodies can often move us beyond the moment’s frustrations.
  • Meditate. If you have a practice, use it. If not, I encourage you to investigate the benefits of meditation. Long term, meditation will increase your ability to stay in the moment despite life’s unpredictability.

The point is, when you can clear your head, you’ll feel better, avoid collateral damage, and be in a position to confront your next challenges from a place of power and of calm.

I’m generally a very patient man these days. The work has paid off. And I encourage you all to continue the work you’re doing to be the men you want to be. But it is humbling, and important to remember, that no matter how much work we’ve done, we’re still human, we still have a ways to go, and we’re all in this together.