noun. the feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something; the prevention of the progress, success, or fulfilment of something.
I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been the most frustrating year we have ever experienced. At times, nothing has felt easy. The frustrations have ranged from the micro to the macro as every aspect of our lives have been disrupted and have become uncertain. We have been frustrated on every level – physically, emotionally and mentally repeatedly.
I have been frustrated by things that do not normally bother me, as due to the change of context around us, small things can quite easily be blown out of proportion. Whilst bigger things may feel insurmountable.
I have felt myself pulling back from social media, from some of my network, from some spaces I exist in as I could feel certain things were beginning to trigger me. I began to observe the patterns of what was happening and how it was making me feel.
On reflection, my biggest source of frustration is often other people. My ticks have become amplified through lock down: people who are late to meetings or who pay an invoice late, people who miss meetings, people who do not reply to messages, people who do not respect me and my boundaries, people who are unsupportive, uncollaborative, judgemental and critical frustrate me.
Yet, I also know that I frustrate others too. I am self-aware enough to know that some of my personality traits are equally a source of frustration for people who are programmed differently to me. My ways of working, of communicating, of interacting serve me, but might jar others.
When we get frustrated we all react in different ways.
Some of my friends, family and colleagues have internalised their frustration. They have become withdrawn, their mood has become low, they have gone quiet. A few have recently imploded and I have scooped a few of my nearest and dearest up in the last few weeks as they have hit the stage of emotional exhaustion and they have spiralled into meltdowns.
Other people I am close to have externalised their frustration. They have lashed out, they have become erratic in their behaviour, they have become negative in their language and they have become hyper critical. A few have exploded which has led to conflicts with others.
In the first lockdown I reflected a lot on emotional regulation. It became apparent quite quickly who the self-regulators and the co-regulators in my circles were. I am a self-regulator, apparently this is common for people who were thumb suckers as children as we self-sooth. I am someone who co-regulates others, a skill I have developed as a teacher, a leader, a coach and a mental health first aider.
We become acutely aware of how everyone is coping, or not coping, but we also need to reflect on ourselves and how we are feeling. By identifying and recognising the feeling of frustration we can then process and address it.
When I am coaching similar threads come up when we discuss the feeling of frustration as it is often associated with: feeling a lack of control, feeling a sense of uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. I encourage my coachees to reframe and to focus on what they can control, what is certain and what they can anchor. This approach helps them to centre themselves.
I remind myself of this often too when I can feel the frustration bubbling up inside of me. The only person who can let others frustrate us, is ourselves. We are in charge of our own emotional state. It is our choice how we respond to frustrations.
When we get frustrated we each process our emotions in different ways.
Some rant… some vent… some withdraw… some melt down…
When I am frustrated I know I can become standoffish, direct, harsh, and quite intolerant. My decision-making becomes very decisive and reactive. I put my head down and get on with it. I rise to the challenge to confront the frustration. I push away help, support and advice, to problem solve independently.
There are a range of coping skills that we recommend to our learners, to others, but we need to reflect on what helps us to rebalance, to recalibrate and to reframe the frustration.
Here are some of my coping strategies for when I am feeling stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated:
1.Pausing… sometimes the best thing we can do when we are frustrated, is nothing. The ability to stop, to pull back, to hold off helps us to regain our composure and our clarity.
2. Breathing… some deep breaths will help us to slow down our heart rate, to lower the stress in our bodies, to send a message to our brains to calm down.
3. Reflecting… taking a moment to think things through helps us to process how we are feeling to be able to articulate precisely what is frustrating us.
4. Bathing… I often draw a long, hot bubble bath when I am feeling frustrated as I find soaking is restorative. There is also a feeling of feeling very secure and safe when we are enveloped in hot water.
5. Sleeping… I sometimes just go back to bed. When we are feeling frustrated there is often a sense of fatigue kicking in, we can feel our emotions bubbling closer and closer to the surface. Crawling under the duvet, retreating from the world, can help us decompress.
6. Talking… some people will need to process how they are feeling verbally. So finding someone to listen to us as we do an emotional vomit can also really help. Feeling heard can relieve the sense of frustration. A problem shared is a problem halved after all.
7. Hugging... sharing how we are feeling with others in person, will often to lead to some reassuring physical contact. A hug, a hand hold, a stroke is often all I need. As a tactile person I definitely offer this to others when they need it and this year has been a source of frustration for me that I have not been able to gift nor receive that extension of physical contact to those who have needed it.
8. Crying… I am not a crier by nature, but sometimes letting ourselves feel the emotion deeply and externalise it is one of the most cathartic things we can do.
9. Exercising… when I was a teacher, we used to have free staff boxing sessions, channeling our frustrations through our bodies really helped us decompress.
10. Walking… when I am frustrated with someone else, where possible I try to go for a walk with them and talk it out, whilst we are outside and being active. There is something very calming about processing our frustrations whilst being outside. Especially when you are walking along a long, empty, window beach and you can see sun, sea and sand for miles.
11. Pinning… I love acupuncture, I respond really well to have pins in me stimulating my nervous system. The chemical release I get from it helps me relax and recalibrate. During lockdown I have not been able to see my acupuncturist so I bought myself a Shakti mat which I highly recommend.
12. Asking… I know I am not very good at always asking for help, but seeking support and advice can help as the contrasting perspective on a situation can help us step back from what is frustrating us, and appreciate another side of the frustration.
13. Affirming… we can easily get bogged down with the negative, with what is not working, what what is frustrating, and forget about everything that is positive, that is working and that is fulfilling us. An affirmation of who we are and a celebration of what we have achieved or what we are grateful for can help to dissolve the feelings of frustration.
14. Reframing… a powerful exercise to go through is a reframe, listing the frustrations and breaking down where the feelings are coming from, then countering each with a reframe, a positive or a solution can reduce the frustration from growing.
15. Listening… as people are reading and commenting on the blog, which has resonated with lots who have read it I have been reminded about the restorative nature of music. I have an Alexa on each floor of my house and have a constant soundscape of chilled out, soothing music in my house to help moderate my emotions too.
16. Ejecting… I am not really a screamer nor a shouter, but when I was in the Ghanaian rainforest back in 1999 (half a lifetime ago now) someone introduced me to screaming therapy. There is something quite therapeutic about emptying your emotions out and screaming them/ shouting them out in to the wilderness. As they echo through the trees it is like they are slowly breaking down – I would recommend trying it!
17. Driving… I always had a long drive back from my university and my early career to my parents, along with a decent commute to work and back. I didn’t realise how therapeutic I find driving for processing my thoughts and emotions until lockdown and I started working from home. Getting out for a drive regularly helps me clear my head.
18. Writing… my number one strategy is always to write to process how I am feeling. I started this blog this morning as a few things came to a head and my day started off with me feeling really frustrated. I am a contradiction as I thrive on change and uncertainty in some ways, but I like to be in control of it, so I needed to process which bits of the latest frustration I could anchor this morning.
When things happen to us which are out of out of our control we go through the emotional cycle of: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.
I have moved through these emotional stages quite quickly this morning and I have now got to the state of acceptance and can move on.
So if you are feeling frustrated right now, in any area of your life, personal or professional, it is to be expected. 2020 has been frustrating. Our government have been frustrating. But instead of letting the frustration eat you up from the inside out, I would give yourself permission to acknowledge that feeling, reflect on what you can do to process your feelings and focus on what you can do as we have a lot to celebrate and appreciate, individually and collectively, from 2020 too.
“How we decide to react to what is thrown at us is what determines our level or happiness or frustration”. Folorunsho Mejabo
“Learn how to turn frustration into fascination. You will learn more being fascinate by life than you will be frustrated by it”. Jim Rohn