I’ve been obsessed with the term “frustration tolerance” for a couple of years recently. Every now and then I learn something new that I believe is a skill or way of thinking that clearly defines a very important aspect of an individual's life and choices they make-- frustration tolerance is one of those things.
So what exactly is frustration tolerance?
Frustration tolerance is how much an individual can cope with unexpected obstacles or stressful situations.
High frustration tolerance means that you’re able to take in stress and healthily cope with it; whereas, low frustration tolerance involves minimal to no coping skills that allow the stress to take over you.
Let’s use a busy traffic scenario as an example. Imagine being in bumper to bumper traffic in July. It’s hot, hotter than July normally felt before climate change started truly showing its fangs and you can almost see car exhaust clouds floating near the concrete ahead of you. Cars are honking, you can hear someone five or six vehicles behind you blasting music that you definitely wouldn’t choose for your own morning commute, and you’re only a few minutes away from being late for work. Basically, I want you to imagine a situation where you’re flustered and impatient and surrounded by others who most likely feel similarly to you.
There are multiple potential reactions during a situation like this. Some include speeding past the traffic in the emergency shoulder lane, blasting your own music to combat the vehicle behind you, or acceptance. As I’m sure you can assume, only one of those reactions illustrates a healthy or high amount of frustration tolerance-- acceptance. Nonetheless, I want to break down how and why only one of these options is good for both your level of frustration tolerance and your overall health.
Speeding past in the emergency lane: First, this is just an asshole move unless your partner is in the passenger seat about to give birth. Giving birth is considered an emergency situation and this lane is strictly designated for that. If your partner is not in the car about to birth your child, this is an unacceptable option that illustrates an intense need to control things around you. Feeling like you need to be in control of situations illustrates low frustration tolerance. Life is full of scenarios and experiences that are out of our control and we have to learn to take them in stride and with grace in order to be as healthy as possible.
Blasting your music: Think about when you have your headphones in and you’re listening to one of your favorite songs at a level that you know you should probably only keep for this one song-- how do you feel when you’re doing that? Bliss, calmness, happiness. That’s what makes this option complicated. It’s not necessarily a bad one because it’s a healthy attempt to cope with a frustrating situation, but because the music is being played out loud for others to hear in an already stressful environment, it can come off as selfish and may exemplify escapism. Escaping or running from stress instead of addressing it in the moment is another example of low frustration tolerance.
Acceptance: This is coping, y’all. Acceptance in this situation might look like playing calming music at a reasonable volume, texting your boss with a heads up that you’ll be a few minutes late, and relaxing in your seat until traffic clears up. Acknowledging that there are things and experiences around us that are out of our control and being flexible with these types of changes illustrate high frustration tolerance.
Just to be as clear as possible, here’s a diagram that defines the difference between high and low frustration tolerance:
High Frustration Tolerance (Healthy)
Low Frustration Tolerance (Unhealthy)
Accepting the stressful event
Need to control everything
Feeling like you have to run away from the issue
Sharing the details of the event with others, if necessary or helpful for your growth
Becoming extremely angry and unable to calm yourself down, or spiraling
Patience with yourself and everything around you
Defensiveness or a need to attack others around you
So why is having a high frustration tolerance important for one’s well being?
Yes, it keeps you calm, but why else? So many reasons!!
Folks who illustrate a high frustration tolerance are less likely to suffer from heart diseases and high blood pressure, generally report having more satisfied and communicative relationships, have an easier time creating and completing goals, report having higher levels of feeling content and/or happy, and adjust faster in stressful situations.
It benefits so many aspects of life, not just one’s mental health. Having a high frustration tolerance does not mean you don’t get frustrated or angry, it means that you’re able to recognize the event or experience as just that-- frustrating, but not life shattering or impossible to overcome. It means you’re remaining present and avoiding catastrophizing what’s happening.
Below are ways to move towards high frustration tolerance while experiencing a stressful or frustrating event:
Ask yourself grounding questions. Why am I angry right now? Is this a reasonable amount of anger? Is there something else that I’m actually scared of or worried about?
Go for a walk or workout. Don’t stay on the walk as an escape. Return calmer and ready to address whatever is happening.
Journal about what’s stressing you out.
High frustration tolerance is an extremely underrated skill that is easily connected with multiple over exaggerated emotions that might leave us feeling stuck or overwhelmed. I hope this helps you understand your stressors a little more and encourages you to take shit as it comes in a calm and level manner.
Thank you for reading! Let me know if any questions came up for you. With love,