Dealing with Frustration

Life is full of frustrations. From the minor irritations of losing your car keys to the major anxieties of continued failure towards a goal, frustration is not a pleasant emotion in any magnitude. Because of the unpleasantness of this emotion, people will often avoid anything that might lead to it. Unfortunately, many of the things we truly want to experience such as triumph, joy, victory and purpose require a great deal of frustration. Being able to manage frustrations allow us to remain happy and positive even in trying circumstances.

I recently had a very frustrating experience during most of this past week. My computer had been getting progressively worse in performance and I had decided it was time for a reformat of the hard drive and a fresh start (which, by the way, isn’t a bad technique for solving a lot of your personal problems as well). It was at this point I realized that my Windows XP was only a factory install and did not have a disc for reformatting purposes… And so my week-long saga of continued computer frustrations began. I’m normally a fairly technically savvy guy, but I’m hardly a computer expert. Between negotiating with hardware retailers, spontaneous computer crashes, internet failures and being put on hold for an hour while calling customer support, this was a very frustrating problem. On a side note to the people who organize customer service lines, if I am having a problem with your product and you have put me on hold for an extremely long period of time, I am NOT interested in buying more of your products, so save the advertisements.

What I thought would have been a routine procedure turned into a six day period in which all my spare time was devoted to failing to solve my computer issues. Of all the times I couldn’t afford to lose computer access this was it. As work on my project has ramped up I have been pushing hard to get the program ready to start beta testing in July. So, during a time when working on schedule was vital, a series of frustrating computer problems bogged down any progress. A completely trivial problem when compared to many major life frustrations, but it really allowed me to refine my own processes to handle future frustrations. My recent experiences have prompted me to explain my process for handling frustration so it doesn’t lead to burnout, stress or depression.

What Causes Frustration?

In order to successfully manage frustration, you need to first understand what causes it. Frustration is simply caused whenever the results you are experiencing do not seem to fit the effort and action you are applying. Frustration will occur whenever your actions are producing less and fewer results than you think they should. This is a very simple fact, but it is an important step to solving frustrating problems.

With my computer issues, my frustration was actually completely unrelated to the computer problems. Frustration isn’t an inherent component of computer problems, just my perception of them. I was frustrated because I expected the actions I was taking would solve the problems when they didn’t. As long as frustration is a property of your problems and not of your perceptions, it will be impossible to deal with, so start there.

Frustration is Energy Consuming

Our energy as human beings is our primary currency we use to do anything. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energies all fuel discipline, creativity, courage and motivation. Anthony Robbins includes energy as the first key to success in any area of life. Stress in excessive doses is a negative emotional state that weakens the immune system and raises blood pressure is the direct result from a lack of energy. When we run out of energy we become useless.

Frustrating problems are incredibly energy consuming. Because these problems consume our energy in such great quantities, we need to be extremely careful that we don’t try to keep running with an empty energy reserve. When this happens we burnout and require a long time to recover. The initial reaction of most people is to work harder when they encounter frustration. Although the intention to work harder makes sense, it often results in trying to spend more energy than we have available.

Why are frustrating problems more energy consuming than normal tasks? The answer to this is relatively simple. Because your action is not producing the results you expect, your brain naturally goes into full gear, rapidly consuming mental energy to solve the problem at hand. In this time it is very easy to run out of energy. When your energy stores are depleted this is when you become irritable, tired, stressed and sometimes even angry.

Take Breaks

During my nearly week-long bout of continuous computer problems it was impossible for me to solve them all at once. Trying to expend all my energy towards a solution would have left me stressed and burnt-out before I was finished. Realizing when I was running low on energy I would take breaks, relax and distract my mind with another activity. Although some people may consider this laziness or unproductive, it was absolutely necessary. Removing myself from the problem recovered my energy to go at the problem again. Although I spent probably a third less time “working” than I normally do, I was far more tired than normal, indicating my increased energy expenditure.

Taking breaks to recover energy is critical when working to solve a frustrating problem. Use your emotional state as a guide to determine your current energy levels. If you are starting to feel really frustrated and stressed, take a short break before continuing. Continuing to work without energy completely reduces your effectiveness and greatly increases your chance of burnout.

Reward Action Not Just Results

Your environment is only going to reward your results not your actions. You won’t earn a million dollars or have a great body just because you “tried hard”. Unfortunately this is exactly what causes frustrating problems in the first place. Because your actions are not producing results, your environment is not rewarding you for taking action. In this case you need to reward yourself for taking action, even if it wasn’t fruitful.

Rewarding yourself doesn’t have to be something tangible. Just giving yourself a pat on the back for good effort is a reward. By rewarding yourself even when your environment doesn’t support you, you can help reduce the destructive and negative emotions you experience. Frustrating problems drain energy, but so does the simple emotion of frustration. By reducing the emotion of frustration you can help reclaim some of that energy and you can do that by rewarding your actions.

Get Perspective

Let’s face it, most of the problems you get frustrated with will not be of major consequence in the long run. My computer problems certainly weren’t and most of the time you feel frustrated it will be from something fairly inconsequential and minor. Getting some perspective about the problem can allow you to keep your mind level when dealing with it. Of course this is really easier said than done. Usually frustration is caused by a narrow focus on a problem that isn’t resolving itself as you had hoped.

To get a little perspective on your issue, try broadening your focus from your current problem outwards. Try thinking about how the problem looks when you view it from a few weeks from now, a year, ten years or your lifetime? How would a historian thousands of years from now view your problem? (Assuming future historians have nothing better to do than examine and document the lives of twenty first century inhabitants)

Go outside and look up at the sky. Viewing the incredible expanse of space and time will ultimately make your problems look very small indeed. Even if this practice won’t solve your problem it will significantly reduce your frustration. Getting perspective about a problem is critical to put your mind into a state where it can be solved.

Getting perspective when you are frustrated isn’t a particularly difficult practice, the only difficulty is in remembering to do it. I don’t have any suggestions for remembering to get some perspective when your focus becomes too narrow and you become frustrated, it has to just be a habit. When you get used to temporarily changing your focus and perspective to regain stability, it happens automatically.

Nobody likes to feel frustrated. Unfortunately, frustrations are part of life. Learn to manage your frustrations so they don’t leave you stressed, burned-out or depressed. Take breaks from your frustrations to recover your mental and creative energies. Reward your actions, not just your results and remember to gain a little perspective when you begin to feel overwhelmed. Don’t let your frustrations prevent you from setting goals and living your life to the maximum.

  • Richard

    Nice post on dealing with frustration, Scott. You give a lot of good, and helpful tips. Your point that “Frustration is simply caused whenever the results you are experiencing do not seem to fit the effort and action you are applying.” is especially valid. Frustration is the result of events in the outer world not matching our expectations of what should happen.

  • Scott Young

    Good point Richard,

    Often frustration can be caused by an inaccuracy in how you view the world. When your expectations don’t meet the results obviously there is some discontinuity there that needs exploring.

  • Gaurish


    Nice post. To add on to your points – yet another way of handling frustration is to be prepared before-hand for ‘worst case scenario’.

    For example: My PC isnt functioning well. I (from my past experience) know that repairing PC will take 2 working days. I also know that this timeline (2 working days) is based on assumption of ‘all things going smoothly’ condition. At this point of time, we also need to look at ‘pessimistic’ condition (“Assuming that NOTHING GOES FINE”) – which lands me with a timeline of 3 weeks.

    Thus at the end of 2 working days, when things dont work out as I had expected, I am not frustrated, as I am mentally prepared for 3 weeks of worst-case scenario.

  • Scott Young

    Ah Gaurish, but the only problem is when your worst case isn’t even close to the actual case you experience. Although I have been able to form work arounds, the computer problems plaguing me when I wrote this article have still been resurfacing. Never in my wildest imagination would I have suspected computer problems resisting 5 weeks of work, 8 harddrive reformats, 3 complete hardware diagnostics and week long tests without internet access or third-party programs. The problems are on their way to being solved, but if they don’t I may have to purchase a new computer.

    Often a frustrating problem comes up because your reality is far worse than the worst case scenario you thought. But despite my computer problems, using the techniques I describe in this article along with a few other tools I am working on, I have experienced probably about a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 for my level of overall frustration towards the problem. This incident may have been trying but it has really stretched my own growth.

    An interesting technique, when it works.

  • seo specialist

    I think your solutions to frustration are pretty good scott. Bk’d.

  • jo

    We have been trying to conceive a much wanted child for almost 4 years and I have suffered 4 late first trimester miscarriages in that time. I feel like every month I’m getting further from my goal as I’m getting older and I try harder and harder, I’ve paid a fortune on treatments, herbs, acupuncture, operations, tests etc and I’m getting soooooo frustrated it is seriously affecting my mental health. How can I deal with this? It maybe I will never have this child and that’s devastating me. I’m usually pretty patient and optimistic as I had a horrific childhood and learnt good coping mechanisms to stay sane, but this is my worst crisis yet.

  • Scott Young


    I’m not a doctor, but I have heard that stress can influence the results of a pregnancy. It may sound awful, but perhaps all the mental stress you are going through is increasing the likelihood of a miscarriage.

    My suggestion would be to look into adoption efforts as a backup. Continue working on it, but spend time remaining detached from the end result.

    That said, I’m not a doctor or professional, so seek expert advice.


  • Bill Roberts


    Thanks for a very informative article. This year has been very trying physically for me and I think the loss of energy has effected my ability to deal with life’s everyday issues. The result is I feel sad, frustrated, and my temper is always on edge. I have always had issues with dealing with frustration but lately it seems even worse. I am going to try the techniques you mention and get my energy level up and my frustration level down. I’ll let you know what happens.


  • John Grinn


  • Renee`

    i would like to know about internal and external frustration, how does it affect young people/teenagers?

  • Renee`

    i would like to get some tips on relieving stress for teenagers who are under alot of positve and negative pressures at the same time

  • Steve

    For me, feelings of frustration and stress occur when I’m faced with a problem that I don’t know the solution for, or I’m faced with a question that I don’t know the answer to. The more difficult it is to develop a solution or find an answer, the more stressed I become.

    For example, my doctor told me that I should change my diet to reduce my blood pressure. He said that reducing sodium in my diet will help a lot. Well, I went to the grocery store, and discovered how hard it is to find foods that are low in sodium. This caused me stress: “How am I supposed to reduce my sodium intake if **everything** has so much sodium in it?” (this was the fundamental question that I couldn’t answer at that moment, and was therefore causing me stress).

    I’ve since figured out ways of reducing sodium in my diet, and am encouraged by the results so far. But initially, it seemed like an almost impossible challenge, and that caused me stress.

  • Deshawn

    Nice post!

    As a calm and rational adult, I realize I must voice my frustrations in order to rid myself of them. I think of each frustration as a pesky fly. If each frustration I have is a fly, I imagine what would happen if all of those flies were to become trapped in a bottle. Picturing the chaos as these flies frantically search for an escape reminds me that I have a choice.


    Deshawn Romero

  • sunita

    the best thing i liked in your article was the reward point……..that reward yourself……..

  • katherine williams

    That was a very nice post Scott. I am a teacher and when my students become frustrated and stressed out, I ask them–will this problem affect you in five years. If you answer no–then chances are your problem isn’t that big of a deal. I try to look at life that way too. I also use music–I download silly songs, scremo music, classical and make crazy mixes. It always makes me feel better:)

  • Joe

    I experience frustration quite easily, especially when it comes to dealing with other people with different viewpoints. I can go from a calm conversation to a screaming match when talking to someone who doesn’t understand/can’t relate/refuses to take into consideration/etc, the information I am trying to convey.

    An example of that is I was talking to a friend of mine concerning Schrödinger’s cat theory, and he just couldn’t grasp it. Admittedly it is not the easiest thing to understand, but he refused to try to listen to explanation. My frustration level had gotten to the point where my voice was raised significantly.

    That’s is the kind of frustration I need help conquering.

  • linz

    This is very good advice. I tend to forget that frustration in life is normal and unpleasant for everyone, not just me, and that I need to learn how to deal with it rather than just avoid it.

  • Kyle

    It sucks some people like me and other readers are more prone to frustrations and drained energy while others can be happy all their lives no matter what is thrown at them and they never seem to lose a speck of energy.

    I truly belive reincarnation may play a role where we have had inner negative energy pass thru that we never TRULY solved which will come in the form of experiences in this-life time: however I don’t believe that humans ever mixed with animals and vica versa which is where some people go nuts on.

  • Kyle

    Oh I almost forgot to say that everyone experiences frustrations is a fallacy to make people ‘ignore the virus’ and treat the symptoms.

    I have personally seen how people can be always cheerful and never lose energy as if they have an unlimited “battery” to tap into and other people are always dragging and cannot tap into any energy source at all and just feel constantly tired with poor health.

    I don’t believe these naturally ‘happy’ people are invincible by any means like they think they are and they don’t have a clue as to how LUCKY they are to be that happy.

    It could very well be part of my reincarnation theroy where these “happy slappy” people have cleared negative karma a gazillion lifetimes ago.

  • Pete

    Thanks for the good advice. Sometimes it helps when I get frustrated to remember that I’m just a hairless ape with car keys.

  • june

    Thanx for a great thoughts on frustration. I work with the development of boys from the street to help turn their lives around. We have been very succesful in the past but lately everything seems to end in frustration. This morning I realized that I’ve got so frustrated that all I’m attracting into my life is more frustration. So your article was a start to turn this around.

  • Glenn

    I needed this information today. It’s helping. Thank you!

  • nicoline

    Hi Scott,
    thanks for for suggestions. i went to the law school with the intention of becomming a magistrate. on graguation unfortunately, court registry was what i met. not realy loving this work in the first place, i have never been given the chance to practice. i was transferred to the supreme court since Jan.2010 but i’m yet to effectively resume work because those who were also transferred from this court are yet to liberate their places for us and even those on retirement and duly notified since 10years ago donnot want to free their places. the have the support of the president of the court. tell me how to manage such a frustrating situation . the work in its self is so stutufying ie not intellectually challenging and i hold a masters in intellectual property law . please guide me if you can.

  • Wakjob

    You’re frustrated and that’s good. Why? Because *frustrations are the universe’s door to success*. That’s right. Ghandi once said “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win”. Thomas Edison said “I failed my way to success”. What most people do not realize is achieving anything in life IS HARD. There is no EASY way. Only champions take the prize. When you see an olympic skater win the gold metal and awe everyone, what you DIDN’T see was the years of 16 hour days, all the mistakes, all the failure, all the wanting to give up, AND all the perserverance. You onky saw the triumph, not the years of agony needed to get there. Do you want to be a champion? Then KEEP TRYING. The universe is like a huge hill you are trying to push your goal up. A first you WILL GET NOWHERE. You keep pushing and still get nowhere. But if you keep pushing after that, something funny happens – slowly, it starts to get easier little by little. If you continue to persist, soon you will realize your goal is reachable. Before you know it you will make it. Once there you will realize nothing but death can really stop you. If you keep going after that, soon you become a master. What people don’t know is SUCESS IS HARD, not easy. If you are not willing to pay the price of a champion, you can never have the prize.

  • T.J.Daniels

    Hey Scott,
    Read your article. Written from a true 20 something perspective of someone who just got out in the real world after being isolated for four years of college surrounded by more 20 somethings. Giving advice is easy, living it out is not. Let me know after you have witnessed personal tragedies, had your company pull out of State and your job with it, had your child in the hospital for a serious injury or medical condition, been to one too many funerals, dealt with difficult bosses, friends, spouses, etc etc. Life is hard and to sprew out Anthony Robbins crap does a disservice to all the people who find themselves struggling and don’t know where to turn. Wakjob is on the right track. Sometimes you just suck it up, quit making excuses and just do what you have to do to feed your family and survive. Where is it written you are guaranteed an easy or even a happy life? Granted, it’s a matter of perspective but like I said, let’s talk in about 20 years when you actually have experienced what some of these folks are walking out. Then you have cred…

  • Balamani

    Hi Scott…
    What do you think we should do when we have frustrations related to people..

    Often we are blamed/get into trouble/suffer because of some other person’s doing.

    Often we suffer when we make adjustments for a person and later repent when we realize that it was not necessary at all.For instance , for one of my project i put aside my health and time and slogged so hard.Now that i am on benc ( these guys refused to give me leave of absence after all the hard work) i realize that there was no need to have compromised my health( which is in a appalling state now)

    Even though you are frustrated with the computer, you do know eventually either you or someone else will fix it.

    But cases like the one i mentioned are the ones that you cannot do anything about – it increases the frustration each time you think about it.

  • Stephen Shugart

    Good post. Those of us who are dyslexic and add get extremely frustrated when simple things (according to society/educators) are expected and so often a dyslexics frustration is that the results are often not what is expected by teachers, parents, and of course oneself…So I like your suggestion to reward effort and I would say if it’s not perfect, there is revision. Also, though, I think it’s legit to say because of my “disability” I don’t like to write (even though I’ve written and published a collection of short stories) or what ever. I’m not great at it so, I’ll hire editors, get someone to help who likes to do those things. However, still when, say, you spend a half an hour on an important email and then accidentally push the delete button, it is frustrating and the only thing to do is start breathing deeply in an out and realize it’s a passing emotion and it’s real but the rest of life is ok…when focused on the beauty for the present moment.

  • rob

    Since I was a boy (9 yo) I wanted to be a flight attendant for a British Airline, All I have done in my life was to dream about it and get myself prepared for it.
    when I reached 19 yo I came to the UK from Brazil running from the constant fights with mom and dad; I was pulling myself so I could also use the time to learn the proper English. From 1999 up until 2004 I had no option but to sell myself as a gay man for older guys to play with, reason 1: I had no desire to go back to those fights and 2 I had no papers to remain and work in the UK as brazilian citizen.
    Well I couldn’t stand that job having to deal with all kinds of dirty people and I mean it literally, but I would rather be in a safe ‘heaven’ than going back to a place where the gay reality was another at the time. (HELL)

    In 2006 I got myself a job in the UAE, and that took me where ‘I always wanted to be’ FLYING … I looooved the job. great pay, great company but HORRENDOUS place to be at, Full of rules and no sides of Human respect or rights so after 4 years I left thinking I could come back to the land who accepted who I was and Had no prejudice what so ever.
    2010 as I got my EU citizenship from my grandmother being a portuguese citizen, only that took me LONG TEN ARDUOUS YEARS
    The only reason I say this is because If had had that before I wouldn’t have myself sold to those sick ppl.

    I came back after from the UAE with another side of life, thinking Now I have 4 years of great customer service and a right to apply for that dreamed airline.
    Well Guess what ? I got in !!!! I can not DESCRIBE how HAPPY that made me feel … incredible felling of victory. I even thought I would never have to go through an interview process in my life again.
    The company was in a the middle of war between the old contracts and the new ones. I had no intentions to give any importance to those differences till I felt I couldnt survive on the their pay.
    It was very hard to manage those feelings of OMG I am 30 and I feel like I cant even put food on my table what should I do now ?
    I tried and tried and tried again, untill me and my partner discovered we were HIV positive. My world felt apart my dreams were about to crumble, but I kept my focus to achieve where I wanted to achieve, but my health started to be against my work and my situation really confronted me to ask for a part time schedule.
    British Airline wasnt very impressed in so many ways, treating me like I had no option but to give in.
    I stayed 1 year on a part time basis and I was bullied to the max and So I resigned.
    I tried everything I could, including unions and lawyers but it looked like I wouldn’t have the money to pay for it all so once I again I gave that in.
    It has been 2 months since I quitted and I feel sad, depressed because its all I know, all I have done in my life was towards the airline industry and I have a great passion for planes airports and so on.
    what can I DO ? right that question bugged me for so long and so many other things are just recklessly brutal in my life. I even tried a couple of Universities so perhaps I could go back into studies of something, but I was not accepted in ONE.
    Has GOD turned his back on me at all ? or is that a feeling of neglect ?
    Its not that I sitting down waiting for it to fall from the skies, is it ?

    well, now I encounter myself in a factory …. boxing medical equipments
    Its a mechanical job in which I have NO passion on it at all !… what should I do ?
    I am now begging to think I have achieved it all and there is no way forward …..

  • Suzanne

    Very good analysis of the problem and the attitude to take. I’ve been fuming steadily for months–trying to find steady work, needing to fix endless problems with my old computer and (when that no longer worked) to make the new one behave… Have been feeling as if my head would explode. I’m glad I found this column; you nailed things well. As for the commenter who said you aren’t old enough to give advice–I strongly disagree. (You are young enough to be my son, btw.) You’ve got a terrific, mature analytical intelligence, and age will increase and refine it. I’ve signed up for your newsletter and I’m looking forward to more of your worldly wisdom.

  • Carl Kevin

    Frustrations sometimes make me to give on a thing that I’ve failed to achieve. I’ve got Frustrated when I am being rejected by anyone. And it seems that people really don’t even care about my feelings. But after reading your Article, I realized that it is not good to stay the same, and rather overcome/deal with it and give the best shot that I’ve got. Thanks a lot for giving this such an informative article. by the way, you may read my Article in some time and I hope that you may gain new ideas about what will you write in your next article. Thank you very much!.

  • Sage

    Thanks for writing about frustration. I’m dealing with it today. F*** perspective and all the mental games you could try to do to help yourself out of it. I just take a break and have a glass of wine, then go ride my horse.