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What You Hate Most in Others, is the Shadow Within Yourself.

Strategies to Help you Deal with Low Frustration Tolerance

Having "low frustration tolerance" is often a factor in creating stress and can lead to anger and rage.  The good news is frustration tolerance can be increased by simply changing the way you think about things.  What is low frustration tolerance and how can you work to address it?

Low frustration tolerance is just what it sounds like.  You do not tolerate even the most minor frustrations well.  You are easily irritated.  You have a short fuse.  Some people with low frustration tolerance seethe quietly, some explode verbally, and some resort to physical violence when provoked. 

How can you increase your ability to deal with stressors, irritants and frustration without blowing your cool?

1.  Realize It's All in Your Head

When the irritation happens and before you lose your cool, you have a thought or harbor some belief which either lowers or increases your frustration.  What are some examples?  Imagine being stuck in a long bank line for 45 minutes.  Most Americans would become agitated and restless.  Some will blow a fuse.  Yet an African might be very pleased to stand in a long line.  The line and the wait time are the same.  Why the difference?   Because of the beliefs they hold about standing in the line.

An America may stand in the line thinking:

"This is ridiculous."
"I don't have time for this."
"They should have more staff to handle this."
"It shouldn't take this long to deposit a check."

A student in one of my classes pointed out that in an African country where people have to walk long ways to get from place to place, waiting in a line is viewed as a good thing.  They consider it an opportunity to rest. 

These two different viewpoints about standing in a line for 45 minutes cause different feelings.  If you believe you shouldn't have to wait 45 minutes, you get irritated.  If you believe this is a rare opportunity to rest, you feel relieved and happy. 

Now consider situations which irritate or annoy you.  Look at some of the thinking which may be causing you to be more irritated or frustrated that the situation warrants.  Here are some examples:

  • "I can't take this."
  • "This is too much."
  • "I can't wait that long."
  • "It shouldn't be this way."
  • "It shouldn't be this difficult (or complicated)."
  • "I should always be happy and content."
  • "Things must go my way, and I can’t stand it when they don't."
  • "I can't stand being frustrated, so I must avoid it at all costs."
  • "Other people should stop doing things which annoy me."

Why is it important to listen to what you are thinking?  Because you can change what you are thinking.  As the example of waiting in a line shows above, if you change your view of what is happening, you can change how you feel about it.  If you can tune in to what is going on in your head you can rewrite the script.  A large part of feeling frustrated comes from feeling helpless.  Realizing you aren't completely helpless decreasing the frustration. 

It can also be the case that what you are thinking is incorrect.  If you have inaccurate beliefs (i.e. your husband doesn't always tune you out when you are talking) then your frustration may be unwarranted (he may actually be listening to you this time).  If so, challenging the validity of the belief can challenge the frustration that results from it.  The scene that used to make you blow might now have no effect at all, or it may even make you laugh. 

Hint:  Be on the lookout for words like "must", "can't", "should", "have to", "always", "never" and other inflammatory language. 

Irrational Belief Rational Belief
I can't take this. You can take this.  You will not die or go insane from standing in line or getting stuck in traffic.  You can take it.  But you have a choice about how you take it.  You can spend the next hour having a conniption fit and raising your blood pressure several points or you can spend it listening to music, catching up on calls, or reading a book.  Your choice. 
This is too much.

Too much what?  Stress?  If it is too much stress, remove yourself from it and regroup before you blow your top. 

If it is too much inconvenience, frustration or annoyance, ask yourself, is it really too much? 

Let's say you've been standing in line at the DMV for four hours trying to get your license.  Ask yourself, is it too much of a frustration, or merely a frustration?  If it really is too much, leave and come back when it is less crowded or you have more time.  If it has to be renewed today, weigh the cost of getting a ticket for driving without a license.  Is it still too much of a frustration?  Or does the danger of a ticket outweigh it?  If the benefit of driving legally outweighs the frustration required to get the license, make a decision about how to pass the time in a productive manner. 

If you are standing in line for concert tickets, is it too much frustration, or is it worth it to go to the concert?  Realize you have choices.  You don't have to stand there, you choose to.  You have something to gain from tolerating this frustration, whether it be concert tickets or a renewed license.

I can't wait that long. You can't wait that long, or you simply don't want to wait that long?   There is a difference.  If you truly cannot wait that long, leave and plan to come back when you have time to wait.  If you don't want to wait that long, make a choice.  Is waiting worth it or not?    
It shouldn't be this way. But it is this way.   Now what?  You cannot change the situation, but you can choose how you react to it. 
It shouldn't be this difficult (or complicated). But it is this difficult (or complicated).   Now what?  Deal with the reality of the situation instead of some ideal situation that you have created in your head.  Let's say you are trying to complete your income tax return.  It is difficult.  It is complicated.  You are not a numbers person and forms are not  your forte either.  You do not have the power to change the difficulty and complexity of the required procedure.  Do you want to spend your time and energy ranting about it?  Do you want to hire someone else to deal with it?  Or do you want to do it yourself and get it over with so you can get back to doing what you enjoy?  Choose how will you deal with it.
I should always be happy and content. You should?  Or what?  Your head will explode?  Where is that written?  Is that true for everyone else?  If not, why should it be so for you?  Perhaps you would like to be happy and content all the time, but is that realistic?  No. 
Things must go my way and I can't stand it if they don't. Things can't go everyone's way all the time.  That's simply impossible.  We can't all be first in line at the DMV.  So what are you going to do when it's not your turn for things to go your way?
I can't stand being frustrated, I must avoid it all costs.

Then do so.  But make a list of what you will lose out on if you do this.  Then decide if it's worth avoiding the frustration to avoid the pleasaure too.  It may be.  It may not be.  But make a conscious choice, then take responsibility for it

I hate driving in rush hour traffic.  So I choose to ride the bus to work rather than drive.  It takes about 30 minutes longer each way, but I use that time to catch up on my reading and arrive at my office refreshed and calm, rather than stressed from driving down I-35 at rush hour.  I am happy with that choice.  However, I sometimes choose to drive in rush hour in order to be able to accomplish errands at lunch or attend a performance downtown that evening.  Then the convenience of completing the errands or the pleasure of attending the performance outweigh the frustration of the traffic I have to fight my way through.  Either way, I have made a conscious choice and I'm am happy with it.

Other people should stop doing things which annoy me.

Or what?  You have no control over other people. Only yourself.  You cannot control what other people do.  You can only control how you react to it.  Stop letting other people control your day and your emotions. 

2.  Expose Yourself

Another way to increase your tolerance for frustration is to gradually expose yourself to frustrating situations.  Make a list of situations in which you tend to lose your cool or overreact.  Commit yourself to face at least one of these each day or each week, depending upon the severity of the frustration.  If it is rush hour traffic, once per day may be too much too often.  If it is waiting in line for coffee, once per morning might be tolerable.  If you can stand your husband's dirty clothes on the floor, try to go a day without picking them up, then two days, then three, etc.  Try to increase your tolerance slowly.

3.  Rate It

Sometimes rating the frustration puts it into context.  If you are thinking, "This is terrible!"  Ask yourself, "How terrible is it?  As bad as a root canal?  An auto accident?  Being fired?  Getting divorced?"  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst you can imagine, how terrible is it?  Putting it next to other things you have experienced in life may cause you to realize that waiting 30 minutes for lunch during the lunch hour rush may not be the worst thing that ever happened to you. 

4.  Develop Skills

Developing skills for helping you handle stressful events can help you weather them with more grace.  Figure out what your issues are when you get frustrated.  Is it that you feel trapped?  Powerless?  Bored?  Pressured for time?  Inconvenienced?  Discounted?  Then figure out how to do something which eliminates that feeling. 

I try to carry a book or magazine with me.  Being of German descent, the idea of "wasting time" is a real frustration provoker.   (I think Germans have special genes which make "waste" and "inefficiency" especially intolerable!)  When I get trapped somewhere (rush hour traffic, a long line, a late appointment, etc.) I catch up on my reading.  This serves two purposes:  1) the time doesn't feel wasted, 2) it keeps me amused and out of trouble, 3) I feel I accomplished something when I finish reading a book that would otherwise have piled up on my bedstand and 4) I don't feel so much at the mercy of life's little calamities.  

Making active choices instead of merely reacting can greatly decrease your feelings of stress and frustration and give you a better sense of control over your life.  Working to increase your tolerance for frustrations which cannot be otherwise avoided will help you feel more confident and competent in your ability to handle annoyances.  Both of these together can make your life more peaceful and your world a little calmer.



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You call it a low frustration tolerance, my sister and I both refer to it as "having reached our lifetime bullsh*t capacity".
:-) Personally, I think it's because we were 'the responsible ones' in our family of origin and anything that even smelled like too much trouble was immediately dumped off on us. She responds by snapping at people and being stressed out. I responded by eventually dumping my family of origin. Now I'm the scapegoat again (or still, depending on how you look at it). That's no skin off my hide, though. How can an absentee scapegoat get scapegoated? I can't lose a game I refuse to play. Now most of the little things in life seem slightly less irritating.

Interesting article. Maybe some people need to dump some of the irritants of the rat race, some need more tolerance, and some need a combination of the two tactics depending on the person and the situation.


Well said. Being used up by others can definitely leave you with very little patience. Your statement, "I can't lose a game I refuse to play" is wonderful. I may hang that on the wall of my office! It takes two to tango and when refuses to dance, the tango ends. Thank you for sharing your feedback.


This sounds very much like the program Recovery, Inc.



How so? I see nothing about low frustration tolerance at this link.


Hi Kellen, thank you for your article. I was looking for some advice because for a long time I've been the "doormat" kind, which is the opposite of the "snapper".
However, even doormats reach their limit, and what's happened to me is that I've unfortunately moved to the other extreme, which is, becoming a snapper. Both kind of behaviors have affected my romantic relationships, and I can't seem to find the balance... which makes me very sad.


Hi Carolina,

Finding that perfect balance is so hard! Most of teeter back and forth a bit, but with practice the teeters become closer and closer to the center and less dramatic.

What you said is so true, when doormats reach their limit they become snappers. That's why it's so important to learn about good, healthy boundaries and learning to saying "No" before we get to that limit. I think this can be especially difficult for women because many of us are raised to take care of others, often at the expense of ourselves. That is not to say that many men don't struggle with this same issue too, but it seems particularly common in women.

Keep practicing setting limits and you'll get better and better. Being willing to take responsibility for making changes is 90% of it and you are already doing that.

Good for you and good luck with your journey.


I don't know if I'll get a response this was posted awhile ago..but I think my frustation stems from feeling helpless my bark is definately worse than my bite...I just don't know what I can do to control myself..my issues are more with people not really the above examples..I feel like if I were to try some of these exercises I would worry about becoming a doormat and resulting in feeling even more helpless.


Hi Christina,

First of all let me say that if it doesnt feel right to you - dont do it. Period. Trust your feelings and your instincts.

Secondly, I dont know you and I certainly cant tell whats going on by only reading a single paragraph, but your comment makes me wonder if you are a trauma survivor. Someone who has survived a trauma and has lingering PTSD symptoms has a ferocious bark, much larger than their bite. Their highly sensitive to anything that might cause them harm. They can also experience a great deal of helplessness, in the face of having had something unpleasant inflicted upon them and having control of themselves and of situations in which they find themselves are paramount to their feeling of safety.

If you suspect this is the case you might want to read more articles on this site about Trauma and PTSD. You can find these topics in the left side bar.

If you feel I've missed the boat on this, honor that as well.

I wish you well,


Angela Harrison

Thanks for this article. It was just what I was looking for.


You're very welcome. Thank you for the feedback.

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