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18 Ways to Cope with Frustration

Frustration can be hard to put into words – it’s a complicated mix of anger, disappointment, and annoyance. For most health care workers, frustration levels are particularly high right now as many face PPE shortages, minimal workplace support, and a seemingly careless general public. Anger and frustration aren’t always productive emotions, and while we can’t necessarily control that we feel them, we can control how we react to them. If you need to release some of your pent-up negative energy, here are some healthy ways to do so:

  1. Do some breathing exercises: when having a strong emotional response, you may notice your breath getting faster and shallower. By regulating your breathing, you can get more oxygen to your brain and help yourself calm down. A good technique is 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, breathe out for eight


     
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation: one of the ways our bodies respond to heightened emotion is with muscle tension. Relieving that physical tension will help your mind relax too. Lay down and work your way through each muscle group: tense as you slowly inhale, and release as you slowly exhale. If you prefer some instruction, try a guided audio.


     
  3. Meditate: Meditation can be a great way to connect with your feelings, but it can also help you create space between your thoughts and emotions as you settle into self-awareness. Download an app like Headspace or Calm and look for a guided meditation that fits how you’re feeling. 


     
  4. Exercise: Physical activity is a mood booster, helps you regulate stress and adrenaline, and is a healthy way to release pent-up energy. If you can, try going for a run and really focus on your feet hitting the ground. If you prefer instruction, see if your local gym has online classes or search for your favorite type of workout on YouTube.


     
  5. Yoga: If you prefer low-impact workouts, yoga is a great way to get your body moving in a meaningful way. Yoga Pose has an online directory of poses searchable by symptom (like anxiety or back pain) and has categories including poses for calmness


     
  6. Vent: Ruminating on your anger only perpetuates it, so give yourself some time to let it all out with a trusted friend. As long as you don’t focus on it for too long, venting can be a healthy emotional outlet – just try to keep it to 15 minutes, and then move on to more positive conversation. If you want to vent anonymously, try an app like Lyf or reach out to Magellan Health’s free crisis hotline for frontline workers at 1(800) 327-7451.


     
  7. Journal: If you’re dealing with the the kind of frustration where you can’t even think straight, try writing (or typing) it all out. This can help you process a situation and calm your brain down so you can approach the issue with a more level head.


     
  8. Get outside: Spend some time in your backyard, go for a walk around the block, or head to your favorite park. If you’re crunched for time, even just stepping out for 60 seconds of fresh air can help you recalibrate. To really help ground yourself, slip off your shoes and let your bare feet touch the dirt or grass.


     
  9. Manage your expectations of others: Often, negative feelings come from misaligned expectations. Recognize that you can’t fully anticipate anyone else’s behavior; change your own mental framework so that you aren’t holding them to standards they won’t meet – it’s only hurting you.


     
  10. Treat yourself: Sometimes you just want to lay on the couch with a bag of chips and your favorite movie, and that’s OK! As long as it doesn’t become an unhealthy habit, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to some guilty pleasures.


     
  11. Spend some time with animals: Many people find animals to be a source of comfort and support. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and lower blood pressure, as well as elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax[i].


     
  12. Distract yourself: Leaning into feelings doesn’t always help. If you need to detach from your anger, try doing something that requires focus (like a puzzle or reading).


     
  13. Take a nap: We all need a brief reset at times. If you hit a wall where you are completely overwhelmed with everything going on, set a timer for 20 minutes and climb into bed. The rest will do your brain well and checking out for a little bit often helps you go about the rest of your day with a fresh start.


     
  14. Start a garden or get a new houseplant: Numerous studies have found that the act of gardening can be beneficial for numerous health outcomes, including anxiety and stress reduction[ii]. Don’t have the outdoor space? Taking care of an indoor plant has similar effects on your mental health[iii].


     
  15. Get creative: Art is a great tool for emotional expression. Crafting, drawing, painting, writing poetry, and other art forms are all healthy ways to channel your anger into something fun.


     
  16. Turn on some music: Music has a powerful effect on our brains. Search for a playlist of relaxing or happy music to turn your frustration into a more enjoyable emotion. Bonus points if you dance it out!


     
  17. Get organized: Take ten minutes to clean, plan, or otherwise streamline something in your life. Turning your extra energy into something productive will not only help you get rid of some of that frustration, but you’ll also have accomplished something.


     
  18. Wash your face: It seems so simple but putting cold water on your face doesn’t just feel refreshing – it triggers your mammalian diving reflex which slows your heart rate and breathing. By reducing the physical symptoms of frustration, you can interrupt your brain’s feedback loop and reduce your emotional frustration as well.


[i] National Institutes of Health. (February 2018). The power of pets: Health benefits of human-animal interactions. NIH News in Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets

[ii] Soga, M., Gaston, K.J., & Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 92-99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007

[iii] Lee, M.S., Lee, J., Park, B.J., & Miyazaki, Y. (2015). Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 34(1). DOI: 10.1186/s40101-015-0060-8