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Article by Friend of the Podcast, Annie Highwater

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Published books: Unhooked and Unbroken


We all know what it’s like to feel frustrated.  Some of us live with that feeling daily. For me personally, this is a large area of focus in my own process of recovery and self-improvement.

I believe frustration has an abstract and most often, very personal definition.

For me frustration seems to be my default when triggered.  It’s a feeling of angst (sometimes fiery), coupled with a strong sense of defeat and discouragement. If not handled, those feelings can lead to hopelessness and despair.

Here’s the actual definition of Frustration: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something. An event or circumstance that causes one to have a feeling of aggravation. The prevention of the progress, success, or fulfillment of something.

Relevant synonyms: thwarting, defeat, foiling, blocking, stopping, countering, spoiling, quashing, crushing. (Merriam-Webster)

To be real about it – I’ve been frustrated more than usual lately.  When something becomes glaringly apparent, I tend to dive in and research it. Which is why the subject is acutely on my mind these days.

Having now spent some years gaining momentum in therapeutic methods and personal recovery, I do know how to move out of frustration.  I’ve been properly guided as an adult how to self soothe and work through emotions. However, frustration is one that seems to return easily, and to be honest lately it returns quite frequently.

Just today I laid frustrated angst on the yoga mat, ran it off on the track, practiced DBT techniques, journaled about it, called and laughed with friends, cried in the shower, and so on. Even though I turned to several of my healthiest “tools” to cope with my current frustration, I couldn’t completely shake the sense of it.

Recently I listened as a woman in a support group described being so sensitive lately that when one of her work supervisors addressed her about a project she was working on, her reaction stunned even her.

She admitted the supervisor wasn’t harsh about it, and was pretty well on point. However, the conversation triggered such an intense emotional response in her that she found herself crying in the bathroom, rocking in a stall…feeling like a complete failure.

There was something about her reaction and experience that I related to.

I don’t mean an inability to hear criticism, and I don’t think that was her issue either.  I mean being highly triggered to intense feelings of failure, frustration and discouragement.

I detect this sensitivity within myself as well, at least lately I do.  I’ve been reflecting on the cycle of frustration since.

Here’s a thought: If we were to think in terms of wellbeing and peace, the opposite would be force, resistance, and…frustration.  Right?

Therefore, would the solution for frustration be…acceptance? 




I am uncertain.  Therefore, I turned to public opinion to gather input on all of the above.

The following include responses from Air Members as well as a few people I polled for their insight.  I posed two questions:

What is your definition of frustration?  What are your methods of managing it?

Some gave a definition of frustration, some named the cause.  All gave their go-to methods for working through it.


“Frustration-when I am trying to do something (fix something, do something I haven’t done before,) and I can’t for one reason or another.  I step away, breathe deeply several times and try a couple more times, if that doesn’t work then I evaluate its importance and stop or ask for help.”  ~M Therapist

(I love the idea of stepping away.)


“Dealing with people in general is my definition of frustration. I work on motor sports stuff or work in my family’s farm to relax, sports etc. to relieve myself.”  ~D Law Enforcement

(People can be frustrating!  Or is it my expectations and internal response to people that frustrates me? Food for thought…)


“Frustration is trying to control something I have no control over. I drop it, let it go, and turn it over to God.” ~S Family Advisor

“An overwhelming flood of helplessness when you cannot accomplish something. Screaming, groaning, and foot stomping is the I generally deal with it, to be honest. I TRY to take a break to breathe and refocus.” ~M Teacher

“Frustration is when I can’t make sense of a situation, decision, or circumstance.  How do I work my way out of it?  That’s definitely still a learning process for me.  I’m still trying new and different ways.  I’m changing how I deal with frustration as I grow.  I used to handle it with a lot of negative emotion and anger.  I’m still learning regulate my emotions.”  ~J

(Regulating emotion has been a large area of my own recovery work.  I found DBT therapy profoundly helpful.)


“Not being heard, annoying conversations, those are my triggers to frustration.  When it builds up I play video games and fight people in virtual reality.” ~S

“When I have a premeditated outcome already set before interacting with someone or doing a task.  When it doesn’t turn out as I imagine the frustration sets in.  I work to let go of, or not have my expectations at the forefront and let it unfold.  Easier said than done!”  ~S Author

“Frustration is when you start to feel angry. I work my way out of it by first breathing deeply when I start to feel agitated and then being aware of the thoughts I am having and then usually I remind myself of how grateful I am.” ~C Yoga Teacher

“I get frustrated when I’m trying express my feelings and I don’t feel heard or the person wants to give me advice. I also get frustrated with myself when I become a peace keeper instead of getting mad and expressing myself. What do I do for it? Sometimes I eat, sometimes I catch myself having a glass of wine, sometimes I feel anxiety and sadness.  Sometimes I take a walk. So I guess the definition of frustration for me is trying to change something that makes me unhappy but not being able to.”  ~A Teacher

“When things aren’t going the way I think they should, I first of all start blaming people places and things then I remember – oh I’m frustrated because of my thinking, so I try to change my thinking, still may not getting my way but also means I’m not being a crazy person.”  ~Joe, Electrician and family support group facilitator

I think frustration can mean, or is the word for, that feeling you get when something gets in the way of what you are trying to accomplish or what you are hoping for.  One way I deal with frustration is through prayer and spiritual reading. Perhaps talking with others as well. As I have gotten older, my way of looking at and dealing with frustration has changed considerably.  I have learned to take the time and space to try and understand what the frustration is telling me about myself and my situation.  ~Anna, Therapist

“Frustration is our response to the uncontrollable.  My response is to breathe deeply and figure out what I can do. Then, go from there.”  ~J Pastor (and parent to 5 kids!)

* * *

Prevention – could the solution for frustration lie within self-care?

A friend texted me as I was working on this subject to say, “I’ve been thinking about this, while I know how I respond to it, I don’t believe it’s possible to prevent frustration.”


I am starting to believe self-care may actually be a way to do that…or at least reduce frustrations hold (and the duration with which we linger with it).

These days when I’m feeling frustrated or overburdened and overwhelmed I try to string together as many self-care breaks in a day as I can, to allow the clouds to part and give me some peace, wisdom and clarity.  In that space of calm and peace I consider my options.  And I’m kind to myself when I do!

I also ask myself what I need; do I need to take a long, hot shower?  Or do I need to schedule an appointment for therapy and perhaps invite a Loved One to participate. Do I need to go for a walk?  Call a friend?  Or set a boundary.

After thinking a few things through, I may then try to get some work done, do some cleaning or focus on a project.   Sometime later, I might pull out my phone to listen to a podcast, uplifting music or meditations (the Sanctuary page on Air has some great ones, YouTube has many as well), or maybe find a video clip of my favorite comedian.

I then return to whatever tasks I need to do, going easy on myself regardless of the demands.

I love the analogy I heard not long ago of viewing our goals like a quarterback running a touchdown.  Even if I only get a few yards ahead at a time, I’m still moving forward, taking care of myself and being my own cheerleader as I go.

Little by little, I can work my way forward until the negative feelings dissipate.

That process is what I find works for me personally. Slowly, strategically and with lots of self-compassion – that process was exactly how I walked out of a time when it felt like I was drowning in a whole WORLD of problems I couldn’t figure out, all driving me to daily feelings of angst and frustration.

* * *

If you are wrestling with your own feelings of frustration, I can’t encourage you enough to come up with a patchwork process of your own.

Much love and peace to all today (and the best news is – THIS day is the only one we have to make it through).

“These days my triggers are like annoying flies, whereas before they were more like elephants.” ~Unbroken

Still learning,


* * *

I would like to thank everyone for your contributions! More wonderful responses from the public and their methods of managing frustration below:


 “Frustration to me really goes hand in hand with control. If I look at a situation where I am frustrated I can see the root is at the lack of control. I deal with this many ways but usually I try to get some distance or pause so I can really look at what the problem is. I don’t always succeed at this but this is what I try to do. Remaining calm is probably my first goal with any conflict. I think the better my Loved One is doing the less I want to control her. The more I trust she is doing the best she can and it is her life. She will enjoy or suffer the consequences of her choices. I think looking at myself first I can see where the frustration is coming from. I am more of a planner and like things organized but my daughter is more spontaneous and impulsive…there isn’t a wrong or right way to do things and that is what I say to myself.” ~S

“As I reflect on my own behavior, I can see that I have the same relationship between control and frustration.  All we can really do is control what we do and how we react, but this is the hard part, right? I noticed that when I started to focus on my self-care, I started to be more mindful of how I feel in difficult situations and I’m in a better position to catch myself from doing or saying something I regret, which prevents me from feeding the cycle of frustration. I’m also less likely to get into my head too much and overthink things that also leads to my frustration, which I guess goes back to a sense of loss of control. I notice if I start slacking off on my self-care that my irritability and frustration start to spike, which is a red flag for me that reminds me to take care of myself as much as I try to take care of others.”  ~H

“I really don’t want to be in charge of the universe but when it comes to the health and safety of a loved one, I can get pretty forceful and domineering, always pushing toward the dream sequence at the end.  Too bad it never ever works.  Facing the reality of the situation is what actually starts to break up some of the frustration. I am forced to accept my limited influence and I have to back away from my loved one’s disorder. It’s the whole self-care mantra that I run through my head. Back away, don’t apply too much pressure, avoid assigning guilt trips, don’t argue or create drama, take care of myself – take care of myself – take care of myself. In taking better care of myself I can create a cocoon of peace under pressure. I’m still learning but that’s the gist of it.”  ~G

“Frustration is a build-up of tension, anger, stress due to not being in control of a situation. Blocking MY goals and aspirations. I write or journal. What is causing the frustration? Do I have unreasonable expectations around the cause. For example, am I frustrated that my son hasn’t contacted me in days? What’s unreasonable is that my expectations become dark and worst case scenario. If I can get a glimpse of that, tell myself that maybe he needs some distance from me for a while, I can change my expectation (a little) to my positive thoughts; he has his own highest self, just like I do. Pray that his strength and resilience (that I am modeling thanks to AIR) will hold him. Not to see him as weak or an addict, but as his own person. I also reach out to the support on this website, listen to the podcast and other forms of peace and support.”  ~S

“Frustration for me is being responsible for —- but not in control of —-things/experiences/consequences in my life. I deal with it in various ways depending on how I am feeling (how much rest I’ve had, my current level of stress, how many negative outcomes I’ve had to deal with without adequate recovery): sometimes I feel hopeless and get depressed, sometimes I lose my cool and express powerful emotions, and SOMETIMES I take it in stride and am able to internalize the thought ‘this too shall pass.’ I have found that practicing that practicing that healthy coping mechanism makes it easier for me to choose that one more often.” ~an AIr Mom

“My definition of frustration is when my addicted to alcohol son who is in legal trouble does nothing to help himself or seek help. It is so frustrating to observe him letting his life dissolve around him. Fortunately, the CRAFT approach has been paying off. He got a job interview today and he is looking for a sober living house to live in. To work myself out of it I meditate, do yoga, and seek solitude in my new home that is a great distance from him. We are in close touch, but I took myself out of the day to day observance of his problems. My home is now my sanctuary instead of a chaotic place.” ~K

“Frustration for me is the line that gets crossed where my emotions take over on their own without me being able to control them. It depends on the situation, but it is usually when I retreat, step back and analyze what is happening through using what I learned here. When I control my emotions, no one else can.” ~T

“Frustration to me is when I get so upset and annoyed with a situation that I feel I have no control over and there seems there’s no solution.  I do a great deal of praying and going out to my favorite hiking area, take a long hike and think things out.  When it is a good opportunity, I also try to talk with the person that has contributed to my frustration.   I try my hardest to stay calm because getting upset just makes me look like the bad guy.  I also tell myself tomorrow is another day and things will look better.” ~M

“Frustration raised its ugly head when I took relapses personally and made comments that triggered the kind of responses that made the situation worse.  I unknowingly used some of the principles of the CRAFT program at sometimes however, and although it took many years, it led to my recovery in Al-Anon and my wife’s through her recovery in AA. Rewarding “good” behavior and detaching with love from unacceptable behavior finally led to our recoveries.  Frustration is now a thing of the past.” ~K

“Frustration for me is when my own worries/concern/boundaries and sense of urgency for my Loved One are met with indifference of my LO not wanting to work their recovery like their life depends on it.  I try to slow down my thinking, take a step back, look at things as being a marathon and not a sprint. but also try to frame my mindset around Module 3. Then I try to focus on why I love her. Then I try to do anything I can to not obsess.” ~P

“My answer is pretty raw: frustration for me is hearing my husband minimize his drinking, and to refer to the people who he drank with at bars and bartenders as his friends, to have him describe my anger and pain at his staying out all night and coming home drunk as abuse. To deny that his drinking had anything to do with his losing his job when I saw him go into work drinking day after day. I am grateful to CRAFT for guiding me toward regulating my emotions, but I am frustrated that the relationship seems so one-sided. Everything I do should be in response to his behavior. Frustrated that his drinking and other behavior has caused our daughter so much pain. The last is the hardest, she thinks I should leave. He had not had a drink in about four months, which is great but I am so tired. He still goes into bars daily, but drinks coffee.” ~H


And finally – frustration beautifully laid out by an Air Member:

From Latin frustrat- ‘disappointed’, from the verb frustrare, from frustra  ‘in vain’

“The confusion is harmful in my experience.  The enemy of confusion, my tool of health, is distinction.  Differentiation of the components of the real and complex conditions surrounding around any situation. Many of them are internal and so making this a degree more difficult; we simply can’t read minds nor no implicit triggers inside people that bring up emotions. I think distinguishing between childish coping mechanisms and adult coping is vital in my experience.

For example, my experience has taught me to distinguish between fear and my resistance to it. I think resistance to fear also precludes resistance to the facts causing the fear.  Acceptance leads to energizing and exploring the situational context and imagining solutions. Denying the fear and suffering the consequences that they never go away, might be the definition many gravitate towards for frustration.

On the surface there’s a resistance to something that leads nowhere. E.g. when I dread a negative consequence it is really the resistance to the energy that a fear really represents inside my body in the form of neurochemicals, namely adrenaline. The energy is meant to alert me to a situation needing my attention, yet if I turn away from that energy and cause and there’s no one to remedy the danger then my body will continue to drip adrenaline into my body until the threat goes away.

Without accepting and trusting fear’s meaning (no harm yet has my best interests at heart), I can’t straightforwardly and relentlessly, detect the source of the fear and decide if its something I can change or something I need to walk or run away from or fight etc.

When fear, isn’t distinguished from the pain of resisting the fear (that isn’t going away because I am the only one called to action by my physiology and perhaps morality), faulty logic continues to resist the source of the pain. This leads to the same outcome.


Looking at it from the physiology makes it clearer. If there is a danger, my senses(at the unconscious level), cause adrenaline to be secreted that causes my “experience” of fear, that is meant to breaks through my unconscious perception of “emergent danger”, to my consciousness. In order to energize me to act. The action can be to jump away or to think about the meaning of the emergent source detected that has caused my fear. Neurosis is resistance to fear; inability or conditioned “fear of fear” or dread, that causes a slow drip of adrenaline until we accept the fear and use its energy to explore the source.

The reason for learning such a faulty manner of dealing with fear can be traced back to childhood; I believe.  As a child if a danger is detected, I will experience fear. Within the family unit, the parents are experienced and capable to deal with the source of danger, they detect as well as you, in an adult way.  I child may be told to “be quiet” since a child isn’t competent to deal with the source of the fear. Children takes things very personally and might imply and create a belief that “my fears should be resisted and not communicated either with my parents or my own consciousness; repressed.” The parents then deal with the source and tell the child that “see, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”  Later in life mommy and daddy aren’t there and if we repressed the danger doesn’t get taken care of.

When our body wants to energize us it’s because there’s something we need to do.  That is why I am a big fan of the slogan, “control the controllables,” because this gives direction to the energy of fear. We can reference CRAFT for a big list of “CONTROLLABLES”.  Another reason I believe CRAFT is valuable.

I think there are many more examples of coping mechanisms from childhood, that functioned in a family, yet that don’t work anymore as an adult that no one else is taking care of. Repression of signals that we “tune out” in the same way that is a childish remnant brought into adulthood leading to frustration.” ~Air Reader

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