A Shift in Perspective



After spending a few hours working in the yard this week, I found myself feeling irritated. Instead of the usual calming effect of physical work, I felt mounting resentment and anger. The more time I spent pitching debris into the wheelbarrow, and the more trips I made around the yard with shovel and rake, the more I felt a seething presence of something ugly growing in my gut. I wanted to use those garden tools to smash something. Finally, I had to take a break and confront this demon. It was not pretty.

The demon self-identified as frustration. I had so many projects planned simply to maintain some semblance of order on the property. In addition, I had some ideas for making a few changes to my outdoor space. All of these things would take time and money plus elbow grease, and I was feeling short of all ingredients. I allowed myself some self-indulgence (also known as a pity-party). Why was my life so hard? Didn’t I already work more than 40 hours a week? Wasn’t I responsible? Why wasn’t anyone helping me?

I decided to turn this confrontation with frustration into a positive by doing a little research and writing about it. I was surprised at the amount of material I found on the topic of frustration with very little searching involved. The broad and universal theme of frustration is more than can be addressed in this column, but I did learn a few things.

Underlying the feeling of frustration there are usually deeper emotions at work. Anger is the classic partner to frustration, along with anxiety and fear. A person’s inability to obtain what they want, or to change circumstances that are beyond their control, are common. Frustration can be internal, or can be the result of external circumstances.

Writers use frustration as the main motivator for their characters all the time. Moving a storyline forward with a character’s quest for change, revenge, battle or death is accomplished by using the character’s frustration over a given circumstance. Frustration is a strong emotion that can be expressed in many ways, illustrating a state of mind.

As I reflect on what I have learned, it is obvious that many people are currently experiencing frustration at a high rate. It can go without saying, I think, that people are exasperated with Covid restrictions and all that goes with it. After an evolving discussion as a society over the last year, we see that circumstances are largely the same. Vaccinated or not, we still need to be cautious, we need to wear masks and we need to keep our contacts to a minimum. Economic fallout continues to affect families. Adding to the frustration, we have learned that the virus is mutating to stay alive and thwart our efforts to diminish its viability.

Writing in ‘Psychology Today,’ Toni Bernhard, J.D. gives us the following tips for dealing with frustration: Remember that you are not alone. Others have faced similar circumstances to yours. Your frustration is not set in stone. We cannot see the future and solutions to your problem may well be found. Work on developing patience by trying to extend your tolerance for irritations and annoyances. Contact someone you know who will let you vent without judgment. Administer self-compassion immediately. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to others.

As the author of my own story, I can become more mindful of the narrative I am telling myself. I can tell myself to be patient with my progress towards my project goals. I can remember to call the friend to whom I can say literally anything, and find comfort in that action. I can remember that others in similar circumstances found a way to work through hardships successfully. I can remind myself that my current perspective does not prevent change from happening. I can substitute positive images for negative ones. My frustration will be the motivational force in my own story.

Vicki Biggs is a longtime social worker. She lives in Home.