Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. —Kurt Vonnegut
My alarm wouldn’t shut up or snooze this morning. I couldn’t find the image I had planned to use for this article. A child was up way too damn early. A cat demanded I fill the food bowl, despite there being more than enough food already there. I try to not be too terribly superstitious, but this morning has me wondering of there’s some validity to all the concern over Mercury being in retrograde. As I’m writing, we’re not even to 6:00 AM and already my level of frustration has reached a toxic level.
There are a number of things that can be frustrating. Realizing that it is only Thursday, not Friday, is one. Finding out someone ate the last of the Frosted Flakes will certainly do it. Remembering just now that we forgot to get milk for breakfast adds to the list. In a society where the pressure to perform is high, where expectations exceed reason, where resources never seem to match demand, frustration is a daily occurrence. The question is never whether we’re going to be frustrated, but how quickly in the day is it going to happen.
Frustration is toxic and spreads quickly. Twitter is probably the best example of that fact. One person posting their frustration is all it takes for a topic such as #DropOutHillary to start trending. Whether the topic is valid or has any merit is irrelevant; people are frustrated with the entire election system so they’re more than happy to jump on the bandwagon and wail. Frustration hits quickly, hits hard, and lands punches where we least expect them. As a result, our reactions are often excessive or even inappropriate to the size of the problem.
Solutions are not especially difficult to find, though, except for that part about wanting to change who is running for political offices. Most of what frustrates us are the tiny annoyances that have a relatively small impact in reality but feel significant at the time. We can’t always stop or prevent the frustration from happening, but we can address the toxicity through some rather simple steps.
- Step back from the situation and take a breath. When my alarm wouldn’t shut the fuck up this morning, I was so frustrated Kat had to intervene. I couldn’t find a solution to the problem because I was too emotionally involved. Being able to step back and see the insignificance of the annoyance gives us a chance to find a solution without causing damage.
- Drink something. When problems happen before I’ve had my morning coffee, my frustration is immediate and often severe. Being able to wrap my hands around something other than someone’s neck, something like a coffee mug or, later in the day, a glass of scotch, reduces the likelihood of collateral damage.
- Momentarily distract yourself from the problem. Most of what frustrates us does not require our immediate attention, unless it’s an alarm that refuses to shut off. Dwelling on the problem only ramps up the frustration. Find something less volatile, like a comic strip or a stripping comic to distract you until you’ve calmed down. Then, you can approach the problem more calmly.
- Put down the gun. Gun safety is requisite for those of us whose high anxiety levels lead them to frequent periods of frustration. Even getting to our weapons is a multi-step process that is intentionally difficult to perform when angry or frustrated. This has saved countless lives of passing motorists whose stereos are far too loud and preserved phones, computers, and other digital devices from being riddled with bullet holes. Violence is never the solution.
- Create something. Being frustrated takes up an incredible amount of energy. Pouring that energy, even if it is negatively motivated, into doing something creative can be cathartic. Not only may you create something beautiful and fulfilling, you might well be saving yourself a heart attack in the process.
What did it for me this morning, at least momentarily, was this clip from last night’s Late, Late Show with James Corden. I mean, how can you hold on to your frustration when George Clooney is in the backseat doing Hollaback Girl? This is a very funny 15 minutes and I’ll probably watch it more than once today, given how this day seems to be challenging me right out of the gate. Perhaps it will help you as well.