Frustration is a unique mood state we experience when despite our best efforts, nothing is going according to plan! We may be already experiencing stress, but frustration typically results from a compounding sequence of events that leave us feeling overwhelmed. Consider the following scenario:
You’re on your way home from work, and the tire pressure light comes on in your vehicle. You glance at the temperature gauge and think – “it’s probably just cold.” The light goes out after a while but comes on again a few days later. You wonder if you should do something, but it’s just not convenient. You have an important presentation to make and need time at home to work. For the next week, you’re anxious because a lot is riding on the presentation.
Tuesday morning, when you wake up, it’s snowing, but it’s still early, and you’ve got plenty of time to get to work. You pull out of the driveway, and suddenly the right front tire goes flat. (Insert expletive #4&W@! here) You pull over and look at the tire. Yep…it’s flat. You call the tow service, but they’re out on calls, and the first opening is late afternoon. Resentfully you move everything out of the way of the spare tire and find a forgotten bag of Halloween candy. You get the tire out, and then because this is a newer car, you suddenly wonder where the jack is and what it looks like. You open the bag of candy before getting out the owner’s manual to find the jack. The snow is coming down heavier, and you think about calling a cab. No time for that now. You get the jack in place, but you can’t find the lug wrench. Grabbing another handful of candy, you go back into the garage and start looking through tools hoping to find a socket set and extension. When you finally get back to the car, the rim is sitting on the pavement. The jack isn’t holding pressure. Irritated, you try again. And again. Each time the rim drops back to the pavement. In frustration, you eat a few more pieces of candy. Then you remember some concrete blocks in the garage before the jack deflates and prop one up under the frame.
Finally, you get the tire off and get the new one in place. As you tighten the lug nuts, the wrench slips, and you cut open the back of three knuckles. (Insert another expletive here) While you’re cleaning the cuts you have a few more pieces of candy. Finally, you’re cleaned up and ready to drive to work. More than an hour has passed. You get in the car, and as you accelerate, you hear an odd sound and a thump. You forgot the concrete block. You get out of the car, and some strange colored fluid leaks on the ground. How do you feel now? (Insert expletive here…and pass me the bag of candy)
As this scenario illustrates, frustration is typically the result of compounding events. We all have countless examples of reaching that point of frustration, whether it’s due to our own procrastination, assumptions, or expectations. Regardless of the source, frustration can trigger unconscious, reactive behaviors. In this situation (and others), the first action is to become aware of our state and shut down Betty. In this example, the flood of anxiety and panic blocked US (the thinking brain) from realizing the jack screw was in the wrong position and couldn’t hold pressure.
When we feel frustration, this warning indicated that it’s time to SLOW DOWN and prioritize. Odds are we need to simply focus on what we can do and just focus on that one task. Later in the course, we discuss the relationships between moods, procrastination, and avoidance in greater detail.