Finding yourself in an unexpected traffic jam on the only day you have a meeting first thing in the morning.
Getting another notice of your unpaid telephone bill even though you paid it two weeks ago.
Being placed on hold again by the customer service department of the software you desperately need to use. And they have crappy hold music.
The dog throwing up on your shoe as you’re rushing out the door after having already been made late by the refrigerator repairman coming at the very end of his four-hour window and then leaking water all over your kitchen floor while at the same time your child’s school is calling to say that Madison forgot to bring her saxophone – although you reminded her at least 100 times to take it – and could you please bring it to her because the school concert rehearsal is today?
How often do they happen? Every. Single. Day.
They’re not the big crises and tragedies that we sometimes have to bounce back from in our lives.
But they are inevitable and, left untended, they can add up to a lot of unnecessary stress. And we don’t want that.
To manage everyday frustrations before they get the best of you, try one or more of these tips:
1. This, too, shall pass.
Your crummy day, traffic jam, annoying conversation with a co-worker – they’re going to pass, too.
Keep these four crucial words in mind the next time you feel your blood starting to boil: This, too, shall pass.
2. Change is inevitable.
Your well-planned day? It’s likely something is going to throw a kink into it.
Trying to resist change is a waste of energy.
So plan for change. Expect it.
3. Don’t take on other people’s stuff.
Be aware of what is your responsibility (hint: your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) and what is the other person’s responsibility (hint: their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.)
If someone is causing you frustration, address the situation directly rather than going through all types of mental and behavioral gymnastics to get them to change.
4. Be flexible.
We’ve already decided that change is inevitable (see #2 above.)
Flexibility in thinking, behavior, and expectations allows us to deal with change as it comes. If we expect change, then we can be ready for it by not being attached to the way things were, but rolling with the new change-wave that has just come in.
5. Take a deep breath.
Taking a deep breath does a couple things for you: it can act as a trigger to bring you back to the present and it can stimulate your vagus nerve.
What does that mean?
When you take a deep breath, allow it to be a reminder that you are here in the present moment. You aren’t in the future (where your anxieties lie) nor are you in the past (where you had that frustrating conversation with your co-worker.) You’re in this moment and you’re okay.
One of the physical processes that happens when you take a deep breath is the movement of your diaphragm stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, that part of you that calms the body. And when the body is calm, the mind is sure to follow.
6. Remember that stress is in your head.
Stress isn’t your co-worker. It’s not the traffic jam. It’s not the utility bill, the dog, or even the refrigerator repairman.
Stress is how you perceive these things.
You could allow your co-worker to frustrate you or you could think, “This is about her and her need for attention. She’s not doing this to me.”
The utility bill is just a piece of paper. It’s only when you perceive it as a symbol of the utility company’s incompetence and persecution of you that it becomes stressful.
You get the idea.
We’re always going to have events come up that trigger frustration and stress, but we can at least soften the impact by realizing we have some control over how we think about it.
7. You’ve had days like this before and lived to tell about it.
It’s easy to get caught up in a sea of frustration, stress, and annoyance.
Remember to poke your head above the water and look back. You’ve had stressful days in the past. What happened to them?
You forgot them.
Which means that they really weren’t that big of a deal after all.
This day will be like one of those days, too. (Refer to #1.)
8. Remember your values. Does this little irritant really matter?
We’ve talked before about how important it is to live our lives steered by our values.
Perhaps a couple of your top values are kindness and making a difference. When you look at your everyday frustrations in light of these guiding values, do you notice how small they become?
Use your values like a compass and don’t let a bad day through you off course.
9. Ask yourself, “Why am I hanging on to this? How does it help?”
You have your values that are guiding you. And you have goals that are in line with those values.
So how is holding onto your annoyance at being placed on hold helping you with your goals and values? Is grinding your teeth down to nothing really going to make your life better? Is gripping the steering wheel so hard your knuckles turn white going to make the cars move any faster in a traffic jam?
Bonus question to ask yourself: “How is this [reaction to stress] working for me?
Bonus tip: Refer to #5.
Find a friend you know who makes you laugh. Watch something silly on YouTube. Talk to yourself in a Donald Duck voice.
It’s nearly impossible to feel frustrated and laugh at the same time.
Laughing releases endorphins and stimulates your vagus nerve as well so you get the double pleasure of feeling good and feeling calm at the same time.
11. Talk to a good friend.
Talking to a good friend about your difficult day will help you to frame your frustrations in a way that you can more easily do some problem-solving.
And the connection with your friend will produce some of those warm, fuzzy oxytocins that are good for us.
Now that you’re feeling warm and fuzzy, give your friend a hug.
12. Take action (rather than wishing something away.)
You’re gossipy co-worker has cornered you in the break room to fill you in on the latest dirt.
You hate this and wish you could get away.
Don’t just stand there wishing – do something!
Tell your co-worker you really don’t like to hear rumors about other people.
Excuse yourself and walk away.
Trying to wish something would end puts you in a place of feeling powerless; doing something about it helps you gain control again.
As Yoda would say, “There is no try; only do.”
13. Get something to eat.
I don’t mean this in the sense of get-something-sweet-to-make-myself-feel-better-but-only-for-a-moment-until-the-sugar-hits-me-and-I-become-crankier-than-ever.
I mean that you actually may need some fuel and part of your feeling of frustration may be due to your body running on both physical and emotional fumes. Get a little healthy fuel in there and see if that helps.
But try to stay away from sugar. I love sugar, but it really makes me edgy, cranky, and tired. And nobody wants to be around that.
14. Take a nap.
Besides being hungry, you might be downright tired. It’s really hard to manage emotions when we’re tired.
If possible, take a 10-20 minute nap.
Cleaning up after the dog will be easier after that, I promise.
15. Get some distance from it.
Sometimes physical distance from a frustration can help, but that option isn’t always available.
Emotional distance is, though.
Part of the reason we feel stress about everyday irritations is because we’re hooked into it emotionally and cognitively. (Refer to #9.)
To get a little distance, start actively noticing your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, here are some things you might say to yourself:
“I notice that I’m feeling really stressed out about this traffic. I notice I’m having the thought, ‘This traffic is horrible! I’m going to be so late!’ I see that my knuckles are white. I can feel the sensation of my hands gripping the steering wheel too hard. I notice that the car to the left of me is black, the car to the right is red, and the one in front of me is white.”
What you’re doing is becoming mindful of the present moment – what you see, feel, and think. As you do this, you look at your thoughts and feelings rather than from them. See how you unhook by looking at what’s happening around and in you rather than being locked in a mental and emotional tug-of-war with them?
I know we’ve already covered this, but it bears repeating.
Taking a deep breath seems kind of trite but it’s actually one of the most important things you can do when you’re managing one of those days.
Okay, over to you: What do you do to bounce back from everyday frustrations?