11 Exercises to Increase Frustration Tolerance

Increasing tolerance for frustration can have positive effects, both for our personal development and our interpersonal relationships. Let's find out how to achieve it.
11 Exercises to Increase Frustration Tolerance
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 29 August, 2023

Frustration tolerance not only affects the way you react to any results you achieve but also the attitude you assume from the outset. But, how much does frustration tolerance influence your behavior, relationships, and personal growth?

Being tolerant toward yourself and your frustrations is part of learning the art of living. Because life isn’t completely at your service nor does it always have to satisfy your desires. While there’ll be times when the path to what you long for is clear, H there’ll be others when you can only find obstacles. What can you do in these cases? Get discouraged or accept the difficulties?

Frustration tolerance

As human beings, we tend to have heterogeneous desires. For example, wanting a car, a job, a certain cell phone, a university degree, etc. Therefore, you’re characterized by searching for what you want or the constant struggle to get rid of what you don’t like. Both having and letting go are born from the desire for what you lack. For instance “I need to have a motorcycle” or “I need to stop being this way to be a better person”. As humans, we’re all beings in need.

But, what happens when life seems to insist on obstructing your path toward the realization of your desires? You get frustrated. The tension between what you long for but can’t have generates anger, impotence, discomfort, anxiety, and despair. This feeling isn’t born simply from the difficulty of achieving what you want, but from the way in which you interpret, handle, and recognize your unfavorable results.

The impossibility of achieving everything you set out to do is an inherent aspect of being human. The frustration that you experience brings you down to earth. What can you do about it? The key lies in being tolerant and learning to manage and accept the discrepancy between what’s ideal and what’s real.

Frustration tolerance is central to this context. It’s understood as the ability to manage unpleasant emotions in the face of events that don’t turn out as planned and that hinder the path to what you desire. It’s the art of accepting what doesn’t fit your expectations.

Man sitting in a room in the dark is pensive
The discrepancy between expectations and reality often generates frustration.

Characteristics of people with low frustration tolerance

If you can’t tolerate frustration, you’ll exhibit the following:

  • A tendency to procrastinate or display avoidance behavior due to your inability to tolerate frustration.
  • An impulse to ‘correct’ situations due to your impatience.
  • Exaggerated feelings of discomfort.
  • The attempt to achieve immediate gratification.
  • Giving up in the face of challenges.
  • Avoiding tasks and responsibilities that may cause you anguish or frustration.

However, you can learn to be tolerant of your frustration. Indeed, you can train this capacity by experiencing small frustrations. The best way to learn how to tolerate frustration is by immersing yourself in it and allowing yourself to experience the emotions it arouses. Therefore, any moment of frustration is the perfect moment to practice.

Here’s how you can increase your frustration tolerance.

Exercises to increase frustration tolerance

Practice makes perfect. If you want to increase your tolerance for frustration, you must practice continuously, at all times, and in every uncomfortable or adverse situation that comes your way.

1. Maintain peace of mind

In the face of frustration, it’s important that you learn to remain calm and not let yourself be affected by it. To do this, you can carry out a Stoic exercise proposed by Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory López in their book,  Live Like a Stoic. This exercise is carried out in three steps:

  • Imagine a situation that you probably have to face today and that might be frustrating.
  • Mentally repeat to yourself “I want to do this activity, but I also want to stay calm by accepting what might happen.”
  • Imagine yourself acting calmly in the face of this frustrating situation.

2. Accept your frustrations.

Acknowledge the feeling of frustration you’re experiencing and the thoughts you’re having about it. Accept how you’re feeling, not from an accusatory perspective, but one of curiosity and kindness.

Accept your emotions and open yourself to the present moment so that you can move more effectively toward what you value. To promote acceptance, try the following (Hayes, 2020):

  • Embrace the experience the same way you’d embrace a crying child.
  • Get close to your experience, in much the same way as you’d get close to someone with a serious illness.
  • Breathe in the experience the same way you’d breathe in a deep breath.
  • Give up the fight with your experience in the same way that a soldier would give up his arms to return home.

3. Observe what you feel

Once you’ve identified and accepted the emotions that accompany your frustration, step away from them to view them from a larger perspective. This will help you get a better perspective on your frustration. Here are some strategies to help you distance yourself:

  • Think about the process. See yourself located in a long process and on a path of continuous growth.
  • Look for contradictions. Embracing and accepting contradictions improves your tolerance for uncertainty.
  • Change your point of view. View your feelings from another person’s perspective.
  • Verbalize what worries you. Identify what you’re thinking as what it is (a thought) and the emotion of rejection as what it is (an emotion). You can formulate it as “I’m having the thought that…” or “I’m feeling the emotion of…”

4. Breathe and stay calm

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and place one hand on your abdomen, with your little finger just above your navel. Your abdomen should rise with each inward breath. As you exhale, your abdomen should return to its original position. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose or mouth.

Take a slow, deep breath through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Then, slowly breathe out through your nose or mouth for about eight seconds. If you want, you can mentally and slowly repeat the word “calm” or “quiet” each time you exhale.

Relaxation and emotional self-control techniques are extremely useful for increasing your tolerance for frustration, as they help you regulate and manage your emotional activation.

Woman trying to calm down
Breathing and relaxation techniques help manage frustration.

5. Anticipate future frustrations

Marcus Aurelius suggested an exercise in his work, Meditations, that’ll help you deal with frustration and increase your frustration tolerance. Pigliucci and Gregory (2019) propose carrying out this exercise in the following way:

  • Every morning, write down some situations that may not turn out as you expect and that might make it difficult for you to satisfy your desires. This will help you reduce the impact of unexpected adversities.
  • Set a reminder or use a mantra that reminds you that you’re trying to improve and increase your frustration tolerance.

6. Increase your tolerance through small adversities

To increase your frustration tolerance, you can impose certain adversities or mild discomforts. They’ll help you develop acceptance. Indeed, facing small difficulties helps you expand your comfort zone, preparing yourself, at the same time, to face any adversity or frustration. Again, Pigliucci and Gregory (2019) formulated an exercise that can help:

  • Spend a minute or two listing the kinds of discomforts that frustrate you.
  • Choose a discomfort that you’d like to be more tolerant of. Make sure your choice isn’t too difficult.
  • Design an action plan and constantly expose yourself to it.

7. Use your frustrations for personal growth

If there’s nothing you can do to get what you want, learn to use that adversity to grow. After all, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So, when you’re in a frustrating situation, take it as an opportunity to cultivate frustration tolerance. Indeed, if life insists on thwarting every plan you make, show it how tolerant you can be.

At the end of the day, reflect on how you could’ve done things better and when you felt like you were unable to tolerate your frustration. Think about how you reacted, what you felt and thought, and formulate new options to respond to these kinds of situations.

8. Change your way of thinking

Another exercise to increase frustration tolerance is cognitive restructuring (CR). This cognitive technique is based on the assumption that thoughts affect emotions and behavior. Therefore, a modification of them can alter what you feel at a certain moment.

In general, the emotions associated with frustration are nourished by how you interpret a situation. So, restructuring your way of thinking will cause a change in the way you experience it.

To use CR to promote frustration tolerance, identify what you think, feel, and do when you feel frustrated. Question the veracity of your ideas, look for evidence against them, and change them to more adaptive kinds.

You might be interested to read What is Cognitive Restructuring?

9. Do physical exercise

To increase your tolerance for frustration, you also need to be healthy. Physical exercise is a really useful strategy. In fact, by adding it to your daily routine, you’ll be able to improve your emotional regulation. This is crucial for facing difficulties.

Exercising is necessary for the body and mind. An article written by the American Psychological Association (APA) points out that physical activity improves mental health by reducing anxiety and depression and improving mood. So, if you want to increase your tolerance for frustration, start training yourself.

10. Develop your problem-solving skills

Promoting your ability to solve problems can be a really effective exercise to increase your frustration tolerance. Knowing how to solve difficulties will make you feel more confident and competent in the face of adversity and frustration. To develop this skill, keep in mind the following:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Design new solutions.
  • Evaluate each solution option.
  • Choose an alternative and take action.
  • Monitor the results.

By learning to solve the problems that make you feel frustrated, you can increase your ability to manage difficult circumstances. This will reduce the emotional stress associated with them.

11. Seek professional help

Going to a psychologist is always a good way of strengthening yourself. Therefore, if your low frustration tolerance is significantly affecting your life, ask for help. A trained and qualified professional can provide you with tools to help.

Final considerations

Living means learning to accept life as it is with all its misfortunes and adversities. You won’t always get what you want or achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

For this reason, it’s important that you learn to apply these exercises to increase your tolerance for frustration. This means that, when you’re faced with problems that frustrate you, you won’t activate unnecessary resistance that disturbs your existence.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.