Building frustration tolerance can help you navigate life’s obstacles and difficulties healthily.

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Life can be downright overwhelming sometimes, especially when everything seems like its going wrong. How we respond to life’s challenges can be determined by several factors.

For some people, when things don’t go according to plan, this can cause explosiveness or withdrawal. These symptoms can be an indicator of low frustration tolerance.

Low frustration tolerance is our capacity to handle life’s unexpected events or unpleasant emotions.

If you have a low frustration tolerance, you may have difficulty managing obstacles to achieve a goal or complete a task.

It’s a component of resilience but slightly different. Resilience is the flexibility and ability to cope with challenges or trauma. Frustration tolerance has to do with the span it takes you to react emotionally to difficulties.

Think of the two like a rubber band: Resilience is the elasticity to stretch (cognitively, with perspective and emotional intelligence), and frustration tolerance refers to how slowly or quickly we snap when emotions are pulled.

If obstacles are blocking you from attaining your goal, and you become very overwhelmed or explosive, this may be a sign you have a low frustration threshold.

Research from 2017 suggests that other signals of low frustration tolerance include:

  • emotion dysregulation
  • easily irritable
  • quick to anger
  • trouble accepting reality
  • procrastination
  • impatience
  • craving immediate gratification

These symptoms may make inconveniences feel unmanageable.

There are a variety of contributors to low frustration tolerance. Low frustration tolerance can be caused by living with a mental health condition. Low frustration tolerance is not uncommon in people with:

Low frustration tolerance can make it difficult to move past challenging tasks. If you find something frustrating, you may tend to put off the task by ignoring it or procrastinating. This cycle of putting things off or avoidance can lead to:

Do people with ADHD have a low frustration threshold?

Yes, people with ADHD often experience a lower frustration threshold. For example, when people who experience hyperactivity or a combination of inattention and hyperactivity experience roadblocks they can become easily irritable.

In addition, emotional dysregulation is usually a sign that you have a low frustration threshold.

A 2020 research study of 67 adolescents ages 10-14 found that children with ADHD demonstrated a lower frustration tolerance, defined in the study as a tendency to quit a frustrating behavioral task.

If you have low frustration tolerance, you can cope by using strategies to build a higher tolerance threshold.

Try positive self-talk

Negative self-talk can often get in the way of building tolerance to frustration. For example, if every time you face a challenge, you tell yourself, “I can’t do this,” you have set a precedent for how you will handle the task.

Engaging in positive self-talk can help you reduce this behavior. Next time you may try something like: “I know this will be a challenging task, but I’m capable.”

Use mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness techniques help orient you to the here and now nonjudgmentally. Research from 2018 indicates that even a brief mindfulness practice can help you withstand stressful events, increasing distress tolerance.

Children can benefit from learning how to work through frustration healthily in a way that can translate across settings.

If you have a child with low frustration tolerance, there are some strategies you can use. In a 2021 study with children ages 15-39 months, the researchers assigned a frustrating task to the children and observed both the children’s and the parents’ responses.

The parent behaviors associated with reduced frustration were:

  • Distracting. Talking about or diverting the child’s attention to another object
  • Demonstrating. When the parent was able to advise or model their approach to the problem for the toddler
  • Reframing. Providing the child with a new point of view and offering a possible solution

These approaches may be applicable in helping kids manage frustration in other situations. With these strategies, the children may be able to eventually use distraction techniques or reframe a problem on their own.

Low frustration tolerance is typical in many folks — including people with mental health conditions, especially ADHD. You can practice soothing or de-escalating frustration in challenging situations.

Helping children reframe the situation or diverting their attention to other tasks can be beneficial in building frustration tolerance skills. In adults, practicing mindfulness or positive self-talk can be useful for dealing with aggravating situations.

If you have a low tolerance for life’s hiccups, you may consider practicing distress tolerance skills. If you still find yourself frustrated, you can seek help from a mental health professional.