Dr. Paul on how to cope with disappointment and frustration

It’s important to greet these negative emotions by name and acknowledge that’s what you’re feeling.

I came home the other day from a long walk, looking forward to having a small dish of strawberry ice cream. During the pandemic, I take my small pleasures where I can.

I opened up the freezer — but where was the container? It was gone. Lo and behold, my wife had finished it the night before. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

Everyday life is filled with small, medium and large frustrations and disappointments. Frustration is when something gets in the way of my doing something I want to do, and disappointment is not getting what I want. We’re all frustrated that the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and that we can’t do the things we like to do. And disappointment comes for a visit when our expectations, hopes and dreams don’t materialize.

Joe is struggling with lower back pain that just won’t quit. He’s doing everything his health-care provider suggested, but when he wakes up in the morning with a sore back, he’s frustrated, which can quickly turn into anger. “When will this go away! I hate it!” he yells. Frustration and anger often feel alike, just like disappointment and sadness are close cousins.

Indeed, learning how to handle frustration and disappointment is a lifelong endeavor that starts at birth. Learning how to effectively manage these emotions are important components of emotional health.

So how can we more effectively cope with frustration and disappointment?

Acknowledge and name your experience. Note to yourself that you’re feeling frustrated or disappointed. Notice how your body feels. Become aware of the thoughts that run through your mind. Don’t push your emotions aside, tell yourself a story, or talk yourself out of your feeling. Greet disappointment and frustration by name and acknowledge that’s what you’re feeling.

Breathe. When anger or sadness starts to show up, take an easy breath through your nose, hold it for a beat and take a long slow breath out through your mouth. Repeat three to four times. These breaths will help you relax a little if strong emotions start to arise. They will help you keep your emotions in control.

Remind yourself — disappointment is not a terminal illness. Sure, no one likes to be disappointed. But it’s a lifelong occurrence that can’t be avoided. Even bigger disappointments, like not getting a job or a relationship that goes upside down, are events that occur in the course of your life. We do manage to live through even these larger letdowns.

It’s fine to feel a little sorry for yourself. Of course! As a friend once told me, “It’s OK to visit Pity City, but don’t move in.” Feeling sad for yourself is a way of licking your wounds and healing. It’s a natural emotion.

Try adopting a more neutral approach toward your disappointment or frustration. Keeping your perspective is important. After acknowledging your feelings, consider adopting a more neutral attitude toward your disappointment. I always ask myself after a letdown, “So what?” It’s both a question and a statement.

What do I want to do about my setback? Sometimes, I can do something like run to the store and pick up another container of ice cream — and other times, I can’t. But the statement suggests another attitude that I can cultivate — a sense of whether or not it’s really a big deal. This question helps me step back from my emotions and consider how this disappointment fits into the whole of my life. It can help me approach the experience more objectively.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

Talk to us

More in Life

George Vasil, author of “The Lance,” in his home office in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington author explores an era of forgiveness and redemption

The plots of George Vasil’s novels unfold amid Byzantine Empire power struggles.

The 2021 Toyota GR Supra two-seat sports car is available in six-cylinder and four-cylinder versions. (Manufacturer photo)
Toyota makes significant changes to GR Supra for 2021

The six-cylinder model gets even more horsepower, and there’s a new turbo four-cylinder version.

It’s been nine years since “I Brake for Moms” debuted and much has changed. (Photo by Jennifer Bardsley)
Nine years later, the ‘I Brake for Moms’ journey continues

In her debut column in 2012, Jennifer Bardsley reflected on driving with little kids. Today, it’s the kids doing the driving.

Patience and kindness are essential ingredients for a happy home

Here are ways to cultivate and nurture greater patience for your partner during trying times.

Bacharach (below its ruined chapel) on the Rhine River.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bacharach: Legends and sagas on the Rhine

Rich in history, the German wine town has been charming travelers for centuries.

Owner and Airbnb disagree on refund for rental. Who’s right?

Carl Baeuerlen cancels his vacation rental in Lanai, Hawaii. But Airbnb says he can’t get his money back.

Irene Koster.
Here are eight amazing azaleas no garden should be without

These deciduous shrubs have few equal for color and fragrance. Curiously, many Northwest gardeners overlook them.

Carbon-free water power electrifies much of Snohomish County

With increased adoption of electric vehicles, and clean energy mandates, hydropower has never been more important.

This oak 19th-century "cave a liqueur" holds four decanters and 16 liqueur glasses. It is decorated with silvered mounts of hunting dogs. The 11-inch-high box sold at New Orleans Auction Galleries for $4,250. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Don’t confuse the vintage cave a liqueur with a tantalus

Both have decanter bottles, both have drinking glasses, both can have locks — but they’re not the same thing.

Most Read