"Help! My anxiety is out of control. Where do I begin to calm myself down?" is a topic of emails I get far too often.
It's understandable given the barrage of anti-anxiety advice out there. Should you practice deep-breathing or practice mindfulness, count to 10 or count your blessings, think about your worries or think about pink unicorns? While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, few would argue that not reacting to everything is a fine start.
Alas, there's a big difference between what you know and what you do.
Frustration tolerance is the ability to overcome obstacles and withstand stressful events. Low frustration tolerance occurs when a goal-oriented action is delayed or thwarted. The resulting feeling is dissatisfaction from unmet needs or unresolved conflicts.
If this sounds like you, you're not alone. Reacting with frustration in the heat of the moment trips up many an anxious soul. You may be wired to react more intensely to problematic events.
A study by Frontiers of Psychology found that temperamental differences play a role in coping with stressful situations. Subjects with a low tolerance for arousal showed increased activation of the structures in the brain involved in processing the subjective effects of stress.
In order to feel less aroused by stress, you must accept that problems are a part of life. Doing so allows you to let go of the notion that something must be wrong if you’re feeling unhappy. Acceptance is knowing that feelings are cyclical, and sometimes the only way through is to ride out the uncomfortable emotions.
In fact, if you impulsively avoid discomfort, you paradoxically prolong your mental distress. For example, text messaging your partner incessantly during a girls night out isn’t likely to make him or her respond any quicker. This behavior, in fact, may earn you the label of jealous, controlling partner. Or 'single' if you don't start acting differently.
Frustration tolerance is a learned behavior that can be strengthened with mindful attention, time, and patience (three things anxious people formidably struggle with!). Although anxiety’s automatic reaction to alleviate suffering is strong, you don't have to react to everything. To quote Stephen R. Covey, “Between what happens to us and how we react to what happens to us is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose.” And feeling frazzled is a choice.
For more strategies for calming your anxious mind, read here.
© 2017 Linda Esposito, LCSW