Frustration-Proofing Yourself

Apr 23, 2018

I'd say 50% of my clients had a terrible day on the Monday after Thanksgiving this year. Everyone knew what to expect from the actual holiday, but that first day back at work, WHAM.


I got a sense that the difficulty of the post-holiday Monday was a complete surprise to most of the upset people, and it seemed disturbing, as if it were a potential indicator of a greater, more serious, problem. There was a lot of stress, frustration, and regretted food behaviors on account of these feelings.

It has led me to think more about how I can help people predict these not-so-obvious emotional and nutritional challenges. How can these peak frustration days be... more manageable?

The first day at a new job many of us expect to be tough, but I see that difficulty and overwhelm persist for about two weeks. Similarly, planning for how a person wants to eat and drink while on vacation is common, but frequently the returning home can be a rocky re-entry. And if you ever wondered if you were the only one feeling a little crappy every single Sunday, you aren't! Lots of people have a wave of anxiety or blues as the weekend draws to a close. Having people come stay at your house is definitely stressful, no matter how much you love them and have looked forward to their visit.

When you have events or transitions like this on the horizon, you might plan ahead to clean the house or buy a new outfit, and I'd like to suggest that you also anticipate nutrition challenges that will be involved. Anticipating unpleasant feelings will not necessarily make them any less intense, but it will help you not be taken by surprise so you can accept and cope with them more purposefully. And you might be able to show yourself a little more compassion and kindness in the moment.

The Bigger Issue: Completely Unpredictable Turbulence

If you've been alive more than a few days, you've witnessed how some difficult things are just going to pop up by surprise. Someone makes a rude or hurtful judgment about you, the roof starts leaking, your tooth starts stabbing you with pain... and there was no predicting or preparing possible. I would say the vast majority of emotional stressors that I talk with my clients about are of this type. The things that cause the most nutritional trouble are surprises.

So what can you do? I call it expectations management, and it entails approaching the world with a mindset that is expecting and accepting of a wide spectrum of outcomes, some of which will be wonderful, and some of which will suck.

Perhaps it is a human default to expect others to behave in the same way we would, and for the world to operate in an efficient and fair way. I value efficiency and fairness, and I would like other people to know how to navigate a four-way stop. But, I have a choice. I can expect that not everyone will behave like me, or get frustrated because I expected them to and they didn't.

Day to day, having expectations that everything is going to go smoothly will mean we're disappointed a fair chunk of the time. I am mildly worried when I ask my clients what challenges could pop up in the coming week and they say "nothing." I love the confidence, I admire the preparation that they have done to help set themselves up for success, and yet I'm fearful their computer will crash, their assistant will double-book them, and they will be blindsided.

So my suggestion if you find yourself frustrated often is to try to broaden your expectations and hold them loosely. Expect all types of people to cross your path. Some people are bound to be rude, others helpful and loving. It's not a reflection on you.

Frustrated With Yourself?

You will not be the same day to day, so it's unfair to hold yourself to a standard of equal performance 365 days a year. You'll have a range of ability, output, and success. Be human, it's ok. You can control your actions, words, and choices, but you cannot control the impact they have on the world. Therefore, it's not a favorable setup to have a specific impact in mind. Focus on fair, flexible expectations for your effort you put in, and the choices you can control.

By holding your expectations lightly, I'm referring to how we react to the inevitable gaps between what actually is, and what we wanted or expected. By holding our predictions of the future with a light grip, we remember that things may turn out be different, but still be fine. We become more resilient and adaptable, and we can thrive in an ever-changing and unpredictable life. If you do feel yourself getting frustrated time to time, take a pause, and ask yourself what expectation you had that's not being met. Could you broaden it a bit, make it more realistic, or hold it more loosely?

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