Mental-Cognitive Symptoms

How to Deal With Low Frustration Tolerance

Emily Mendez, M.S., Ed.S

Written by

Emily Mendez, M.S., Ed.S

Last updated March 20, 2024

How to Deal With Low Frustration Tolerance

Is low frustration tolerance something you should be worried about? If you feel easily overwhelmed and defeated, underdeveloped frustration tolerance could be the issue. The biggest sign of low frustration tolerance is experiencing frustration, intolerance, or anger when you don't receive immediate and instant gratification from a task. This leads you to abandon tough tasks immediately.  

People who struggle with frustration tolerance feel triggered by challenges and setbacks. Everything from traffic on the way home from work to noisy neighbors can send them into a spiral. On the outside, a person with low frustration tolerance appears to "blow up" at every minor inconvenience. People who live or work with them might describe them as being easily irritated and easily flustered. In some cases, a person with low distress tolerance will even display hostile anger in response to uncomfortable feelings triggered by frustrating situations.  

What Is Low Frustration Tolerance?

Low frustration tolerance is a form of emotional dysregulation. In some cases, low frustration tolerance is a symptom of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an anxiety disorder, depression, autism, or other developmental or mental health conditions. In other cases, people simply have not learned frustration tolerance skills that can help them to persist through challenges and setbacks. According to researchers, these are the characteristics of someone with low frustration tolerance:  

  • Impatience with others.
  • Irritability.
  • Expecting instant gratification.
  • Avoiding difficult emotions.
  • Avoiding difficult situations.
  • Lack of curiosity.
  • Being quick to anger.
  • Angry outbursts that are not aligned with the reality of a situation.
  • Pessimistic views.
  • A habit of "awfulizing" things and scenarios.
  • Holding irrational beliefs that are not grounded in logic or science.

People with low frustration tolerance often engage in negative self-talk. They may believe that the world is "against them" because they perceive minor inconveniences or common challenges as being proof that life is unfair. One tragic thing about this mindset is that people who fall into frustration easily often don't explore or experience new things. Hobbies and new pursuits are unattractive to them because these things often result in failures and setbacks during the "learning curve" period. A person who becomes frustrated easily may not ever get past the beginning stages of learning a new instrument, taking up painting, or training for a race.  

What Is an Example of Low Frustration Tolerance?

Let's say there's a teenager named Jake who gets a guitar for his birthday. Jake is excited to learn how to play guitar because he wants to jam out to songs by his favorite band. After downloading an online app for learning guitar, Jake sits down to begin. He realizes within a few minutes that he is already having a hard time following the instructor on the screen. He can't hit the right cords because his hands are not in the right position.  

Jakes gets up from his seat to declare that the online instructor is "terrible." He tosses the guitar on the ground, says guitars are stupid, and watches something on television instead. The guitar sits in Jake's room for years collecting dust. While most people understand that learning a new instrument is a time-consuming process that requires dedication and patience, Jake feels anger over the fact that he isn't able to become good at playing immediately after picking up the guitar. In his anger, he is unable to come up with a problem-solving plan for dedicating a few minutes each day to playing.  

Are There Treatments Available for Poor Frustration Tolerance?

Building frustration tolerance is possible! Most people who lack low frustration coping skills simply need to take time to learn coping strategies and emotional regulation skills that allow them to handle setbacks and inconveniences in a healthy way. However, it is important to rule out any mental health or developmental concerns that could be linked with low frustration toleration. Start by getting a referral to a mental health professional.  

Ways to Build Frustration Tolerance

Learning to build frustration tolerance won't happen overnight! Looking at this journey to better mental health as a slow, steady process can actually be the start of your new perspective. Here's some guidance for overcoming poor frustration tolerance to move toward being someone with high frustration tolerance.  

1. Identify the Root Cause of Your Lower Frustration Tolerance

Some people feel like they were "born" feeling frustrated by challenges. While it's not always easy to trace back to the root causes of impatience, we can look at trends. Many people feel an invisible external pressure to do things quickly and perfectly. This may come from pressures from parents or caregivers that were placed on you in early childhood. Take time to identify the various feelings that come into your body when you are faced with difficulties or challenges that can't be fixed immediately.  

2. Learn to Sit in the Discomfort

Something amazing happens once you realize that feeling frustrated isn't the end of the world! This step is about increasing your frustration capacity by exposing yourself to frustrating experiences or situations. You might want to try a low-stakes scenario that involves sitting down to put a puzzle together, trying a new recipe, or practicing a new language.  

Stand as an observer who sees the frustration building up in your body the moment you realize that you aren't getting the immediate success you want. You could even consider writing down the feelings that you experience when you're "stuck." It can also help if you set a timer that gives you a specific window of time to allow yourself to feel frustrated before giving up. 

3. Use Mantras

Little "pep talks" or mantras that you can revert to when you feel anger or frustration rising in your body can replace familiar patterns of anger and defeat. These should be quick, easy-to-remember lines that help you to break out of your default mindset. Here are some examples: 

  • Frustrated Thought: "This line is too long."
  • Mantra: "It will eventually be my turn." 
  • Frustrated Thought: "I'll never get good at this."
  • Mantra: "Every expert started as a beginner." 
  • Frustrated Thought: "I never do anything right."
  • Mantra: "I'm allowed to make mistakes on my path to learning something new." 
  • Frustrated Thought: "Nothing ever goes my way."
  • Mantra: "I will focus on what I can control about this situation."

Get Your Body in a "High Frustration Tolerance" State

While you may think that the frustration that's happening is all in your brain, the truth is that most people with low frustration tolerance feel anger and tension building in their bodies until an outburst happens. Start by simply observing the sensations that move through your body the next time you are in a frustrating situation. Here's what to look for: 

  • Tense muscles.
  • Higher heart rate.
  • Higher blood pressure.
  • Clenched jaw.
  • Slumped posture.
  • Lip biting.

Doing breathing work and progressed muscle reaction to replace shallow, responsive breathing with a few deep breaths at an intentional pace can help a person to regulate their emotions. This is one of the best ways to snap out of racing thoughts that are causing frustration and rage to build.  

Final Thoughts: You Don't Have to Feel Frustrated by Life

It's normal to feel annoyed by traffic jams, noisy crowds, and other stressful situations. However, poor frustration tolerance is a chronic problem that is marked by outbursts, giving up on tasks easily, and avoiding new situations after becoming easily frustrated. Learning new skills can help you feel calmer, enjoy better relationships, and voyage to exciting places in life.  

The bottom line? Don't let frustration cut your potential for life short! Commit to the long haul when it comes to exploring ways to build frustration tolerance. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Cognitive Behavior Therapy Help With Low Frustration Tolerance? Cognitive behavior therapy is commonly used to help treat depression and anxiety disorders. For people suffering with issues tied to frustration tolerance, this branch of clinical psychology may be beneficial for exploring irrational beliefs and behaviors driven by repressed emotions

Is Low Frustration Threshold a Sign of a Mental Health Issue? Low frustration tolerance is linked with anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, and other mental health and developmental conditions. However, not everyone who responds negatively to frustrating situations has a condition. In many cases, learning emotional regulation skills for building frustration tolerance can help a person to obtain the self awareness they need to respond differently when they feel frustrated by life.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question


Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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