Making Sense of Frustration

Each month Body Comes to Mind hosts the Embodiment Lab (EL) where we explore topics that impact our personal resilience and wellbeing. These live, interactive sessions supplement our online courses . They provide a training ground for anyone interested in transforming react-ability into response-ability through the powerful tool of embodied awareness.

Following is an outline of what we experienced during the lab, including paraphrased quotes from participants.

“It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness and a mood of helplessness prevail.”

Making Sense of Frustration

Frustration is a sensation that can take over your mind and body completely. It arises quickly, unexpectedly, and often in situations that you aren’t able to escape. You need to finish what you’re doing before you can move on to the next patient, print the paper for the deadline in an hour, or rush to your next meeting.

So what’s happening? In comparison to other emotions, frustration’s power can stop you in your tracks. Maybe the origins of the word provide some insight: “a deception, disappointment, to deceive, to disappoint, be in vain, be in error, injury, harm.” Those are strong emotions. They strike a primal chord. They hit your nervous system like a gut punch, bypassing your ability to formulate a rational response.

When you find yourself reacting automatically, as you might when frustration pops up, you need to be able to shift gears effortlessly, in the heat of the moment. Developing insight about how frustration impacts your system, provides you with valuable information. Information you can use to help you shift gears.

Experiencing frustration from time to time is inevitable. It’s life after all! What you do in the midst of frustration is the key.

November’s Embodiment Lab provided us with interesting insights about the many faces of frustration: how it impacts our system, what we can do to manage it, and what it might mean to each of us when it shows up.

How Does Frustration Show Up for You?

When we were developing the Lab we suspected that frustration is a very strong embodied emotion. And that turned out to be the case for most people joining. How is it for you? Do you experience frustration as tension in your forehead, jaw, arms and chest, or as a kind of jumpy sensation that continually bounces around? And is it so strong that it overwhelms your system?

What makes you frustrated?
In what circumstances is the overwhelm of frustration shutting you down, trapping you? Developing a sense for the commonalities between the situations that make you frustrated can give you information about what you find meaningful. It also brings you closer to knowing how to deal with it when it shows up.

Frustration is uncomfortable. The sensations that arise range from angry and irritable, to foggy and overwhelmed. You might feel closed off, trapped, or experience a system-wide take over, with no ability to shift your focus to anything else.

“It’s like a bouncy ball inside of me, bouncing from one point to the next. I can’t focus on anything else other than the thing right in front of me.”

Frustration can leave you with the sense that you are faced with something you have no influence over, that you are no longer in charge of your own system. So how can you let go of frustration when the intense energy building up inside of you has no outlet?

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From the Head to the Body

Centering is one of the basic tools of Embodied Exploration™. Centering helps you access your sensing self so you get vital information about what is going on at that moment in time. You become more present and get insight about how the body and mind are collaborating as a single system.

Take a moment . . .
to settle, shifting from your thinking self, to your feeling self . . . Get a good sense for the sensations in your body from head to toe. Once you’re able to feel your entire system, play with a word or phrase that gives you a distinct sensation, such as “soft.” And introduce a contrasting word, such as “hard,” to explore the sensations around each word. By recognizing how our heads impact our nervous system, we can bring that awareness in to help calm ourselves in the face of overwhelming sensations, such as frustration.

What you’re thinking has a strong effect on your body. You can see how that works by focusing on a time when you felt frustrated. You might find yourself cursing the messed up system, the irritating colleague or your own shortcomings. How are those thoughts arousing your nervous system? Do you notice a change in muscle tension, your breathing or body temperature? Checking into your body helps you access your embodied awareness.

Developing a Relief Valve for frustration

When an emotion has a strong physical experience, like frustration does, your ability to access your frontal lobe is surprisingly blocked. So how can you shift away from that overwhelm? How can you develop a way to relieve the pressure so that you can move on? It’s easier said than done and requires practice. The nervous system is a strong player and isn’t quick to let go of control!

By embodying frustration and experimenting with that physical manifestation you can develop a sense for what might work for you in the heat of the moment. We did this using crossed arms.

Cross your arms
and then try to release them at the same time as you are tightening down. There is a movement both outward and inward at the same time. This makes it difficult to move your arms. Much like a chinese finger trap, you may find that the harder you try to get your hands out the more you grip your arms and the more stuck your hands become. It’s like a volcano building up pressure before it explodes.

As you’re doing that, notice where your focus is. Feel the build up of tension and pressure. If you’re like us, your mind is totally engaged with the unpleasant feeling of not being able to do what you want to do.

The next step is to first keep your attention on the pressure in your arms and then quickly switch all of your focus to an object in your room. What do you notice?

The mind tends to stick wherever the action is and in that way sustains it. By distracting the mind you release the tension in your body, making it easier to uncross your arms.

“I couldn’t focus on the tension and so my arms just relaxed.”

In the same way that shifting your focus during the exercise allows you to relax your arms, you can use a distraction technique to pull yourself out of a frustrating situation. Distraction becomes a pressure relief valve for frustration, opening up access to your frontal lobe, which in turn can help guide you into more skillful action. A participant of our Embodiment Lab noted: “Distraction forces you to stop in the moment, right here.” Whether you have a lack of clarity, a feeling of foggy brain, not being in control or you are just plain stuck because of frustration, the distraction gives you an exit.

“It gave me the opportunity to just breathe. It distracted the bouncy ball sensation.”

Getting to the place where you can initiate the distraction technique in the midst of frustration, though, can be challenging. And that’s where practice comes in. By mimicking the physical sensations your body experiences when you’re frustrated, you can then practice implementing the distraction relief valve.

Get the Body Online as well as the Mind on Board

In our monthly labs we explore the way the body helps us create more choice in how we deal with difficult circumstances. In our experiment with frustration, though, we switched our focus to what it might take to get the mind back on board in order to get the body out of the frustration sensation; to make sense of frustration. As one participant noted: “We can’t solve every emotion or feeling with our mind. And we can’t rid ourselves of every unhelpful thought with an emotion or sensation. We need to get the body online as well as the mind on board!”

"We can’t solve every emotion or feeling with our mind. And we can’t rid ourselves of every unhelpful thought with an emotion or sensation. We need to get the body online as well as the mind on board!"

The idea that you can approach the world from one place or another is too simplistic. The body-mind system is much more complicated. Most situations require a nuanced approach. And usually, you are the only one who knows best what you require at any given moment. By developing your self-awareness around how your nervous system is reacting or responding and creating desirable or undesirable outcomes, you can create gaps of choice and increase your resilience in the face of stress. Hopefully you also found that you are able to make more sense of frustration after experimenting with Embodied Exploration™. Experiencing how frustration shows up for you and how the mind sticks with those sensations and the thoughts attached to them, helps you understand the relationship between your mind and your body. You can see how easy it is to stay stuck in frustration, which drains your energy and sense of well-being. Once you notice you are stuck, you now know you have the choice to help yourself. One simple tool that you can practice with is switching your attention in order to relieve the pressure.

“Something just clicked about how I need to take myself out of the situation when I need to do things I don’t want to. I realize that I might need to do what my body might not want to, with compassion.”

By distracting ourselves we can take a step back. Maybe we only need a minute or two, maybe we need hours or days. The space allows us to get our mind onboard. It opens us up to thinking through the situation, maybe bringing some self-compassion in the face of doing something we really don’t like. And if it’s a deadline we’re facing, just that minute or so of self-awareness can get us unstuck so we can at least move again.

Join the next Embodiment Lab

Interested in learning more about how Embodied Exploration™ might help you in a very practical, concrete way? Connect with us!

Get guidance with your first steps toward embodied awareness and join us for next month’s Embodiment Lab. Every 3rd Thursday of the month a new theme.

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