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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Frustration and anger; two things that need distinction

Rika Kayama

One of the phrases I'm hearing more often at my consulting room nowadays is "I'm frustrated." The same kind of sentiment lies behind people who say, "I'm annoyed," or, "I'm about to explode."

    Are these people short-tempered? I don't think so. Their frustration comes from the gloomy feelings or anxiety they have. Many people I have been seeing used to be "depressed" types who would say they are feeling down or don't feel like doing anything. But recently, "expressive" people who lash out when they are frustrated appear to be outnumbering the "depressed" types.

    These "expressive" people are feeling down, but at the same time unable to stop their feeling of frustration. It must not be easy for them to be in such a mental state. And if they went on to lash out or yell at their family or friends, they would only bring those people down as well.

    So, how can we tackle this troubling "depressed and frustrated" feeling?

    Feature articles on mental health in magazines and other related writings tell you to "see yourself objectively" or "broaden your mental perspective," but it's easier said than done.

    I, on the other hand, often tell my patients to take a "setting the problem aside" tactic. Say you get irritated by the attitude of the person in front of you, but instead of letting the person get to you, "set the problem aside" and think of your weekend plans and look through your planner. Or pour yourself a cup of tea. Rather than trying to solve the cause of your frustration, I recommend you start doing something else.

    Just by looking away from the source of your frustration and letting yourself do something else, that feeling of unbearable irritation cools down a little. And if that works, you might start thinking, "It's a waste to feel frustrated by such a small thing."

    That being said, it doesn't mean that you should contain all feelings of anger or resentment. There are things that should not be endured or tolerated even when you are calm. When you are being bullied or your boss is harassing you or when there is a person who always makes discriminatory remarks, then you need to say, "Please stop."

    At the same time, before you actually confront someone, I want you to first take a deep breath to calm yourself down. And then try to prepare yourself "a treat" -- something you like to eat -- to look forward to so that you don't get hurt even more or your mind does not get any more tired than it already is.

    There is a clear difference between the feeling of frustration that just burns you out and the anger that needs to be addressed. Although it is difficult to tell them apart, it's important that you make that distinction. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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