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Flip Frustrations Sunny Side Up

Everyday life can be frustrating. Your first grader forgot his lunch (again) so you hop in the car to deliver it. On the way, you answer a phone call from work, but your cell phone drops dead while your boss is talking. At times like these, it feels like every little annoyance is another big disaster.

It would be nice if we could avoid upsets altogether. But that just isn’t possible. “How we cope with our feelings of frustration determines how quickly and calmly we move past them,” says certified counselor Alisha Bradley, M.A. “Responding in a positive way can be difficult when you are under pressure to meet a deadline, have a screaming child in the background or are balancing a number of other life stressors.”

It’s important for parents to be aware of how they feel internally, and how they express their feelings to kids. “Children are keen observers and will imitate your every behavior,” notes Bradley.

These strategies can help you step back from the brink of a meltdown and regain a helpful perspective. Try one next time you’re feeling frazzled:

Change your scenery. Frustrated feelings make it hard to think clearly. Unless you’d be fleeing the scene of an accident, walk away from what is bothering you. “Take a moment to cool off and compose yourself,” says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D. This teaches kids how to walk away from a conflict so it doesn’t escalate. A fresh point of view also opens your mind to seeing the problem - and potential solutions - differently.

Assess the consequences. When minor frustrations pile up on us, we tend to overestimate their impact. Take out a sheet of paper and jot down what consequences the problem will have in five minutes, in five hours, in five days and in five years. If the situation won’t matter in the long-term, don’t get worked up about it. An overblown reaction can affect your well-being more than the initial event.

Let go of the reigns. Our natural human desire to control our surroundings causes a lot of frustration, says Bradley. If your need to call the shots causes you to feel tense and upset, it’s time to relinquish control. Acknowledge the fact that you can’t determine every outcome and be grateful for the reprieve. Roll with the punches instead of resisting what is happening. When you let go of the reigns, you regain your balance.

Lower your expectations. Even advanced preparations - like setting out clothes at bedtime - can’t ensure your day will go smoothly. When things go wrong, “keep bringing the focus back to what is important - being together, teamwork, a sunny day - whatever it is,” says Durvasula. This teaches your kids to tune in to the positives instead of being distracted by downers. Remember: the things you focus on get magnified.

See the bright side. Our brains are wired to focus on what’s wrong with a situation instead of what’s right. Force yourself to see potential plusses, even if they may not be obvious or immediate. A postponed meeting may give you extra time to collect your thoughts - or supporting documentation - before pitching your big idea. An internet outage may signal it’s time for that long-overdue family game night. Focus on the silver lining to put yourself back in the thriver’s seat.

Rethink your go-to solutions. When it comes to problem-solving, you’re likely to fall back on strategies that worked in the past. But old strategies may not fit new issues. Are you a dyed-in-the-wool do-it-yourselfer? Ask for help instead. Do you procrastinate in the hope that problems will solve themselves? Commit to taking direct action to address the issues. Breaking out of your problem-solving rut expands your coping skillset and boosts your self-confidence.

No matter how flustered you may feel, remember this: You can let yourself get knocked down and out or you can choose to bounce back brilliantly. The key is flipping frustrations sunny side up.

For an instant dose of calm, try these tricks:

Take a bath
Pet the dog
Close your eyes
Slow-dance with your sweetheart
Sniff something vanilla-scented
Arrange a bouquet of flowers
Sip a cup of tea
Light a candle
Sing a lullaby

Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., is a personality psychologist and mom who commonly plays the role of family frustration-tamer. She is the author of Detachment Parenting.

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