ADHD Low Frustration Tolerance: How to Handle it

Frustration and ADHD; the two seem to go hand in hand for many of us.

  • We fight ourselves to schedule an appointment while thinking, “This shouldn’t be so hard.”
  • Or the email we wrote took 30 minutes instead of 5 so we think, “This shouldn’t take so long.”
  • Or our brain has an extra distractible day and we think, “It shouldn’t be this way.”
woman frustrated on laptop

Sound familiar?

You’re in good company. Here’s what I’ve found.

Whenever I find myself thinking things should be different than they are, I fuel my frustration further because I’m arguing with reality. 

  • It is hard to make an appointment. 
  • The email did take 30 minutes.
  • I am having a distractible day.

In episode 154 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, I take a deep dive into these feelings of frustration, irritation, and annoyance.

We talk about why they come up, how to recognize when they’re happening, and how to support ourselves when we feel this way so we can decide with intention how to move forward.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 154: ADHA Low Frustration Tolerance & How To Handle It, You Will Discover… 

  • How you might be fueling your frustration
  • What it means to argue with reality
  • How to release the frustration and step into acceptance with greater ease

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Episode #154: ADHD Low Frustration Tolerance: How to Deal With It (Transcript) 

are you easily frustrated? Here's what to do.

Before we dive in, I wanted to let you know that I created something super special for all of you amazing podcast listeners, and especially those of you who might be newer to the podcast. It’s a podcast roadmap, and in it, I identify ten key episodes that highlight the core teachings and concepts that I share on the podcast. I included a mini directory of some of the most popular listener favorites by category as well. So if you’re newer to the podcast or you want some suggestions of episodes to check out, you can grab your copy HERE.

This week we’re exploring how to handle situations when we feel frustrated, stuck or irritated.

We may find ourselves thinking thoughts like…

  • I should be able to figure this out.
  • I shouldn’t struggle with this so much.
  • This shouldn’t be so challenging. I should be able to handle all of this.

We all have thoughts like this, right? I certainly do.

Whether we’re at home, at work, as you’re building your business, as you’re hanging out with family, we all have different flavors of the thought – “it shouldn’t be this way and something’s gone wrong.”

Because our brains are excellent problem solvers, they love to dive in and start spinning and ruminating, attempting to solve this supposed problem.

So, today, I want to offer a potentially outrageous suggestion that there might not be anything to solve. In fact, there might not be a problem here at all.

If you think this isn’t applicable to you, I promise you it is.

Stick with me, as I think that we can lighten the load for you a bit.

So many of us carry around this figurative backpack full of energetic weight. We pack this stress, anxiety and overwhelm and frustration in our backpack, and we carry it around with us almost everywhere we go. 

What I want to offer is that most of this extra tension and uncomfortable emotion is unnecessary, so I want to help you start pulling some of those things out of your backpack, so you don’t have to lug it around with quite so much weight in it.

The Background on Why We’re Discussing Low Frustration Tolerance

So why this topic?

I was coaching a client a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about a sense of resistance that she feels when it’s time for her to begin her work.

Overall she loves her work. And once she gets into it, she totally absorbs herself in it and genuinely enjoys the process.

However, getting started is a real obstacle almost every time.

So, rather than getting started, she finds she wants to buffer – as a throwback to episode 151. She wants to avoid it.

She’ll find herself on social media, getting a snack, playing with her dog, etc.

She basically wants to do anything other than getting started on her work.

As we coached the other day, I shared the perspective that we’re going to talk about today. And as we talked through it, you could see how it helped shift things for her.

You could almost see the tension lift off her shoulders as she stopped fighting reality and instead stepped into a little bit more acceptance of where she was at and what was going on.

Once she was able to step into acceptance of what is, she had an easier time moving forward and taking action in the way that she wanted to. 

When we can take on this perspective that I’m going to share with you today, we often open to a lightness, even humor, that makes things seem so much less challenging and certainly feel less frustrating for our brains.

And if you ask me, that’s a big win.

The Frustration of Arguing with Reality

Today we are talking about some examples of when I’ve seen this come up both with myself and with my clients.

I’m pulling from the work of Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is.

Let’s dive into the concept of arguing with reality.

Specifically arguing with what is going on around us thinking it shouldn’t be that way, and it’s that resistance to reality that causes us so much pain.

I’m sharing several examples of when this has come up, and then I’ll talk through a powerful way to help release that resistance and feel much more open and accepting of what is so that we can make powerful decisions to move us forward.

As you learn more about ADHD and having a low frustration tolerance, I encourage you to:

  • Think about when you find yourself arguing with reality
  • Then consider how you might apply the concepts and strategies that we discuss to your unique situations.

If you put this concept to use, your backpack of frustration, irritation and overwhelm will lighten significantly.

Arguing with Reality: What is this?

frustrated woman

Let’s start by talking a little bit more about arguing with reality. What do I actually mean by this?

How do we know when we’re doing it?

I’ve found that we know we are arguing with reality when we feel different versions of frustration, irritation, annoyance, etc.

This is because these emotions generally arise from thoughts like…

  • It shouldn’t be so hard for me.
  • Why can’t I stop procrastinating?
  • I shouldn’t feel like this.
  • Why can’t they just be happy? 

If you simply pause with these thoughts right now, how do you feel?

I’m not going to lie, I feel terrible.

When I’m thinking to myself…

“It shouldn’t be so hard. I should be able to figure this out. I shouldn’t feel like this. They should be happy.”

But it IS hard, or I’m NOT figuring it out, or I DO feel that way, or they AREN’T happy, I feel so much tension in my body.

The reason I feel this way is that I’m arguing with reality.

I’m pushing against the truth of what is actually happening.

Examples of Arguing with Reality

If we think about arguing with reality more specifically, what does this look like?

Example 1: Client Who Buffers, Instead of Starting Work

With the client I mentioned a few moments ago, it sounded like this…

“I feel so much resistance to getting started on my work, so I end up scrolling Instagram or doing the dishes before I start. I know I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t resist starting my work, especially because I like it once I start. I know better than this.”

Example 2: Myself When Trying To Work on My Bedtime Routine

For myself, I dealt a lot with this in connection with going to bed.

Now, I know I mention my bedtime routine on this podcast a lot, but it’s one that I finally have locked in pretty well, and the journey is still very fresh in my mind so it’s an example that I can pull from easily.

So for me, arguing with reality sounded like,

“Why is it so hard for me to go to bed? I should just be able to do this. This shouldn’t be such a problem. It’s not that hard to go to sleep. Why can’t I just do it? I know better than this.”

Example 3: Client Who’s Frustrated With Her Partner

I was coaching another person the other day, and she mentioned how frustrated she was having to hear her partner complain all the time. 

She was saying, he comes home every day and complains about everything that happened at work, the commute to and from work, all the people at work, etc.

“All he does is complain. Why can’t he just be happy for once? I do so much self-coaching on my brain to try and get me into a positive space, and then he comes along, and he complains all the time and brings me back down. Why can’t he just appreciate what we have and be happy?”

Example 4: Frustrated Parents

I’ve worked with a lot of parents who have young children, and some of the situations that often come up include thoughts like,

“They shouldn’t just leave their stuff all around. They just leave their socks and their books and their toys everywhere. They should put their things away.” Or “they shouldn’t fight all the time. All they do is fight with one another, and it’s so unnecessary.” Or, “They should want to eat what I made for dinner. I worked so hard on it, why don’t they just eat it without complaining about everything?”

So again, it’s this idea of arguing with what’s already happening. It’s arguing with what is and believing there’s a problem here.

Question: What if This is Not a Problem?

Consider this question…

What if there’s not a problem?

  • What if you should procrastinate getting started on your work?
  • What if I should resist wanting to go to bed on time?
  • What if your partner should complain when they get home?
  • What if your kids should leave their socks around and not want to eat their dinner?
  • What if it should be happening that way?

I know your brain might be pushing back against this right now, mine certainly did at first.

You might be thinking,

Paula of course is a problem! I need to do my work. I can’t procrastinate! I need to get more sleep, I have to stick with my routine. He’s so negative, I don’t want to listen to his complaining all the time. My kids are driving me crazy! They have to stop fighting.

So again, I ask you:

How do you feel when you think those thoughts?

My guess is that you feel a whole lot of frustration and stress and irritation because you ARE procrastinating. You AREN’T sticking with your bedtime routine. He DOES complain. They DO fight..

You’re adding additional weight to your backpack when you’re saying they shouldn’t.

What if it’s supposed to be happening this way?

So, what if we’re wrong about that? What if it’s supposed to be happening this way?

In fact, I love to challenge my brain to think, of course, it’s happening this way because it is. It’s supposed to happen this way because it is happening this way.

When I argue against that, it feels terrible.

Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. It doesn’t mean I’m destined to listen to the fighting and complaining all day long for the rest of my life, but I don’t have to fight against it.

It’s happening, now what?

Sounds lovely, right? But how?

Well, there’s a thought I love to practice that helps me open up to accepting reality rather than arguing against it.

The thought is: “This is the part where…”

I think I heard this thought first from Kara Loewentheil, and I find that it provides such a powerful relief from pushing against what is.

So again, it’s the simple phrase, “this is the part where…”

Then you fill in the blank with whatever the supposed “problem” is in your brain.

This is the part where…

So let me show you how we can use it.

Oh, this is the part where…

  • I don’t want to start working.
  • It’s time for my workday to begin.
  • My brain thinks, “I don’t want to start.” Or “I need to do these dishes first.”
  • My brain tells me that I don’t want to go to sleep yet, and I should be better at going to bed.
  • I resist my bedtime routine.
  • My partner comes home and complains about their day and their commute.
  • My kids don’t pick up their toys and leave their socks everywhere.

Interesting, it seems that my brain is a little bit confused. It seems my brain thinks that my kids shouldn’t leave their socks around, even though they always do.

But of course, they should do that because this is what they do. This is the part where they leave their socks around.

Of course, I feel resistant to getting started on my work. I have ADHD, and task initiation is a challenge. Of course, it’s hard. Nothing’s gone wrong here. This is just the part where it feels hard to get started.

Of course, I’m experiencing revenge bedtime procrastination. Of course, I don’t want to go to bed yet. I have ADHD, and my executive functions are at their lowest at the end of the day and going up to bed requires a remarkable demand of my executive functions. So this is the part where it’s hard for me to go to bed. Okay, this is where we’re at.

Byron Katie has a great quote that really puts this into perspective with a bit of humor. She says…

You can teach a cat to bark all day long. But at the end of the day, the cat will still say “meow.”

Byron Katie

Dogs bark. Cats meow.

I resist starting my work at the beginning of the day. This is what happens.

Again, What if This is not a problem?

This is the part where I resist going to bed. So I…

  • Take some deep breaths
  • Feel uncomfortable
  • Move forward anyway

What if it’s not a problem that my brain doesn’t want to go to bed?

When we can open up to reality and stop resisting it.

When we can release some of that tension and that fight against what is, we’re able to bring the executive brain back online a little bit.

This is when the toddler brain stops running the show and we’re able to make more intentional decisions.

We get to make decisions about how we want to think and feel about the current situation.

Because we’ve taken a step back and we’ve stopped resisting what is, we’re usually able to make choices that serve us better in the long run.

Here’s why.

When we can pause and remind ourselves, “oh, this is that part. This is when that thing always happens.” It slows us down enough to create space for clarity around the fact that our thoughts are optional and that nothing is a problem until we decide it’s a problem.

I’m going to say that one more time because it’s important.

When we can slow down and recognize the story we’re telling ourselves, we create clarity around the fact that our thoughts are optional and that nothing is a problem until we decide it’s a problem.

When we feel resistance to getting started on our work, or going to bed, or hearing our partner complain, or seeing our kids’ toys all over the family room, it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong.

It doesn’t mean there’s inherently a problem. It’s only a problem when we decide it is.

For Example:

If there are toys in the family room, that’s neither good nor bad.

It’s not a problem.

It only becomes a problem when we think, “these shouldn’t be here.” Or “my kids should have put these away before leaving the room.”

Just think about it, and consider the thoughts of the kids and the parents when they look at the family room.

You’d likely have two very different experiences with those toys.

  • The parent might be thinking, these toys shouldn’t be here and feel frustrated.
  • The child might be thinking, I love having my toys out so I can play with them at any time and feel delighted.

Two very different thoughts and two very different experiences with the same situation – toys in the family room.

That’s how we know the situation – the circumstance of the toys in the family room isn’t actually a problem. Not everyone would agree that it’s a problem. The only problem is the thought, “these toys shouldn’t be here” and they are.

Again, I’m not saying you must leave the toys there and just settle for anything that happens in your life.

But at the same time, you can also release some of the tension you’re experiencing by thinking to yourself, “Oh, this is the part where the kids don’t pick up their toys and I think they should have.”

This is that part of the day.

Okay, what do I want to do about it? How do I want to handle this? If it’s technically not a problem, how do I want to approach the situation?

Should You Feel Frustrated? Decide With Intention

From there, you get to decide with intention.

In my experience, it feels so much better to make that decision without carrying all of the heavy frustration, irritation, and annoyance in your backpack from arguing with reality.

Let’s lighten the load first by accepting reality – oh! This is the part where my kids leave their toys out – and then make the decision without the frustration. It’s so much more fun.

Example of the Client Who Procrastinates To Start Working

Let’s look at one more example to put this into context.

Let’s think about the client who felt frustrated when procrastinating on her work.

She was stuck in the spin cycle thinking it was a problem that needed fixing, and I could see that she was getting down on herself.

When we coached through this situation, and I offered her the thought, “oh, this is just the part where you procrastinate getting started,” she practically lit up.

She realized, “I could literally think about procrastination as a step to getting started.”

Meaning:

  • Step one, open the computer.
  • Step two, feel resistance and procrastinate.
  • Step three, get a glass of water and come back.
  • Step four, begin work 10 minutes later than scheduled.
  • Step five, work until lunch.

She realized when she could open up and accept the fact that procrastination happens sometimes without all the resistance, it feels so much less heavy, and she could even plan for it.

I think she’s spot on.

I know some of your ADHD brains might be spinning right now thinking, you can’t just plan to procrastinate. No way! Procrastinating is a habit that we want to break. 

Let me first ask you this.

If you ever procrastinate – and since you’re a human, you likely do – how do you feel when you think, this a habit I have to break?

I feel terrible when I think that.

As we talked about in our episode on breaking the habit of buffering, when we’re feeling terrible, our brains want to turn to buffering behaviors so much more often.

We want to scroll through Instagram and online shop even longer because it feels better in the moment, but it ultimately prolongs the procrastination.

Beating Yourself Up is Not The Solution

Beating yourself up does not work. What if we try acceptance and understanding instead? What if that’s actually the solution?

And I also want to offer this perspective if your brain thinks that procrastinating is inherently bad. Scrolling Instagram or unloading the dishwasher is just like leaving the toys in the family room – it’s neither good nor bad. It is what you choose to think about it. 

Here’s what’s also true; ADHD brains procrastinate. Just as dogs bark and cats meow, ADHD brains sometimes procrastinate. And when we resist reality and beat ourselves up when it happens, we usually end up spinning out and procrastinating even longer.

So rather than procrastinating for 10 minutes in your inbox before getting started, you might “should” on yourself all morning long, telling yourself you shouldn’t procrastinate and you “should” be working and you “should” know better.

Then you likely turn to more buffering activities because it feels better in the moment than dealing with all the negative self-talk and before you know it, the entire day is gone, rather than simply allowing for the 10 minutes of procrastination before getting started.

Beating yourself up is not the solution. The solution is found in acceptance and compassion.

Acceptance is the Key To Lowering Stress & Frustration

What if rather than fighting with reality, we accept it.

We think to ourselves, sometimes I will procrastinate.

If this is true, how do I want to support myself through it?

When you can genuinely open up to the reality that ADHD brains – heck, all human brains procrastinate – the frequency and duration of it happening is actually so much less because you’re not fighting against it.

Plus, when procrastination does happen, you have a plan in place to take care of yourself so it’s only a short pitstop. You can then get right back on track rather than derailing yourself with an all-day detour.

Final Thoughts

In all of the areas in your life where your brain wants to argue with reality, I invite you to try on the thought,

“Oh, this is just the part where…”

…and insert whatever “problem” your brain dreamt up.

I’m telling you, each time you practice this and you allow yourself to truly release the resistance and step into acceptance, you will lighten more weight from that backpack.

When you make way for acceptance, you allow your executive brain to come online and make proactive decisions from a place of love that’s supportive of you and everyone else involved.

I’m telling you, it’s a powerful shift that makes a world of difference. 

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week.

If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and learn how to support your ADHD in a way that works for YOU, I invite you to join our small, supportive community group program – We’re Busy Being Awesome.


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I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


Also,  if you know someone who would love to learn how to stop arguing with reality, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them? Each time you do, you help me get these tools to even more people, and I really appreciate it.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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