Some of us have shorter fuses than others. But all of us have those little aggravations that build up – and before we know it – burst. Whether you stew and simmer on the inside or find yourself breathlessly yelling at a complete stranger (or loved one), your impatience can lead to a whole lot of stress. Learning to be more patient has a slew of benefits, including helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Patience also helps you be more present in the moment. And patience prevents you from pummeling your boss or loved ones with unpleasant remarks. Fortunately, patience isn’t some innate virtue. It’s a skill you can practice and master. Here are four common patience pitfalls and pointers to help.
Being Stuck in Traffic
Getting stuck in traffic can easily make you feel harried and helpless. You have places to go, and things to do! But the reality is that you’re wedged between cars and not going anywhere any time soon. While this very thought feels frustrating, it’s also a great opportunity. Our days are typically crammed with tasks and technology. How often do you get a few minutes to yourself (not counting watching TV, being on the computer or listening to your iPod)? A few minutes to actually sit in silence and gather your thoughts?
If that doesn’t sound appealing, use the time to call and catch up with a loved one or to listen to calming music or a new audio book. The key is to accept that at this very moment, there’s nothing you can do about all the congestion. Many of us sprint through our days. Traffic – though upsetting – gives us the opportunity to slow down and do something more pleasant than stew in our seats.
Waiting in Line
A funny thing happens when you’re waiting in line: You start thinking about all the tasks you could be doing instead of waiting in line. Suddenly your to-do list swells, and your patience shrinks. And who could blame you? Today, we’re desperately out of touch with waiting. Thanks to drive-thru meals, high-speed Internet and email, we’re used to getting what we want fast. So in these moments, it can feel like you have very little control over your emotions and anxious thoughts.
In his book Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence & Purpose in the Middle of It All, clinical psychologist Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D, encourages readers to slow down precisely when you’re feeling pressured to speed up. He suggests being still and taking several deep breaths. As you try to be still, you might notice that you’re still pacing or taking shallow breaths. Instead, observe the tapes that are playing in your head, thoughts that might sound familiar and reject your efforts to slow down. Ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to expedite the process. If not, “practice acceptance.”
He also suggests readers “Explore ways to appreciate things that move slowly or take time,” such as making a meal from scratch or even getting a cactus and watching it grow. This helps you get more accustomed to decelerating.
Another tip: As you feel the rage for a slow employee rise, try to muster up some empathy. No doubt at some point in your life you were slow at a new job (or in another situation). Rather than getting angry, put yourself in their shoes. Anger ignites impatience. But empathy can ease irritation, and help patience prosper.
Dealing with Rude People
Some days, doesn’t it feel like the people you come into contact with think you’re invisible? They cut you in line, cut you off on the road or slam into you without even saying they’re sorry. And, of course, it’s not just strangers who can be rude. It might be your boss, your neighbor, a good friend or even your spouse. Dealing with rude people can easily heighten your own impatience and possibly even escalate into an altercation. The best way to deal with rudeness is to adjust your reaction. You’ve probably heard this advice from your elders, but it’s true. The only thing you can control are your own feelings and actions.
What also helps is brushing up on your communication skills. When communicating assertively, use “I” statements; be direct; and express your needs without getting emotional, aggressive or defensive. If you do find your anger amplifying, take several deep breaths, and if possible, take a break to cool off.
Coping with Your Own triggers
We all have unique stressors that push our patience. Maybe it’s your mother-in-law who can’t help but tell you how to make dinner, clean your house, raise the kids and live your life. Maybe it’s your co-workers who think gossiping is really their job. Or your kids who haven’t yet learned the splendor of silence.
Take a few minutes to consider the top three things that seem to pillage your patience, and how you might approach them. Before coping with any potential pitfall, take a few long, deep breaths and remember that your mother-in-law probably has good intentions, your co-workers might be insecure themselves and your kids are just being kids.
Even if these explanations aren’t exactly accurate, don’t forget that you decide how others make you feel. When dealing with your own triggers, it also helps to cultivate gratitude. For instance, you might be thankful that your mother-in-law is a great grandma. You might be thankful that you have a job and a co-worker or two who help you out once in a while. And you might be thankful that your kids are healthy and full of energy. And when all else fails, take a break and get your nails done!
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is an associate editor at Psych Central and authors the body image blog Weightless. She writes about everything from anxiety and ADHD to creativity and couples to mindfulness and stress. You can learn more about her work at her website.