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How to Develop Patience

How to Develop Patience

These days we live in a world of instant gratification, so do we really need to be patient any more? And while many of us may remember the old saying that patience is a virtue, is it still worth cultivating?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, patience is defined as the ability to wait, or to continue doing something despite difficulties, or to suffer without complaining or becoming annoyed (i). It’s something most of us needed during the coronavirus lockdown, especially when it seemed as if the social restrictions would never end.

Researchers have been studying the benefits of being patient for decades. And they’ve found there are several reasons – lockdown aside – why having patience is a good thing, not just for you but for people around you too.

Take the Stanford marshmallow experiments, for example. Back in the 1960s and 1970, researchers from Stanford University carried out a series of studies that looked at the concept of delayed gratification (ii). In a nutshell, they took a group young children and offered them a treat – a marshmallow, for example. Each child was told they could eat the treat straight away. But if they waited for 15 minutes or so, they would get two treats. The researcher then left the room, leaving each individual child alone with their treat.

Naturally some of the children didn’t wait and ate their treat immediately. But others who waited were rewarded with an extra treat, as promised. But most interestingly, follow-up studies carried out years after the original experiments showed the children who waited tended to have better school results and lower body mass indexes than those who didn’t wait (iii). Patience, the studies suggest, may well matter after all.


Further benefits of patience

The Stanford experiments suggest that good things – and not just extra marshmallows – really do come to those who wait. Some of the other studied benefits linked with patience and emotional self-regulation include:


Better mental health

There’s evidence that people who are patient are less likely to experience depression and negative emotions, and may also be more mindful than those who show little patience (iv).


Better physical health

The same study suggests people who are patient may also be less likely to have health problems such as headaches and diarrhoea (iv). This may be because impatience often causes stress and, perhaps ultimately, all of its damaging health effects.


Increased empathy and kindness

Research has also found that people who are patient tend to be more empathetic and more forgiving than impatient individuals (iv). Some researchers even believe patience helped our ancestors to survive and thrive, as it may have led to more co-operation between individuals than conflict (v).


Types of patience

Patience is often seen as a single characteristic, but it can also be seen as a combination of several attributes, such as self-control, tolerance, fortitude, persistence, generosity and humility. One of the leading researchers who’s investigated the concept of patience, Sarah Schnitker, has divided it into three different types – interpersonal patience, life hardship patience and daily hassles patience (vi):


Interpersonal patience

This is the patience you need to cope with other people, the ability to stay calm when dealing with someone who’s upset, angry or irritating. For instance: ‘When someone is having difficulty learning something new, I will be able to help them without getting frustrated or annoyed.’

If you have good interpersonal patience, you are empathetic and you’re also very likely a good listener.


Life hardship patience

This can mean having the patience to overcome hardships in your life or the ability to see the good in bad situations. When you face a challenge or obstacle, you have the determination and focus to overcome it, all while keeping your emotions in check. Schnitker’s example is: ‘I am able to wait out tough times’.


Daily hassles patience

We all need patience to cope with situations and circumstances we have no control over – traffic jams, for instance (‘Although they’re annoying, I don’t get too upset when stuck in a traffic jam’). if you’re the type of person who doesn’t get irritated by all those everyday, unavoidable annoyances, you’re blessed with daily hassles patience. 
 

Ways to develop more patience

Our modern on-demand culture may have largely stifled our need for patience, which explains why when we do need it, it’s often in short supply. The good news is that even if you’re not a particularly patient person today, there are things you can do to develop your patience and become a more tolerant, calmer and self-controlled person tomorrow.


Be aware of your triggers

Being aware of what makes you lose your patience can help you learn to react in a different way. If you’re not sure, try asking other people – family members, co-workers and friends, for instance – to explain what they think makes you irritated. This may be helpful, since other people may be able be more objective about it.

You could also try keeping a diary and writing down everything that happens each time you feel frustrated. You may be surprised at what you can learn from this. For example, if you discover you tend to lose your patience frequently before mealtimes, it could mean that you’re reacting in that way because your blood sugar is low. And if that’s the case, it’s easy to make sure you don’t get too hungry – just keep some healthy snacks nearby.


Nip it in the bud

If you find yourself often losing your patience, it’s a good idea to keep a look-out for the tell-tale physical signs that suggest you’re becoming frustrated. That way you can remove yourself from a potentially explosive situation and go somewhere you can calm down instead.

Watch out for the following:

  • Your breathing starts getting shorter and more shallow

  • Your muscles feel tense

  • Your stomach feels tight

  • You have the urge to start pacing or drumming your fingers


Count to 10

Counting may seem a bit old hat, but it really does work for many people. Whenever you notice those telltale signs that you’re losing your patience, concentrate on your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths, relax your shoulders then count to 10. Repeat as often as you need until you feel calmer.

Counting and breathing deeply won’t make the source of your frustration disappear, but they may help calm your heart rate and help your muscles to relax.

If you need to do more than count to 10, try – if possible – to take yourself out of the situation that’s testing your patience. Taking a five-minute break may be all you need to feel calmer.


See the funny side

The next time you find yourself losing your patience, try to imagine what the scene looks like from an onlooker's point of view. The chances are the situation will seem ridiculous – after all, who hasn’t laughed out loud at a comedy show where a character is losing their composure (the scene from Fawlty Towers where Basil thrashes his car with a branch from a tree is a good example). In other words, try to see the funny side. And if you can, smile or even laugh at yourself, as laughter is a great way to relieve tension.


Keep testing yourself

Patience isn’t something you can develop overnight, you have to work at it. One way to speed up the process is to willingly put yourself in situations that would normally try your patience – waiting in a long and slow-moving queue, for instance, calling a telephone customer support line that keeps you on hold for ages, or driving around looking for a parking space in a busy car park or shopping centre.

Keep reminding yourself that you’re not going to get annoyed or irritated (if you feel your impatience starting to bubble up, take a deep breath and count to 10). Tell yourself you’re going to stay quiet and calm, and even enjoy the experience. Then test yourself again at the next opportunity.


Let go

Try to accept and even embrace the idea that not everything is within your control and you may not feel so anxious when things don't go your way. If you’re delayed because of heavy traffic, for instance, or because your flight has been delayed, remind yourself that there’s nothing you can do about it, and that losing your cool will simply be a waste of energy.

Instead of blowing your top, try to think of positive things you can do when things happen that are beyond your control. For instance, if you’re waiting for someone who’s running late, think of how you could use the extra time instead of getting more and more wound up by their bad timekeeping.


Taming a bad temper

If you lose your temper easily or often it may not just be that you don’t have much patience – you may also have a problem dealing with anger.

Anger is a basic human emotion, and if you feel justifiably angry every once in a while it’s perfectly normal. However according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 28 per cent of people say they worry about how angry they feel sometimes (vii).

While a little anger may be normal, when you feel angry most or all of the time – or if the anger you experience is intense and leads to aggression – it can seriously affect your mental and physical health. Perhaps more importantly, it may also harm those around you.

Like stress, anger is thought to be linked to the body's natural 'fight or flight' response to a perceived threat. When something makes you angry, your body releases stress hormones, making your heart rate and breathing faster, and your blood pressure higher. If your body is frequently flooded with these hormones, it can have an impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.

Using some of the techniques above to develop more patience – such as counting to 10 – can help you feel less angry in many situations. Also try the following:

  • Walk it off. Exercise can help relieve feelings of anger by reducing adrenalin levels and boosting your production of feel-good hormones called endorphins. Try taking a brisk walk or a run whenever you feel you’re going to lose your cool.

  • Put on some soothing music. It’s widely thought that listening to music can change your mood. Just listen to something calming rather than anything too fast, loud or stimulating, which could leave you feel more agitated.

  • Try some visualisation. Imagine yourself in a place where you feel happy and relaxed. What can you see, hear and smell, and if you’re outdoors how does the sun or the breeze feel against your skin? Stay in your happy place until you feel calmer.

  • If you know someone who has a calm and laid back personality, try to imagine what they would say to you. What advice would they give you? If this doesn’t work for you, you could try actually calling someone who may be able to help talk you out of your angry mood.

  • Distract yourself from the thoughts that are making you feel angry by doing something else to keep your mind occupied. For instance, play a favourite game on your phone, read a book or magazine, bake a cake, do some yoga, mow your lawn, watch a favourite film or tackle a sudoku or crossword puzzle.

  • Write about it. Keep a notebook with you and write down all your thoughts and feelings. Don’t stop until you feel better.

  • Talk about it. If you're worried that your anger is getting out of control, ask your GP if they could refer you to a counsellor or psychotherapist. 

 

Natural ways to stay calm

If your patience is continually being tested, it can make your stress levels go through the roof. Luckily there are some natural supplements that may help you cope better with stress, as well as feel calmer and more relaxed.


Multivitamin and mineral

Many people take a good-quality multivitamin to make sure they’re getting all the essential vitamins they need to stay healthy. But at least one study suggests that taking a multivitamin may help you cope better with stressful situations too (viii). Another study investigating the effect of taking multivitamin supplements on mood and stress in healthy older men found supplements may be useful in boosting mood and improving feelings of general day-to-day wellbeing (ix).


Ashwagandha   

This traditional Ayurvedic herb is often used to help with tiredness, fatigue and stress. Indeed a small-scale study suggests ashwagandha may reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (x), while another found 88 per cent of trial participants felt less anxious after taking it (xi). Some researchers believe ashwagandha may help relieve stress because of the way it moderates interaction between the hypothalamus – a small region in the brain – and the pituitary and adrenal glands (the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) (xii). The HPA axis is thought to play a key role in the body’s response to stress.


Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola is a herb used traditionally throughout Europe for stress relief. Its roots contain many active ingredients, including rosavin and salidroside. There is some evidence it may help reduce anxiety and stress more effectively than a placebo (xiii), with one study finding it effective in people with burnout symptoms (xiv).

Elsewhere experts have found it may improve mental alertness in people with sleep difficulties (xv). Another study concludes that rhodiola may treat stress symptoms comprehensively as well as prevent chronic stress and stress-related complications (xvi). 

If you want to try rhodiola, look for a supplement that guarantees a potent 3% level of rosavins.


Theanine   

Found almost exclusively in green, black, oolong and pekoe tea, theanine is a non-protein amino acid that’s thought to help your brain produce calming alpha waves. Studies suggest taking a theanine supplement may help you feel more relaxed without making you drowsy (xvii), and that it may make you feel calmer by reducing your heart rate when you’re faced with something that stresses you out (xviii).  


Siberian ginseng

Often described as an adaptogen, Siberian ginseng (Elutherococcus senticosus) is thought to help the body to adapt to various types of stress, with some experts believing it supports the adrenal glands, which produce the stress hormone cortisol.

Patience  – even in this day and age – is something most of us need these days. But even if you weren’t born with lots of it, there are ways to develop more of it. This guide shows you how to be calmer and more tolerant, so you can reduce stress and enjoy life more. For more advice on managing your emotions, visit the mental health section of our health library



 

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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

 
 
Our Author - Christine Morgan

Christine

Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.

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