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We’ve all been there: feeling our blood boil as we wait in the long line at the post office that seems to be moving at a glacial pace. Or we feel at our wit’s end when we’re transferred for the third time trying to reach tech support. We expect things to happen quickly and when they don’t, it can be really hard to be patient. But patience might be more accessible than you think. And not only can the attitude help us keep our chill but practicing patience can also be a boost to our health and relationships. Here are four science-backed reasons to practice patience, what it means in the context of mindfulness, and everyday tips to help you take a breath.
What is Patience?
When talking about patience, many of us might be more familiar with what impatience feels like. Often our body gets tense, our breath constricts, and we start feeling hot-headed. As a result, we might be short with our partner, do a rush job at work, or just generally feel annoyed because things are taking too long. And not only can impatience have a negative impact on our relationships and work but it can affect our mental and physical health as well. Having a short fuse has been linked with irritability and a higher risk of heart problems, as well as the inability to handle stressors and practice self-control (1)(2).
Patience, on the other hand, has a host of health benefits and may even help us enjoy our day-to-day a bit more. We’ll get into this more in this section but first let’s start with a definition and look at the different types of patience (yes, there are different types!). According to dictionary.com, patience is defined as:
“the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.” (3)
3 Types of Patience
Basically, keeping your cool when faced with life’s daily challenges. And according to leading patience researcher and psychology professor, Sarah Schnitker, there are three main types of patience (5):
Interpersonal is about facing difficult or annoying people with equanimity.
Life hardship involves waiting out those tough times—like filling out job applications or dealing with a serious illness and waiting for treatments to work—without frustration or despair.
The third type of patience is perhaps the one we come up against most often: daily hassles like traffic jams and waiting for a web page to load or your Zoom call to connect.
You might notice that you’re patient in one or two of these categories but not the others. For example, you might be more tolerant while listening to your friends share about their relationship challenges but feel really impatient when dealing with a slow internet connection.
Within the context of mindfulness, patience is seen as more than just the ability to keep your cool while waiting in that impossibly long line. It’s seen as a kind of attitude toward life that accepts the timing of things. Meditation and mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, says:
“Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. A child may try to help a butterfly to emerge by breaking open its chrysalis. Usually, the butterfly doesn’t benefit from this. Any adult knows that the butterfly can only emerge in its own time, that the process cannot be hurried” (4).
Why Practice Patience?
There’s a reason why patience is considered a virtue. Instead of rushing through life chasing quick fixes and huffing at anything that gets in our way, patience teaches us to enjoy where we are and trust the process. Here are a few other reasons why patience is a valuable trait to cultivate.
Your brain will benefit.
According to a 2007 study, patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions (6). They also feel more gratitude, which is linked with a list of positive benefits, as well as empathy.
Your relationships will benefit.
Research suggests that patient people tend to be more cooperative, empathetic, and forgiving (6). In relationships, patience can look like kindness or love. Think of your partner who always takes forever to get ready, or your colleague who is long-winded, or your parent or grandparent who always tells the same few stories over and over. A little patience can go a long way.
You’ll be more productive.
Despite what viral TikTok videos might lead us to believe, success, for the most part, doesn’t happen overnight. Building a career, reaching your goals, and achieving success takes time. In a 2012 study, Schnitker found that patience helped students are more productive and those who were patient-reported putting in more effort toward their goals (5).
You’ll experience better health.
Due to their tendency to have higher levels of stress, impatient people often have more health problems and worse sleep (6). Studies have found that patient people are less likely to report health problems like headaches, acne flare-ups, ulcers, diarrhea, and pneumonia—nearly all of which can result from elevated levels of stress.
Tips to Cultivate Patience
Since much of what makes us impatient is out of our control, cultivating patience involves changing our relationship to the event or trigger. Here are three steps Schnitker suggests to become more patient (7).
Identify what makes you impatient.
Notice when you start to feel activated and identify the emotion connected with it. Are you stuck in traffic and feeling anxious that you’ll be late to your appointment? Are you upset because you feel like your time is being wasted as you stand in the long line at the post office?
Reframe the situation.
Even though starting to fume can be an automatic response, we also have our conscious thoughts and beliefs. Oftentimes what is triggering our impatience isn’t about us. The traffic didn’t happen just to make you late and the line didn’t form just to waste your time. You might try empathizing with the other people who are stuck in traffic with you or recognize that the cashier is new and a bit slower but they’re doing the best they can.
Keep the bigger picture in mind.
This can help make the current annoyance a bit more bearable. For example, if you’re constantly having to tell your new puppy—“Don’t jump. Sit.”—remember that you’re teaching him boundaries which will be better for everyone in the long run. Or when you get impatient trying to explain a new communication tool to your parents or grandparents, remember that putting up with a little frustration now will help you connect better in the future.
Whether you practice focused attention meditation, zen meditation, or simply sit for a few moments with your eyes closed, pausing to connect with the present moment can in itself be an act of patience. And research suggests that meditation can also help you manage everything from stress to sleep problems (8). Guided meditations like Patience by Roger Nolan in the Attitudes of Mindfulness Collection in the Muse app can help.
One study found that gratitude increased participant’s self-control and their ability to wait. When offered cash immediately or a higher amount later on, those who were more grateful were more willing to wait for the higher windfall in the future.
Aside from helping us keep our cool, practicing patience can help boost our brain, health, and relationships as well as our productivity. And within the context of mindfulness, we see that cultivating patience can help us enjoy the present moment and accept the unfolding of life. Practices like meditation and gratitude as well as identifying our triggers can help us face those daily moments that test our patience with a bit more ease and equanimity.