By Judith and Steve Katzman, from the January 2021 Front Porch Flyer
We want this to be over. We’re in a New Year. We’ve been adaptable enough and don’t feel like we’re asking too much. Pandemic fatigue kicked in long ago. While the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, we are definitely still in the tunnel. We still need to be six feet apart. We still need to be patient.
We were already impatient before the pandemic, getting news from limited-character tweets, and rarely reading entire emails. A slow internet connection, a traffic jam, a customer service hold already made us crazy. Maybe we’ve lost touch with what patience really is.
Patience is not a passive state. It’s a form of wisdom, demonstrating that we have a grasp of the facts and know we cannot force something into being. It also demonstrates that we’ve let go of a childish belief that life shouldn’t be hard for us.
Patience is good for our health. At the end of our chromosomes are caps called telomeres, like the plastic ends of shoelaces. As cells divide, the telomeres get shorter and the person ages. But we can lengthen the telomeres (and slow aging) through managing our stress level. Research has been done specifically on the relationship between patience and telomeres. The cortisol released when we are impatient and the rise in blood pressure cause the telomeres to get shorter and we are less protected from aging and illness. The more you learn to take a few deep breaths, shift your focus and chill, the longer your telomeres. You age more slowly and your immune system becomes stronger.
Techniques for increasing patience involve exercises like tossing a deck of cards on the floor, picking them up slowly, and organizing them. Or trying to imagine a different story about what is going on when you feel impatient. Maybe the person slowing the traffic just got bad news. There are millions of stories and not everyone’s is focused on ruining your day.
Another technique is to prepare for stressors you know are coming, like saving catalogues for when you’ll be on hold with customer service.
We also build patience by spending more time in one of our neighborhood green spaces. We benefit from a walk in the park where after 15 minutes our blood pressure slows down and our cortisol levels lower. This small amount of time strengthens our immune systems and hopefully, we get younger.
Being patient is learned behavior. Patience requires practice. Practice being patient.