A LITTLE PATIENCE
This week, news is circulating that Omicron may be peaking in the UK and possibly in parts of the US. My heart soared at the idea of emerging from this dark time, but we know that peaking of this wave doesn’t mean it is over, and the virus arrived in Western Canada a bit later than in Europe and the East Coast of North America.
For what feels like the thousandth time, we are being asked to dig deep into the well that is our patience. Many Albertans believe that a circuit breaker lockdown should be imposed, while others, including our government, favour more of a laissez-faire approach. We are worn down by the news, the restrictions and the viruses that are circulating more freely this year.
I keep hearing words running through my head. It isn’t my regular indoor voice. This one belongs to Axl Rose, and he is pleading for patience:
A little patience,
Need a little patience,
Just a little patience,
Some more patience, yeah
Just trying to get it right
Five lines to explaining that he needs a bit of patience. Sound familiar?
We are tired of being told to be resilient and to be patient. We have talked about resilience strategies many times in this blog, so today let’s talk about patience.
The concept of patience being a virtue can be traced back to a fifth century poem called Psychomania by an author with the apt name Prudentius—sounds like he was named after a virtue himself—in which the author argued that our virtues, like patience, help us defeat our character flaws.
Right now, many of us are struggling with despair and frustration. What can we do when we feel like our well of patience has run dry?
Just as we can build our resilience, we can build patience. One business and career coach advocates a five-part strategy:
- Reminding yourself why patience is important
- Deep Breathing
- Switching Your Focus to Something Achievable
I thought about these five steps in the context of a situation which is causing my patience to evaporate. My elderly father has been admitted to the hospital near Edmonton. My sister, my only sibling, lives in the US and I am in Calgary. Normally, I would hop in my car and drive up, but I have symptoms consistent with COVID and I am required to self-isolate even though I have tested negative on a home test. I don’t qualify for PCR testing, and the hospital does not want me to visit.
As a lawyer, I want to take charge— walk in, and let everyone know how I think his care should be proceeding. I have spent considerable time trying to reach my father, the nursing station, the treating physician, the social workers, whoever we could talk to about why the hospital abruptly discharged him without any supports in place, resulting in him returning to the hospital in an ambulance less than three hours later (and spending another night in the ER.) Apart from one late night call from the ER resident about my dad’s history, it took five days from his initial admission until I was able to speak with a member of his treatment team. And, of course, the call came in during Assist’s Executive Committee meeting (thank you for the graciousness of Sharon, Glen and Karmen who allowed our meeting to be put on hold while I took this call.)
Patience is important when you are advocating for someone else—we want the best information so we can help my dad make the best decisions. Being impatient won’t improve our decision-making process and could, in fact, undermine our goals.
Deep breathing helps, but I was so busy trying to establish contact with the medical team that I forgot about Assist’s weekly mindfulness session, but that 15-minute break would have been so good for me.
But most helpful of all, I have switched my focus to something achievable. I have created Team Terry, a daily email to our family and friends that provides updates on how my dad is doing and what the current medical prognosis is. There is a selfish aspect to the Team Terry emails: if I didn’t do a daily email to everyone, I would have to spend a lot of time each day updating people individually. And it also helps me organize my thoughts and determine the next day’s action plans.
Sometimes I struggle with acceptance of things we cannot change. I have a beautiful clock at home that has the Serenity Prayer etched around the edges of its square rock face:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference
Isn’t this patience, and accepting that sometimes we have to wait?
There are silver linings to my incredibly frustrating situation. First, I am telling myself that if it weren’t for COVID, we wouldn’t have strict health screening for visitors to hospitals. I might have felt that I should visit in person despite my cold and sore throat symptoms because “it was the right thing to do” when someone close to you is in the hospital. But we are so much more aware that we should be cautious about exposing vulnerable people to viruses now. We are learning now that when we have symptoms of illness, we should keep them to ourselves!
And, more importantly, I am now in direct contact with my extended family. My generation of cousins and steps generally communicates through my dad, the surviving member of the previous generation. All of a sudden, I am connected with my extended family again.
Some people will say that being impatient is part of their personality. But impatience can also be viewed as something that doesn’t have to limit us. We can look at impatience as being a trait like athleticism. Just as some people are born with athleticism and are naturals when it comes to playing sports, others of us can train and improve so we can play, too.
Most of us work out not because we think we are going to qualify for the Olympics but because we want to be healthy and strong. Similarly, many of us want to be more patient, so let’s train together.
First, according to positive psychology researcher Sarah Schnitker, we need to identify situational variables that might affect our patience. Remember hangry? When we are tired, hungry, ill, overtired or overheated, we are less able to regulate our emotions and less able to manage challenges. Its important to take care of our basic human needs.
Secondly, we can recognize that, like so many things in our world, there is a continuum with extreme patience on one end and extreme impatience on the other end. It is not an either/or binary model. Do not define yourself as chronically impatient just because you occasionally lose patience.
People sometimes believe that extreme patience is virtuous while being impatient is not. Dr. Schnitker says that impatience can be linked with irritability, higher risk of heart problems and potentially shorter telomeres (a part of DNA that influences aging of our cells) as well as loneliness, depression, and negative emotions.
She points out that having too much patience can cause a partner to a relationship to disengage from relationships—I know this one from personal experience. But being patient can be linked to life satisfaction, self-esteem, self-control, and feeling able to reach our goals.
Dr. Schnitker urges people to recognize that they can control their responses and become more patient. Her list of three steps (and you will have to do a lot of reps, like at the gym) are:
- Identifying when you are impatient and what you are feeling. What emotion are you experiencing—frustration, anger, anxiety?
- Reframing how you are viewing the situation by imagining being in the other person’s shoes and recognize that most time, there was no underlying malice.
- Thinking about your purpose and remember why tolerating bumps on the road will help you reach your destination.
Those readers who have done CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, not CBD!) will recognize these processes.
Time Magazine recently published a great article about patience, which they frame as the secret to success. We have all heard stories about how many times Einstein failed in his experiments before developing the theory of relativity. Time points out that Charles Darwin began working on the theory of natural selection in 1836 but did not publish On the Origin of the Species until 1859.
Contrast this with our 21st century demand for quick outcomes and results, and the dopamine rush that comes from progress. But craving that dopamine rush has consequences, and we find ourselves more caught up in our quick fix style of living.
This week, let’s look at what causes us to lose patience and what we are feeling. In my current situation, when I can’t reach anyone on my dad’s treatment team, I feel angry as well as fearful about what he may be experiencing.
We can then use empathy to imagine the other person’s perspective, and to recognize what we have to be grateful for. So, if the nursing staff is run off their feet with too heavy a patient load, I can recognize that they are not ignoring me on purpose—they are tired human beings just like me. Here I am, fifty-nine years old, and it is the first time that one of my elderly parents has been admitted to the hospital (apart from one short stint when I was in elementary school.) I am new to the chase-the-treatment-team saga, and I am grateful that we have had so many good years.
Finally, we need to consider our purpose. My goal is to help my dad and advocate for his care, and, to do that, I need to build a relationship with his care team. They know that I am irritated that it took so long for them to connect with me—they don’t need me to spew this back at them. Instead, I can acknowledge that we all want to work together to achieve the best outcomes.
I no longer feel impatient. I feel like I can make things work.
Try it the next time you are in a situation that makes you want to pull your hair out. I read a couple of articles and employed the strategies they recommended. You can do this, and Assist is here to help you smooth out the bumps along the road of life.
Call us. We help.