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22nd Apr 2015

Why don’t I have more… patience? Psychologist Dr Elaine Kinsella discusses

Traffic, deadlines, horrible bosses. Just some of the things that can push our patience...

Fiona McGarry

It might seem like an everyday issue, but impatience – especially when it’s out of control – is kind of a big deal.

Traffic, deadlines, horrible bosses. Just some of the things that can push our patience to the limit.

Psychologists tell us that outbursts of impatience can lead to guilt and embarrassment in the short term, not to mention chronic stress, high blood pressure and heart disease in the long term. If we’re regularly impatient with our families or colleagues, we can also cause them stress and anxiety.

Psychologist Dr Elaine Kinsella discusses the reasons why so many of us struggle to be patient and tolerant:

It’s in our genes

“There are individual differences in the levels of impatience that people experience and display to others,” Elaine explains. “Some people can be described as having a ‘Type A’ personality where they tend to be competitive, critical, easily ‘wound up’ and have a tendency to overact. On the other hand, people who fall into the category of ‘Type B’ personality tend to be more relaxed and laid-back, and often, more patient.”

It’s our perception of time

“Some people have a higher ‘cognitive tempo’. That means they tend to overestimate how much time has passed (so five minutes seems like 10 minutes). Other people have a slower cognitive tempo and they typically underestimate how much time has passed (so five minutes seems like two minutes). These differences in time perception can cause conflict in daily life if people have different expectations of how fast things should happen.”

It’s a fact of life

“Most of us are used to high levels of daily activity and instant access to information via technology. With the hyper pace of modern living, we have little patience for slower activities or delays in our already jam-packed schedule. Long queues, travel delays, slow service, or impolite exchanges can cause people who are already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted to overreact, behave aggressively or force their desired outcome.”

It’s challenging times

“When people experience a lack of sleep, financial pressures and major life transitions (like moving house, bereavement, new job, new baby) they are often under a great deal of pressure and struggle to be patient with other people. Daily hassles and major life events can deplete our resources for being tolerant of others.”

It’s the stuff we feel we can’t say

“At work, power dynamics have a role where a junior staff member may feel they have to hide their impatience with more senior colleagues for fear of negative consequences or losing their job. Some individuals have less control over their emotions, and typically act on their impatience and feel guilty or ashamed afterwards.

“Sometimes, the car may feel like a safe place to let our emotions flow, particularly when negative emotions and frustrations are carried over from work or home life. It is often easier to yell at a passing driver than to manage a constructive conversation with your partner or colleague or friend about how you are really feeling.”

Sound familiar? Here’s Elaine’s advice on becoming more patient and helping your little ones to do the same:

  1. Step back and take perspective

“The first step when you feel impatient is to take a deep breath and become aware of how you are feeling. Ask yourself what has triggered this response and if it is worth getting upset about. This exercise can help keep life stressors in perspective. In the grand scheme of things, getting upset about a slow supermarket queue is probably not worth it!”

  1. Remember you’re a role model

“Children observe and mimic the behaviour of the people around them. Teachers, parents, and carers can serve as valuable role models for children if they show patience and tolerance to others.”

  1. Help your child to take perspective

“It can be useful for parents, teachers, or carers to instigate a paradigm shift for children when they are feeling impatient. For example, asking the child to think about why another child or adult might have behaved in a particular way. This aids perspective taking and helps the child to ‘step into the shoes’ of other people, learning empathy and developing their emotional intelligence.”

  1. Remember there’s a learning curve

“Children develop the ability to control their emotions and behaviour over many years. We can help them to become better at managing and expressing emotions in a healthy and constructive way. Reminding children that feeling impatient is a natural and sometimes healthy emotion, however, it is important that we can learn recognise the emotion and evaluate if we need to act on it.”

  1. Chill out together

“Finding time to read, listen to music, exercise, walk together or do other enjoyable activities can increase relaxation in both children and adults. Calmer people have more resources to respond to frustrating situations.”

Dr Elaine Kinsella is a psychologist, post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in Psychology at the University of Limerick (UL).