Impatience Is Killing Us

Almost 20,000 Americans died of confirmed Covid cases in the past week, and next week’s toll will probably be worse. David Leonhardt, New York Times journalist, said that tens of thousands of lives could be saved if Americans would change their behavior. He said it is clear that our impatience is killing people.

I get it. We’re into 9 months of Covd19 restrictions and it’s wearing on us. You may find yourself feeling helpless, sad, angry, irritable, hopeless, anxious, or afraid. You may have trouble concentrating on typical tasks, changes in appetite, body aches and pains, or difficulty sleeping, or you may struggle to face routine chores. We all want to return to our pre-Covid19 lives. It is tempting to throw caution to the wind and become careless.

We need more patience, people. Others have had it worse. How much can the spirit endure in isolation?

Kaavan, the world’s loneliest elephant, was finally freed after living for decades in a Pakistani zoo. His only companion died, allegedly of sepsis brought on by bull-hook nails digging into her skin in 2012. His wounds became infected and the chains around his legs left permanent scars. He drifted into psychosis and obesity. He finally got a new life thanks to the actress and singer Cher, who co-founded a wildlife protection charity.

Astronaut Scott Kelly survived a year in space in cramped quarters. He said there was never a moment he felt like coming home early. “I could have stayed up there longer if there had been a good reason. So I never really doubted my ability to do that. Some folks have a challenge being isolated like that. It’s hard, but it’s not so hard you can’t do it.” Another challenge, he says, was sharing a relatively small place with the same people for so long – “even though all those people are great.”

Nelson Mandela was confined to prison for 27 years. “I could walk the length of my cell in three paces,” Mandela recalled in his autobiography. “When I lay down, I could feel the wall with my feet and my head grazed the concrete at the other side. The width was about six feet. That small cramped space was to be my home for I knew not how long.” Mandela’s prism on the world was a small window with six bars but little to see. Robben Island was five miles off the coast. He didn’t have access, as we do now, to newspapers, telephones, and a television. He was seventy-two when released and went on to re-create a nation and win the Nobel Peace Prize.

We all lose our patience occasionally, but doing so frequently can cause harm. Patience is the ability to stay calm while you’re waiting for an outcome that you need or want. It is a tough skill to master. Emotional outbursts, aggression, frustration, and impatience are often associated with early childhood. This reflects a weak system of self-control. Our capacity for self-control should improve with time. As a means of practicing self-control, we engage in actions that require effort to sustain.

Impatience is a feeling of rising stress. Try to develop strategies to deal with your impatience as you notice it. Take deep, slow breaths, and count to 10. Doing this will slow your heart rate, relax your body, and distance you emotionally from the situation. Sometimes you might need a longer count, or to repeat the process several times. Impatience can cause you to tense your muscles involuntarily. So, consciously focus on relaxing your body. Relax your muscles, from your toes up to the top of your head. Challenge your negative assumptions instead of letting your impatience build. Aim to reframe the circumstances in a more positive light.

Although some people are naturally patient, the rest of us need to practice for it to become a habit.

Patience is worth cultivating. If you practice patience daily and connect it to a narrative of why it’s important, it can grow and develop just like other skills.

It is clear that patience, while restricting our activity, will get us out of Covid19 alive.

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