Weekly challenge: practice patience

With all the power outages and harrowing commutes due to the impact of Irene, practicing a little extra patience this week will be a challenge. But it will serve you well stress-wise, as well as those who may be the targets of your impatience.

I speak from experience after chewing out a check-out clerk at CVS last Friday for a computer system glitch that made already long pre-storm lines even longer. Neither she nor I were any better off from my snarky comments. (And I managed to rile up the customers behind me who also directed their frustration at her.)

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Being impatient isn’t good for your mental or physical health. It raises your level of stress hormones, which in turn irritates your stomach, raises blood pressure, triggers tension headaches, and lowers your immune system function, making you more susceptible to colds and other infections.

And it certainly doesn’t win you any friends.

In her best-selling book, The Power of Patience, life coach M. J. Ryan wrote that instead of exerting our willpower to get everything done as fast as possible, we need to exert more “wait power.’’ If not an intrinsic part of your personality, this habit — like all others — must be practiced and learned slowly over time.

What better time to start, though, than this week, which would try the patience of even the calmest souls?

Some tips on cultivating patience: Remember that each person has a unique way of thinking and seeing the world that may be strikingly different from your own, so have a little empathy for that person’s situation — even if you’re relying on them to, say, restore your cable service or proceed through an intersection with a broken traffic light. Spending less time judging others will make you feel calmer and perhaps earn you a smile or kind word from the maxed-out cable or power guy.

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You can also help yourself by preparing for times that will try your patience, bringing an iPad or newspaper to the motor vehicle administration, for example, or stocking your car with books on tape to get you through those traffic jams.

And when you feel like you’re about to lose your patience? Try this well-worn but effective calming technique: Take several deep breaths and count to 10 before saying or doing anything.

Certain lifestyle habits can also help increase your capacity to cope like getting a good night sleep and eating meals on time so you’re less irritable. Daily exercise can also leave you feeling calmer as can practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation and yoga.

Tell me how you’re dealing with your frustrations this week. I’d like some extra pointers if you find certain things work for you.

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