I've tried everything to become a more patient person. Now what?
April 29, 2014 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm not a patient person. In fact I'm quite impatient. Little things set me off: from my dogs barking or losing connection to the Internet. Traffic. Stupid things. I've tried everything.

Yes, I've tried everything I can think of to cultivate patience. Meditation. Deep breathing. Calming music. Yoga. Other exercises. Counting to 10. Everything short of actual medication. Nothing works! I find myself blowing up once again over something trivial. I can feel my blood boil and my heartbeat quicken. I fear that not conquering this problem will not only ruin my relationship, but my lifespan as well. What gives? What do I do next? How do I fix this personality flaw that continues to cripple me from day-to-day? Can you recommend any books on the subject? Have any other advice?
posted by dep to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I swear I'm not trying to be glib, but this sounds like a severe enough issue that you may want to try therapy. Those little things should not be setting you off, it's not normal and you shouldn't have to live with it.
posted by Think_Long at 1:58 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you discussed this with a therapist? If you knew why you were so impatient, you might be able to more easily find techniques that would work. Medication might help, but there are many other options.
posted by ubiquity at 1:58 PM on April 29, 2014

Have you considered that the noise and stress is overload and this is a trait of a diagnosed/undiagnosed form of adult ADHD?
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:02 PM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you been checked for things like B12 deficiency, or nervous system disorders? Do you eat right, sleep well, keep regular habits, refuse to take on too much?
posted by serena15221 at 2:09 PM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I wonder if you have a very stressful life, and if impatience is a logical reaction to real stress? Would it be possible to work toward a life where slow connection speeds and freeway traffic genuinely matter less, since you don't need to be doing something else 5 minutes ago all the time?
posted by latkes at 2:15 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

To the list above, add high blood pressure. I know someone who was very quick to become angry/overwhelmed and was helped greatly by going on blood pressure meds instead of trying to manage the high blood pressure with diet, exercise, etc.

Also, anger and aggression can be a symptom of depression for some people.
posted by pie ninja at 2:19 PM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I was surprised at how much it helps me to tell myself, "Nope. I don't want to be pissed off right now, so I'm not going to let this piss me off." I know that sounds simplistic, but it can work really well in some situations.

That said, you list a lot of things you've tried in the moment, but what about lifestyle changes to reduce your overall level of tension? Things like eating well, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, working out regularly, cutting back on caffeine? Is your job high-stress, or does it involve a lot of multitasking and interruptions?

If you've taken steps to reduce stressors in your life and are still having trouble with a short fuse, see a doctor, because it could certainly be a medical issue. Hyperthyroidism can cause irritability, for example - or it could be one of the conditions mentioned in the above answers.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:25 PM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: "We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world" - buddha

Was true for the buddha, still true now. It is a world of meaningless stimuli upon which we impart a story, thereby rendering meaning. There is virtually no aspect of your experience that is independent of your thoughts. If you do not like the meaning you are coming up with, consider changing your story (thoughts) about the stimuli. Lots of ways to do it. One fairly straightforward way is some iteration of cognitive therapy.

Another way to put it. Your experience is not intrinsically irritating, your story about it is causing the irritation. Change the thoughts change the experience. Of course, it is a lot easier to blame the stimuli, 99 out of 100 do so. But you could be the best kind of one percenter, the 1 percent that frees their mind.
posted by jcworth at 2:33 PM on April 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Impatience sounds more like a symptom than the condition itself. Others will naturally and correctly suggest therapy, but you might find that impatience isn't what you will be treated for.

My experience, so take that for what it's worth, is that impatience is often a sign of an overblown sense of self-importance, that the world is not on one's program and can't see that one is too busy to be bothered, or too stressed to be delayed or whatever the combination might be.

Perhaps a deeper exploration of the circumstances that lead you to be impatient will end up being a better strategy than simply treating the symptom (or impatiently giving up on trying because what you are trying doesn't seem to work).
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:33 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know someone who was very quick to become angry/overwhelmed and was helped greatly by going on blood pressure meds instead of trying to manage the high blood pressure with diet, exercise, etc.

It's probable that this friend went on beta blocker medications. These do have the effect of making people calmer and less anxious and uptight, but to clarify the causality here, you can think of the calming effects of beta blockers as a side effect of the drug. High blood pressure does not cause people to be impatient or stressed out or whatever, and treating high blood pressure will not necessarily make you calmer.

Having said that, exercise is good for your blood pressure and good for your general emotional affect, so go for it!
posted by latkes at 2:42 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone mentioned ADHD or Depression, I was going to say this could be textbook Anxiety symptoms as well. You should definitely talk to a psychiatrist. They'll give you the routine run down - thyroid check and all of that, and then evaluate you for depression, anxiety, etc.

When i when on an SSRI the first time, my doctor told me that one of the first things depressed/anxious people tend to notice after going on an SSRI is that the little thing bother them less. And boy howdy, was that true.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:10 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Building on the comment that latkes made above, is it possible you are dealing with some major stresses in life that you are handling admirably, and the frustration / anger just needs to come out somewhere else - towards something "trivial" as opposed to towards something that you really care about and don't want to make waves over? Towards situations where there are no consequences to getting upset as opposed to ones where there are? If so, I would suggest it is okay to feel impatience towards these little things, if it is a temporary release valve that stops you from losing your cool over bigger things, until the bigger issues can be resolved (though meanwhile you should still work on a resolution to the important matters).

Additionally, instead of trying to stop yourself from being impatient, you can also focus on managing the reaction so it does not alarm people around you. Be kinder to yourself. It is not a personality flaw to be impatient over unavoidable daily annoyances. However, it can be considered a flaw if one cannot control outward reactions to unavoidable daily annoyances - and moreover it can be terrifying to witnesses who don't understand why the reaction is so disproportionate to the trigger.

I have had several friends and co-workers remark over the years that I am a patient person. I don't think I am, I suspect I just handle my reaction to annoying things better than most. If I am annoyed by something, instead of trying to convince myself not to grow irritated (because after all it is irritating) I just acknowledge even a saint would feel impatient/frustrated/enraged in the same scenario and then I move on from the feeling, full of the satisfying secret knowledge that I am completely justified in feeling the way I do over the outrageousness of it all. Sometimes, I will "save" my feeling in that moment and "fast-forward" to my calm state. The I can "replay" the incident when I talk about it with my mother or a friend, and in that way I get the issue out of my system and relish the injustice of it all without even having to go through the stage of impatience when I am in the moment (where it can get out of hand). If you don't have a friend or family member to be your sounding board you can try writing it out, chatting with a therapist, or talking to a pet.

When I am faced with a recurring annoying scenario, I also like to imagine all sorts of ridiculous stories related to the annoying thing, or that explain why it is happening. It can become a game to see how ludicrous or politically incorrect a tale you can come up with, and in the distraction of laughing over it you will forget to be angry. For example, my noisy next-door neighbour has been cast as deranged serial killer with a number of bizarre torture methods, to explain the rhythmic 10pm-2 am thumping in his unit. I happily share this theory with my friends, and we have a good chuckle over it.

As these strategies work for me, hopefully they can be of use to you.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 3:12 PM on April 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Are you on any medications? Several that I have taken in the past have severely shortened my patience/temper, Adderall in particular.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2014

I am seconding what Lutoslawski said. Prozac really, really helps keep me from being annoyed by small things in life. When I'm off it, my wife says she has to walk on eggshells around me. When I'm on it, life is smooth.
posted by tacodave at 3:14 PM on April 29, 2014

Are you able to identify the difference between impatience and irritability? As you describe your reactions they sound more like irritation than impatience.

As latkes suggests, exercise (running if you can, or any aerobic exertion) can be very helpful.

It may also be possible to be tilted into irritability by a food sensitivity; food allergies and sensitivities can change over your lifetime. You may find that eliminating various foods from your diet can change how you feel and react day to day. I just discovered a newly acute sulfite sensitivity (thanks, Trader Joe's crystallized ginger) and one of the primary effects was irritability.
posted by xaryts at 3:39 PM on April 29, 2014

In my twenties, my therapist used to joke "You want patience and you want it NOW!!!!" Yeah, that was me.

Some things that have helped include spending a lot of time at death's door and raising two very challenging special needs kids. Also, being a "failure" (in the eyes of the public) for a much longer time than I expected when I decided to walk away from my scholarship, etc. I don't recommend any of those as a method.

What I do recommend:

1) Re-organize your life so you don't have to put with as much of the stuff that sets you off.

2) Do volunteer work that is very emotional and stressful. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or at a hospice where people are dying. Something you can personally identify with and feel "there but for the grace of god go I" about it. It helps give you perspective. If putting up with {irritating thing} is really the worst thing you have to do all day, it's not worth blowing up over.

3) Deal with any health issues you have. It's hard to be patient and zenlike when you are miserable, not sleeping well, etc. I am healthier than I used to be and that makes a big difference.
posted by Michele in California at 3:43 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds very familiar. I don't have a silver bullet for you, but here are some personal observations:

A. Regular exercise, sufficient daily sleep, and some semblance of a daily routine help a lot.
B. Excessive stress at work or at home makes everything go to shit real quick.

When you strive for A and consciously avoid situations that lead to B, all those mantras, meditations, and rituals help a lot more. But without that foundation, they do nothing.

Good luck.
posted by Behemoth at 3:44 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What worked for me was experiencing some very difficult times in my life. This gave me the perspective to grasp that minor annoyances were just that, and were not worth being upset about. Because when you have big problems like, say a family member with a serious illness, or a child with special needs, then things like someone cutting you off in traffic, or a long line at the supermarket don't seem so bad.

Being mindful of what you have, and appreciating it, should help you acquire a more patient state of mind. Lost your Internet connection? Lots of people can only dream of owning their very own computer. Don't worry, your Internet will come back. Dogs are barking? You're lucky to have pets. Pets make life better. Many people can't care for an animal or live some place they aren't allowed, or are scared of dogs. You're lucky you have pets. Dogs bark and wishing they wouldn't is like wishing the wind would stop blowing. Stuck in a long line at the store? Aren't you lucky you are in a store with money to spend on the things you want. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you or smile at the little kid who's getting bored, or let the person behind you go first since she only has 2 things.

Look, I'm not suggesting you become a saint; everyone gets annoyed. Just stop and think about how great it is to be healthy and active and just ... get a grip. One day you'll look back at yourself and think, I didn't get it then but my life was pretty damn perfect.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:27 PM on April 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I highly suggest you start with your GP. Get a complete physical work-up, all the bloodwork done, etc.

A family member, who is a highly anxious person and is easily set off as you describe above, has had a lot of success supplementing with SAM-e and also chelated Magnesium. If you are magnesium deficient, you should see changes within a day or two of taking it. The SAM-e took 4-6 weeks to really kick in, iirc.

For this particular person that I'm thinking of, anxiety is related to control, or rather, the inability to control factors in his environment. My understanding is that the need to be in control stems from a lack of being in control, or general instability, particularly in childhood. Just a couple of things to consider if you decide to go the therapy route.
posted by vignettist at 4:36 PM on April 29, 2014

I've found this website has an interesting perspective & tips.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:39 PM on April 29, 2014

Further to what latkes, xaryts, and Behemoth said about exercise:

I'm a rather intense person, and was quite irritable and unhappy as a nerdy adolescent until I began strenuous physical activity - not just aerobics classes, or something like hot yoga or whatever. I mean heavy weightlifting, sprinting, things like that. Not everyone needs to fall in love with barbells - it could be brisk swimming, rock climbing, basketball, martial arts.

There's a train of thought (which I endorse) which views the contemporary standards of sedentary life in western countries as a disaster for human bodies. We have animal parts with animal functions, and highly evolved systems that try to keep us alive. Aggression and anxiety are "normal" expressions of those systems which our less-comfortable ancestors would be taking advantage of more regularly than your average person does today.

I think there's real value in picking up something heavy or exerting yourself until your panting at least two or three times a week. I know it levels me out, and without it I get snappy, impatient, unnecessarily aggressive, just all-around unpleasant to be near.

Also, since no-one else has mentioned it: sex helps. A lot. It's fun when you have someone else to do it with, but even by yourself it's pretty good.

If I've lifted weights and had sex within the past 36 hours or so, my mood and patience are much, much more robust than they would be otherwise.
posted by faceattack at 6:42 PM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

One thing to do is learn to interrupt the cycle. Stop reacting, step back, and ask yourself why you're getting impatient. Is it really about the thing you're getting crankypants about or is it something else?

For example, if I snap at my wife, is it because I suddenly hate her enough to get all snarly? Or is it because I'm tired or haven't slept right or I'm hungry or I'm mad because of dumb work stuff or I'm mad at her but haven't told her yet and haven't even figured out why myself?

Taking that pause to try and figure out what you're actually reacting to is also a good way to short circuit the cycle, because most of the time you're being ridiculous, but also because you're interrupting that sort of spiral of emotion->reaction->MORE EMOTION->Further reaction.

As for exercise, to elaborate a bit more...part of what helps with stress/anxiety management is managing your physical state of tension. Part of the sort of process for something like a panic attack is your head starts freaking out, then your body goes "oh shit!" and dumps in a load of stress hormones and basically gets ready to fight a bear or whatever it thinks the threat is, then you feel that and get even more tense and angry and stressed, repeat. Exercise can help manage your tension because simply, after a good workout, you won't be able to be tense anymore because you'll be so tired. My gym days are what keep me from climbing a clock tower with a rifle sometimes.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:02 PM on April 29, 2014

Best answer: I am an inpatient person as well. But, what you are describing only happens to me when I am at the end of my rope, during times of extreme stress and fatigue. It doesn't happen often. So, taking that into consideration, I would suggest that you get a complete physical to rule out anything that can be fixed with a pill. I also suggest that you get a lot of exercise and deal with your frustrations in therapy.

Once you aren't quite so reactive, I found that the best way to 'cure' myself of my impatience was to ask myself this one question: Is this a situation or problem that requires immediate action or can it wait? If it can wait, I make it wait. It is incredibly difficult to retrain yourself. I committed to a 6 month period of asking myself that question. I felt so much better after it that I continue it to this day.
posted by myselfasme at 5:31 AM on April 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the replies. I'm consistently impressed at what a caring online community we have here. Lots of great advice that I need to absorb.

To give a bit more perspective about me, I wouldn't consider my job to be stressful per se but it does require a lot of mental focus and heavy multitasking. It's a bit nonstop for the 9 hours a day that I'm doing it.

I do exercise quite a bit. Every morning I do a mix of cardio and weights. I do feel great afterwards.

I did go to the doctor a couple of months ago and I was severely vitamin D deficient. I've been taking supplements ever since but haven't noticed a dramatic difference in mood or energy level.

I go to bed early and wake up early as well. I get at least 8 hours of sleep at night.

I'm a pillar of health, really. I feel like I'm doing everything right. That's what makes this all the more frustrating. I suppose therapy might help, but I've lived a pretty typical life. Not like I'm suppressing some sort of childhood trauma or something.

I'll start with working on implementing the advice above and seeing where that gets me. Thanks again.
posted by dep at 4:31 AM on May 5, 2014

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