Just Breathe: Simple But Powerful Ways To Be More Patient

Wildflowers in front of a pink and blue sunset

Raise your hand if you've ever:

  • Lost your patience at a traffic light
  • Felt your jaw clench while waiting in an interminably long line at the grocery store
  • Screamed at your computer because it was loading...so...slowly…...

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t let such small things test our patience. And yet time and time again, we find ourselves losing our cool, our emotions escalating to the point that we blow up at strangers, loved ones, and coworkers. 

We all know that patience is a virtue. And we also know it’s important to manage our stress levels for the sake of our health, happiness, and well-being. But in this increasingly chaotic and fast-paced world, it often feels like we would need to develop the patience of a monk in order to endure it all. 

And when, exactly, are we supposed to have time to do that? Short of uprooting our lives and moving into a monastery, what can we do to be more calm? 

Fortunately, patience isn’t a fixed trait. Being an impatient person isn’t a personality that we are stuck with for the rest of our lives. In fact, patience, like any other habit, is something that you can practice and develop over time.

Ahead you’ll find techniques to help you manage your emotions during heated and stressful moments and practice being more patient. So the next time you find yourself stuck in traffic or waiting forever at a checkout counter, you’ll be cool as a cucumber. 

Know your triggers

While it’s easy to blame ourselves and society whenever we lose our cool, we can also assign some of the blame to our prehistoric ancestors. That’s right, our fight-or-flight response, perfectly designed to save us from a saber tooth tiger, is still around and is much too intense for our everyday lives. 

Our prehistoric brain can’t tell the difference between a life-threatening situation from a trivial one. That’s why it’s so important to actively remind ourselves that a situation isn’t as bad as it seems.

When our body is reacting as though we are in an emergency, you can interrupt that thought process by actively noticing that it is not an emergency.

A helpful way to do this is to identify our triggers so that we can remove these threats from our mind. 

Make a list of situations that have a tendency to set you off. Maybe it’s a long line at the coffee shop or a coworker who talks your ear off or a slow wifi network.  Don’t worry about how insignificant it may seem. Write it down and acknowledge it.

Next, reflect on each situation and ask yourself if it is truly a threat. Is waiting in line really that bad? And is the wait really as long it seems? While two minutes can feel like a lifetime, remind yourself that it is not that long in the grand scheme of things.

Then, the next time you find yourself being triggered, remind yourself that this is not a life or death situation. Use affirmations if you want. “I can wait in this line at the coffee shop.” “This traffic is not the end of the world.” 

You can even allow yourself to think about the worst case scenario – is your life actually in jeopardy if you wait another 5, or even 10 or 20, minutes for a cup of coffee?

By looking at the situation from a different angle, you can dilute your emotions much more quickly. Noticing that you are not in danger of anything but inconvenience can be instantly calming.

Remind yourself that the situation that’s testing your patience is not a saber tooth tiger. Once you override that prehistoric fight-or-flight instinct, you can actually start to release your anger and frustration. 

Take deep breaths

We all know that we’re supposed to breathe slowly during stressful situations. But it’s important to practice this exercise in the correct form or we risk adding more anxiety to our situation. 

The goal is deep breaths. If you are taking shallow breaths, you are actually working against your ability to calm down.

Shallow breathing causes our shoulders to rise up and down. We want to avoid these shallow breaths because it doesn’t give our lungs enough oxygenated air, and that can cause us to feel more anxious. 

What you want to do is take deep breaths using your stomach. Inhale from your nose and feel your stomach rise. Then exhale through your nose and feel your stomach fall. You can even place your hand on your stomach to feel your stomach rise and fall with each breath. 

The next time you’re about to lose your cool at a traffic light, try this deep breathing exercise for five to ten seconds. You can even use affirmations while you inhale and exhale:

  • “I am releasing tension.”
  • “I feel more calm with each breath.” 
  • "I am okay."

Make adjustments

After you identify your triggers, see if you notice any patterns or situations that are allowing these triggers to arise.

For example, a few years ago, I noticed that I was always feeling impatient and frustrated in the mornings, as I was rushing to get ready for work. Everything from the slow wifi to the intermittent hot water in the shower would test my patience – and it didn’t help that there was a ticking clock pressuring me to get to work on time. 

So I made small adjustments to my routine. Instead of grinding my coffee beans in the morning, I started just buying pre-ground coffee. And instead of making breakfast every morning, I would just buy something at the work cafeteria.

This was a practice that worked for me. What was most important to me was releasing myself from a busy morning, where everything depended on work that I had to do (grinding beans, making breakfast).

What is triggering you? What is behind the pressure you feel in moments of impatience?

Looking back, I can’t believe I used to take the time to grind my coffee beans in the mornings – no wonder I was always stressed! Now I save grinding my coffee beans for the weekends, which makes my weekend coffee feel that much more special. 

Be prepared 

Before the next time you find yourself waiting in a long line at the DMV or grocery store, create an arsenal of things on hand that can distract you or help you feel more calm.

  • Pack granola bars or snacks in your bag to prevent any hunger tantrums
  • Download fun podcasts to your phone 
  • Bring a book or magazine you’ve been wanting to read 
  • Carry a hand lotion with a pleasant, soothing scent like lavender or tea tree - deeply breathe in the scent whenever you feel stressed or anxious
  • Listen to calming music

And if you don’t have anything on hand to distract you, practice good old fashioned daydreaming.

That’s right: when’s the last time you gave yourself permission to just drift off?

Fantasize about travel plans. Imagine you’re on a beach. Or think about absolutely nothing. Don’t you feel calmer already?  

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