The Power of Women

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Being Patient During the Holidays

Being Patient During the Holidays

     The holidays demand a great deal of patience: Waiting in long lines in department stores to buy that perfect gift. Listening to your Great-Uncle Stu's story of his World War II days for the umpteenth time. Playing yet another game of Go Fish with your kids who on winter break.


     Impatience with others often arises when we feel they are impeding our own progress toward some goal. You want to get to work and the person in front of you is driving ten miles below the speed limit, so you get impatient with her. I want to get this blog written, but my son wants to go to Dunkin' Donuts for a hot chocolate, and I am impatient with his request. Being more patient comes when you recognize that you have multiple goals and priorities, and at times you have to let one go to serve another. I do have the goal of finishing this blog, but an even more important goal is nurturing my relationship with my son. Taking him to Dunkin' Donuts for a hot chocolate won't get my blog written, but it will give me a chance to spend some fun, relaxed time with him and talk. That helps me be a bit more patient.

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     Why are you always in such a hurry? This is the question you should ask yourself if you find you are an impatient person. You may answer, "Because there is so much to do!" But then the question is whether getting all those things done is worth the damage to your relationships-at home, at work, with your friends-being caused by your impatience. If the answer to that is "no," then you need to think about how you can cut back on the things that make you feel so hurried and pressured so that you can slow down, listen, and be present with the people in your life, particularly during this holiday period.


     If you feel you are impatient during the holidays because there are simply too many chores to get done, activities to get to, and so on, make a list of all these things. Then sit down with your family and rank these in terms of how important they are. Connecting with cherished family members you only see a couple of times per year may be high on the list. But fighting the crowds to buy your father some electronic gift he's unlikely ever to use may be low on the list. Think about whether there are any activities near the bottom of the list you can eliminate altogether, cut back on, or find alternatives for. Also think about whether you worry too much about doing everything just right: you try to make your house look like the cover of the December issue of Better Homes and Gardens; you feel compelled to throw a big holiday bash for which you cook a dozen dishes from scratch. Is all of this really necessary? By insisting on near-perfection in areas of our lives, we put pressure on ourselves that makes it hard to be patient with others who might not see the need for all that perfection.


     Across all areas of your life, you can improve your patience by learning to relax more. When you find yourself becoming impatient, try the Six Second Breathing Exercise: shut your eyes and draw in a long, deep breath. Hold it for two to three seconds. Then exhale slowly and completely, letting your shoulders and jaw drop. Feel the relaxation flow into your arms and hands. Repeat this several times.


     So when you are sitting with your Great Uncle Stu, or your young child, or your spouse and you find yourself getting impatient to get up and DO SOMETHING, breathe in slowly, hold the breath for a couple of seconds, then breathe out again while slowly feeling your body relax. As you are breathing out, focus your attention on what your loved ones are saying and how you can become more engaged in the moment with them.

 

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema was a professor of psychology at Yale University and the author of The Power of Women.

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