Herb Palmer admits to being a type A personality. “I was the classic angry guy in rush hour traffic beeping the horn. All lines made me mad,” says Palmer, a 40-something author in Morris Plains, N.J. “What I finally figured out was it wasn’t the traffic or the lines — it was me.”
If you have trouble waiting in line, become annoyed and swear at other drivers in traffic, and go ballistic when the person in front of you at the 10-item-or-less checkout counter has 12 items, you can relate. Patience anyone?
Maybe you’ve cataloged your lack of patience as a sign of being a high energy, hard charging, successful individual, and you’re probably right. But make no mistake; it comes at a price to your health.
“What we know from research is that these individuals are prone to heart disease, hypertension and more medical problems across the board than their more laid back counterparts,” says Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and author of the forthcoming “Better than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.”
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Called time urgency impatience, and typically characterized in Type A personalities, these people expect everything to be done ASAP. Basically it’s an obsessive concern for time. It stems from the false urgency that comes from being concerned about maximizing every second of the day. They likely look at the clock regularly, too. These are the folks punching the elevator button repeatedly as if that makes it arrive faster.
When every minute is that sense of panic and rush, it triggers the classic fight or flight response, where hormones flood the body and brain, which is fine in a life or death situation, but not so good when it’s turned on all day every day. After a while, impatience leads to irritability, which leads to anger, which leads to clogged arteries down the road.
“Everybody thinking they don’t have enough time to do this or that that tells the brain, at least the primitive emotional hub called the amygdala, that every minute of the day is an emergency,” says Joe Robinson, a work/life balance expert and author of “Don’t Miss Your Life.”
It’s actually an altered state — akin to being drunk, because you do things in your time urgent state that you would never do otherwise: Seethe with anger and blare the horn when the person in front of you doesn’t move within a second of the green light. “These are people that are just on the edge of going over,” says Robinson.
We’re also trained in this culture to believe that anything that’s not output or production doesn’t have value, so were always trying to maximize every second. That’s the insidious thing about time urgency; we’re trying to fill up every second of the day instead of making the day more fulfilling.
Naturally, technology aggravates the condition. Instant gratification is at an all time high as well as attention spans at an all time low. To have patience, you have to have an attention span and those are being eroded by our smart phones, iPads, computers and constant connectivity. “The more you check email, the more you have to check it. It erodes a part of the brain that regulates your impulse control,” says Robinson. And when the impulse control mechanism goes on the blink, it’s easy to fly off the handle if something isn’t instantaneous.
Problem is you can get away with it for a while. “I think younger people embrace it and don’t see it as a problem,” says Archer. When people start seeing the side effects of anxiety and panic attacks, destroy their relationships because things don’t happen as fast as they want, or have road rage on the highway, then they see it as a problem. Studies show you really don’t reap the negative medical effects until 40 or 45 years old.
But don’t wait until you develop heart disease. Fortunately impatience is not a personality trait, it's a behavior. Start by asking yourself why waiting makes you crazy. Impatient people often feel they're special and should be free of the annoying inconveniences of life. Their time is more valuable than the rest of ours. Throw out that mantra and slip into the real world. “It’s not what happens in your day that makes you mad, it’s who you are and how to handle what happens in your day that makes the difference,” says Palmer.
Here’s how to nab more patience:
Schedule leisure time with a focus. Find activities toget your attention back and ditch time urgency by focusing your mind on a target. Play badminton or ping pong where you focus on the shuttle cock or ball going back and forth, or take up salsa dancing where you can’t space out for a second or you won’t get the sequence. Any activity where you have to concentrate and learn something counters that false sense of urgency.
Quit checking the clock. Or don’t check it as often. Start by checking it 50 percent less than yesterday, and then cut it in half the next day. “We don’t have to check clocks as often as we do, and every time we check clocks we’re self inflicting an interruption in our work because we’re not as far along as we want to be,” says Robinson. The obsession with the future takes you away from what you are doing now.
Seek social experiences. Conversations with friends are usually in relaxed settings where you can be yourself and there’s no time pressure. Social interactions are a great antidote to time urgency: It’s not about the time or the result, it’s just about the experience of being with people and experience makes us happier than material things because they can’t be compared to anyone else’s experience.
Accept current circumstances. Give up any illusion that you can control things (traffic jams, slow clerks) and remind yourself that every moment is the only place your life is occurring. No road rage required.
Find your sense of humor. Humor helps deflect impatience. If you can find something funny in the face of an impatient moment, you can pull yourself out of it. One trick is to look around your situation and find the person (besides yourself) that’s about to have a patience meltdown. Watch closely; there’s usually a whole lot of funny there. You don’t want to look like that, do you?
Patience takes practice. You'll need to work on it daily. But patient people tend to be thinner, have better blood pressure, normal glucose levels, and less heart disease, gastro disorders, anxiety and depression. Sort of a no-brainer, right?
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