Mental Resilience for the Long Haul: Patience Is A Virtue


How many times have you heard someone say “when things go back to normal”? About a year since the pandemic began, these words seem more like a prayer than a promise. To manage your frustration in these uncertain times, cultivate resilience by practicing patience — with tangible steps, below. 

When Will Things Go Back To Normal?

2020 was a struggle for a lot of people, there’s no question about that. The pandemic, the election, and many other events all placed a tremendous burden on our mental and physical health.

What started as a few turbulent weeks away from work and school has turned into a year of isolation at home. Some have been calling the experience “living at work.” Our only diversions have been Zooms with people yelling in the other room, short masked walks, and playing games with friends online to try and feel connected.

After so many months, it was easy to become desensitized and tired, just looking for some end in sight. Many of us used the new year — 2021 — as an anchor to keep us going. The end of 2020 signaled a new start and the potential to “go back to normal”. But even a couple months into the new year, our hopes have been dashed — or at least postponed.

As our patience wears thin, we begin to ask more seriously: “When will everything really go back to normal?”

Realizing Reality

The real answer is that no one knows for sure, and that answer in itself causes frustration. With so much emphasis placed on the year 2020 itself, it was easy to imagine that once the year ended, so would the problems. However, the disappointing reality is that issues like the pandemic don’t just disappear once it strikes midnight on New Year’s. 

How, then, can we manage our frustration in the light of constant disappointment and struggle? In these times, practicing patience may make life a little bit easier, for ourselves and for others around us.

How Do I Gain Resilience Through Patience?

People always say patience is a virtue, and then leave it up to you to figure out how to find it. Here are some ways you can try practicing patience:

Ways to Practice Patience

1. Accept Your Circumstances

One of the hardest parts of being patient is accepting the things you can’t change. You can’t control when things go back to normal, outside of your own safety precautions.

Constantly fighting the circumstances may make reality feel even more difficult. In these instances, acceptance is your only tool to find relief. This doesn’t mean it’s ok for things to be this way, but rather that you understand that some things are out of your control.

2. Empathize and Reflect

When we’re under pressure, self control becomes more difficult. With this difficulty, our flaws and struggles may show more obviously in our daily lives. During the pandemic, it seems nobody’s their best self, and that you’re not in the best place to tolerate their faults or idiosyncrasies. This is all perfectly understandable, but still not ideal for anyone involved.

When you empathize with other people’s struggles, you become more patient with their faults. And you, in turn feel less frustration. This is a foundation of resilience.

Understanding that your coworkers, your teachers, or your healthcare professionals are doing the best that they can in their given situation may help you gain perspective when you’re disappointed. You can also use this mindset to reflect on your own faults, on things you may be frustrated with about, and on others’ reactions to you.

3. Know Your Triggers

In what area of your life do you want to build mental resilience? Having a specific focus can help.

Are you frustrated with classes being online, meetings interrupted by screaming toddlers, or people wearing their masks wrong at the grocery store?

What situations leave you feeling most uneasy? You may be incredibly patient with your best friend, but struggle to stay positive with online school. Knowing your triggers can help you practice patience in the area of your life that needs it the most. This is an easy baby step toward building resilience.

4. Reach out for Help

Like anything you’re practicing, learning to be more patient takes time. If you feel like you’re faltering, don’t be afraid to reach out for support. It’s ok to voice your frustrations and reflect on situations gone “wrong.”

Build solidarity with friends and keep each other accountable. Friends can remind you to take a deep breath, help you set small goals, and be there for you when you feel frustrated. Alternatively, there are always places online where you can discuss these things with understanding strangers.

5. Celebrate and Laugh

Despite the constant bad news, cancelled plans, and day to day chaos, take time to celebrate. Pandemic circumstances don’t mean you can’t feel happiness!

You can celebrate finishing your project on time, having a good meal, or watching a good movie. Uplifting yourself and your accomplishments — no matter how minor — is essential to maintaining patience; celebrating the small stuff shows your brain that rewards DO come in time.

Take time to celebrate your wins to train your brain to stay patient for the good times ahead.

6. Acknowledge the Role of Patience in Your Resilience

Lastly, understand that patience does not make you a pushover for every bad things that happens. Patience doesn’t mean you’re lying down and accepting all the negativity in life.

Patience is simply a way to draw a boundary between yourself and a default mindset of unhappiness. This is sometimes referred to as “cultivating resilience.” By practicing patience, you can step back and view the situation in a more well rounded perspective, helping you to make better decisions and to weather the storm.

The “Don’ts” of Staying Patient

If you’ve tried all the tips and tricks to cultivate patience, you’re not out of luck. Sometimes we also have to remove unhelpful habits from the equation. Here are some considerations for what not to do:

1. Don’t Force Yourself to Feel Happy

Again, patience is not a way to force yourself into a happier mindset. Anger and frustration are valid emotions that signal when we feel we’ve been wronged. Ignoring these can cause a buildup and explosion of negative emotions later.

2. Don’t Give Up

Part of the journey of practicing patience is being patient in practicing. Everything has a learning curve, and patience can be difficult to learn. Be kind to yourself during this process, and understand that this, too, is patience.

3. Don’t Isolate Yourself

It may come as no surprise that many people are struggling to stay patient during these tumultuous times. While it’s healthy to take breaks from your day to day life, long term avoidance isn’t. Avoiding all interaction and all potential triggers as a way to stay calm may make you even more prone to impatience once you inevitably have to face the world again. Avoidance, unfortunately, drains resilience.

Reflecting With A Resilient Mindset

The idea behind practicing patience is not to undermine the frustrations of the past year, but rather to encourage approaching the future with a more grounded mindset. If you feel the need to talk about your struggles, consider reaching out to a peer support group here.