Take a deep breath. You’ve got this!

Mother & Baby - - CONTENTS -

Pa­tience and par­ents: these two words share an as­ton­ish­ing five let­ters. A co­in­ci­dence? We don’t think so! Now, we know that your pa­tience skills are prob­a­bly al­ready bor­der­ing on the su­per­hu­man – you’re a mum, af­ter all. But we haven’t met a mum yet who doesn’t feel she could do with just a lit­tle bit more. And guess what? It’s pos­si­ble! “There’s a grow­ing body of re­search from neu­ro­science and so­cial psy­chol­ogy that gives us in­sights into how to cul­ti­vate pa­tience,” says psy­chol­o­gist Dr Christo­pher Wil­lard. “Pa­tience is re­ally like a mus­cle in the brain. And, just like a mus­cle, your pa­tience can be weak­ened by fac­tors such as sleep

de­pri­va­tion.” Sound fa­mil­iar? But there’s good news, too: “Again, like mus­cle, we are likely wired to have a cer­tain amount of pa­tience,” says Christo­pher. “But this can change a lot, de­pend­ing on how much we “work out” our pa­tience mus­cle to build it up and make it stronger and longer last­ing.”

Give your­self a break

Whether it’s nappy chang­ing or night feeds, be­ing a mum in­volves speed­ing up the learn­ing curve to mas­ter lots of new tasks you’ve never en­coun­tered be­fore. “And the fact that you’ve never prac­tised these tasks be­fore means you have yet to build your “pa­tience mus­cle” for them,” says Christo­pher. Those ev­ery­day jobs never stay the same for long ei­ther – chang­ing an in­de­pen­dent tod­dler’s nappy is a whole dif­fer­ent ball game to a new­born’s! – so it’s tricky for your pa­tience mus­cle to keep up with the pace of change. So, give your­self a break if you feel you don’t cur­rently have quite as much pa­tience as you’d like. It’s nor­mal – and we’re go­ing to show you some smart ways to strengthen that pa­tience mus­cle right now.

Use your imag­i­na­tion

By ex­am­in­ing MRI scans of the brain to watch this ‘pa­tience mus­cle’ in ac­tion, neu­ro­sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that sim­ply stop­ping to imag­ine the out­come of your ac­tions be­fore pur­su­ing an im­pulse can in­crease your abil­ity to ex­er­cise pa­tience. So, the next time your tod­dler is refusing to put on his coat, de­spite the Arc­tic wind that’s blow­ing, and de­spite the fact you’ve al­ready calmly asked him three times, try it. When you’re feel­ing like you’re ready to snap, take a mo­ment to think what im­pact that might have. Do you see your young­ster calm­ing down and putting his coat on as a con­se­quence? Or will his in­sis­tence mag­nify? You don’t need to do any­thing other than take a few sec­onds to think about the out­come of your ac­tion. Now, we’re not sug­gest­ing you won’t still feel frus­trated, and you’ll still be left with the is­sue of how you’re go­ing to per­suade your tod­dler to put his coat on, but the process of sim­ply imag­in­ing the out­come will build your pa­tience mus­cle fast. “We call it ‘elab­o­ra­tive re­hearsal’,” ex­plains Christo­pher, “and stud­ies show it has a real, struc­tural ef­fect on one of the ar­eas in our brains most closely as­so­ci­ated with pa­tience.”

Breathe a bit more

No one’s got time to do 10 min­utes of med­i­ta­tion when their sched­ule is al­ready packed with Tum­ble Tots, cof­fee dates, work sched­ules and nurs­ery. But this tech­nique takes mo­ments, and brings a su­per-boost of pa­tience al­most in­stantly: “Breathe in for the count of seven, then out for the count of eleven,” says Christo­pher. “And as you breathe deeply and slowly, fo­cus on some­thing. Any­thing will do – your feet, for ex­am­ple, are al­ways there! Fo­cus on the feel­ing of them on the floor. Do they feel warm or cold? Do your shoes feel tight or loose? It’s so easy, but this tech­nique will re­sult in real changes to the parts of your brain as­so­ci­ated with pa­tience.” So how does it work? Well, when you’re feel­ing stressed, a hor­mone called cor­ti­sol is re­leased into your body. “This in­ter­rupts your abil­ity to think straight,” ex­plains Christo­pher. This surge also blocks the re­lease of oxy­tocin, the love hor­mone that pro­motes bond­ing be­tween you and your tot. “So it’s prac­ti­cally neu­ro­log­i­cally im­pos­si­ble to be stressed and lov­ing at the same time,” says Christo­pher. So now you know what’s be­hind that fraz­zled feel­ing you get when you’ve nearly reached your lim­its and you’re not be­hav­ing like the mum you re­ally want to be! “Re­search shows that prac­tis­ing tech­niques such as this, that bring

you into the present mo­ment, ac­tively builds your pa­tience,” Christo­pher ex­plains. One study found that reg­u­lar mind­ful­ness prac­tice can lower cor­ti­sol lev­els by up to 15 per cent – so, if in doubt, breathe.

Go old-school

Did any­one ever tell you to count to 10 when you were a child and strug­gling to keep your emo­tions in hand? Well, sci­ence has now proved that this old trick ac­tu­ally works. Re­search has re­vealed that sim­ply wait­ing for a few sec­onds be­fore you choose be­tween two cour­ses of ac­tion strength­ens your pa­tience mus­cle. Plus, it of­ten leads to you choos­ing the op­tion with bet­ter long-term con­se­quences. The rea­son this works, the study’s au­thors sug­gest, is that this pause lets us watch our own emo­tions and re­ac­tions, and learn from them. So, be­fore you even open your mouth, get into the habit of just count­ing to 10. “It’s one of the eas­i­est ways to cul­ti­vate pa­tience,” says Christo­pher. “You’re ex­er­cis­ing that ‘pa­tience mus­cle’ in your brain, and by the time you’re done, you’re far less likely to be stuck in an emo­tion­ally re­ac­tive state, and far more likely to be able to re­act to what­ever’s frus­trated you in a calm, com­pas­sion­ate, clear-headed and pa­tient way.”

Ap­pre­ci­ate what you’ve got

De­spite what In­sta­gram would have us be­lieve, none of us feel #blessed all the time. But re­search sug­gests that feel­ing grate­ful can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce lev­els of im­pa­tience. The study found that when asked to choose be­tween an im­me­di­ate cash re­ward or a much larger one in a year’s time, less grate­ful peo­ple tended to cave and choose the for­mer. It was the more grate­ful peo­ple who had the pa­tience to wait and re­ceive a larger re­ward. Now, no one’s go­ing to be pay­ing you for your per­fect par­ent­ing any­time soon! “But,” says Christo­pher, “re­mem­ber­ing a mo­ment when your young­ster made you feel pro­foundly happy can change your cur­rent emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.” So try this: next time you feel your pa­tience fray­ing, cast your mind back to a mo­ment when a cud­dle with your lit­tle one made you feel com­plete, or per­haps a point in your preg­nancy when you were supremely con­tent. You may well find your grat­i­tude out­weighs your frus­tra­tion at this small and pass­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Hug it out

Count­less stud­ies at­test to the de-stress­ing power of hugs. Dur­ing that mo­ment of close­ness, oxy­tocin is re­leased into your body, low­er­ing blood pres­sure, and anx­i­ety lev­els, and shut­ting down the flow of cor­ti­sol to re­lieve your feel­ings of stress. “So, if emo­tions are run­ning high and you and your child are at a point where you can’t ex­press feel­ings well in words, this phys­i­cal ges­ture can be the best form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” says Christo­pher. The great thing about all of this is that, the more you use your pa­tience mus­cle, the stronger it will grow. Per­haps, just per­haps, we’ll all have more than enough one day!

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