Waiting Totally Sucks. Here's How to Do It Better

Editor's Note: This article was provided by our partner, RealClearScience. The original is here.


Cue Jeopardy music.

Waiting. We've all done it, and pretty much all of us hate it. Can science help us do it better?

Sadly, when it comes to waiting in line at Disney Land, McDonalds, or the DMV, you're at the mercy of the machine. All you can really do is think of sunny, sandy beaches and steer clear of anothing potentially antagonizing.

But when it comes to another ubiquitous form of waiting, anticipating uncertain news or outcomes, Kate Sweeny has you covered. Waiting on information regarding your health, relationships, professional prospects, or academic outcomes can be torturous. Sweeny wants to alleviate the agony.

An assistant professor of psychology at the University of California-Riverside, Sweeny has extensively explored the psychology of waiting, with a specific goal of minimizing any associated stress and anxiety. In 2012, she developed a model of "uncertainty navigation" to depict the process people go through during difficult waiting periods and to help them healthily soldier through it. Her strategy can be broken down to three broad categories: mitigating consequences, reappraising the outcome, and regulating emotions.

Sweeny is currently testing her Uncertainty Navigation Model in two longitudinal studies."Study 1 will examine the experiences of people taking the California bar exam during the several months while they await their exam results, and Study 2 will examine the experiences of students in an upper-division psychology course over the several days while they await their midterm exam grades," she explained.

As we wait for those results, we can all benefit from five tips she offered up on how to wait well:

1. Distract yourself from uncertainty. Read an enthralling book, watch a captivating movie, play a video game that transports you to another realm. In essence, find ways to minimize your anxiety in ways that are totally irrelevant to the situation.

2. Manage your expectations. There are two ways to do this: brace for the worst or hope for the best, and both have their merits. Yes, the former is basically adopting a pessimistic outlook, but it also means you may not be disappointed if the news is sour. On the other hand, hope offers tangible, immediate benefits. According to Sweeny, "research supports a number of benefits of maintaining hope under difficult circumstances, such as better adjustment to breast cancer, reduced risk for of hypertension, increased immune functioning, and faster recovery from illness."

3. Look for the silver lining in all outcomes. It may surprise you to know that people with chronic and deteriorating diseases do not often report worse quality of life compared to their healthy counterparts. Expectation plays a huge role in life satisfaction, so generally, when people come to terms with their new predicament, they're able to redefine their personal measures of happiness. Therefore, while waiting for potentially bad news, you can take solace in knowing that, though your life might have to change, you'll still be just as happy. "People who find potential benefit in possible bad news will likely respond with less distress should the negative outcome actually occur," Sweeney says.

4. Keep perspective regarding the news. Consult with friends, family, and experts to ascertain the ramifications of potentially bad news. Evaluate how important the moment truly is in the grand scheme of things.

5. Plan ahead for the consequences of bad news. Take steps to make your life easier should the disastrous outcome you're dreading actually come to pass. For example, if you're waiting on news from the doctor about whether or not surgery is required for some malady or injury, contact your employer to secure time off from work. Or, say you're waiting for the results of a consequential exam. Start planning and taking actions to improve your score on your next potential exam. Design new study habits, or begin searching for tutors. Sweeny hypothesizes that these costs and efforts are worthwhile. "Consequence mitigation serves not only to prepare for the future, but also to manage anxiety in the present."

(Images: ShutterstockSweeny & Cavanaugh)

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less