Waiting… how much of our lives do we spend waiting? Right now, I know people who are waiting to find out if:
- a lump is cancerous
- they are going to lose their baby
- she is going to lose her job
- he is going to get into graduate school
- her marriage is going to end
It literally never stops; it goes on our whole lives. Since we do it so often, why do we all hate it so much? Partly because we like to plan.
Do I need to schedule a surgery date? I need to pick out nursery colors. I need to look for another place to live. I need to figure out my future.
But I think there is something else going on that is probably more of a factor: control. Who likes to feel like they have control over their lives? Most (if not all) of us. Waiting usually signifies something that is COMPLETELY out of our control. Once we get the news, whether it is bad or not, then we do somewhat have control over what happens next — how we choose to react. But waiting? Waiting is just a blank space.
Just a warning; I am going to say the most cheesy (yet true!) therapist statement ever. Waiting can help mold us, make us stronger, help with our relationships, both with other people and with ourselves. When our hands feel tied, we have no choice but to look internally or to our friends and family for strength and patience. Yes, I know. There are about a million other ways I would like to learn those lessons as well, but we don’t get to completely remove waiting from our lives. It’s not possible.
Our anxiety about the future often forces our waiting time to be more than just a blank space between the events in our lives. Try as we might, it doesn’t work to “just try and forget about.” You may keep yourself busy throughout the day. Yet when your head hits the pillow, the worries start tumbling around. So what do you do with this anxiety about the unknown?
1) Talk to someone you trust.
Say aloud what you are scared of. Yes, putting things into words can make them more real. However, there is now someone to sit in the fear with you.
This can be a great tool during this time. However, I find most people need to put a limit on their journaling time. There is a fine line between giving yourself space for your feelings and going over every possible scenario time and time again in your head. Journal and then go watch a funny show. Journal and then plan that vacation. Journal and then…go do anything else.
3) Get moving.
Most of the time when we are experiencing a high degree of anxiety, we need to do some sort of physical activity to get out our increased adrenaline. If we don’t have an outlet for our increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol, they often manifest into physical symptoms of anxiety. Exercise decreases these stress hormones.
4) Distract yourself with anything!
I am usually preaching that people should not ignore their feelings or brush things under the rug. However, you are soon going to be forced to deal with the news you are waiting for. And at that point, you will know what you are actually dealing with. So go to a movie, an escape room, an art class, anything that will take your mind off things for a few hours.
5) Write down a list of things that have to get done.
That’s it. That’s all you have to do. It’s okay to have periods in our lives that we do the bare minimum because that’s all we have the emotional energy for. Yes, do your work, wash yourself and your clothes, make sure you eat. But if you need to have a movie marathon all weekend with your kids, that’s fine. If the kitchen counter doesn’t get wiped down, it will be okay. Give yourself some grace right now that you don’t have to be your most productive self. Let your friends and family help you.
The most difficult period of my adult life happened to fall during the 2016 election. Talk about having something to distract me! Six years ago, I spent two weeks waiting for a phone call, a call that would change the course of my life. When I got the final call and heard the voice on the other end of the line, I knew. I knew in the split second before she started talking that the news was bad. The months that followed were, to date, the hardest and most gut-wrenching of my life. But the waiting? Ironically, I look back at that time fondly.
It forced me to be introspective, to find the strength inside me, and to lean on the support beside me. It encouraged me to think about the future I wanted, even if I were to later receive information that it would not be how I envisioned. Had I not had that time to take care of myself while I was waiting and, yes, still hoping, I think I would have fallen even harder. I have never felt as loved as I did during those two weeks when my friends and family surrounded me. That is a time I will always treasure.
The waiting forced me to think about all that was important to me and what I wanted to do when I was no longer waiting. You can’t think through all that once the waiting stops, because then the emotions take over.
Is there anything you’re waiting for right now? If so, how do you want to use your time in the waiting room?