The majority of our lives are spent waiting, whether it is in line, sitting in traffic or waiting to fall asleep every night. Waiting is naturally anxiety inducing, especially when it is about something that is impacting on our mental or physical health (i.e., waiting at a hospital or for test results). However, aside from the anxiety it induces, waiting is actually a positive thing to practice. Yes, it is aggravating, creates awkwardness in social dynamics and costs money, but it is also invaluable for its ability to help us develop patience.
Being able to easily endure waiting requires a greater understanding of why it induces anxiety. According to current research in waiting behavioral theory, following are six reasons why humans tend to dread waiting and the types of waiting that test our patience the most.
- The time is unoccupied – When we do not have a task at hand, our minds tend to wander and become anxious about the things that we could be doing instead. This negative rumination about what we cannot do because of our current obligations causes anxiety that fuels more negative rumination, creating a cycle of anxiety and waiting. Finding ways to occupy oneself, preferably that are not impulsive distractions such as texting or social media use, is key to passing time. Brainstorming ideas in one’s head or thinking about other errands are ways to not only make time seem faster but to be more efficient as well.
- Uncertainty – Not knowing when you will be able to do what you like again makes waiting seem that much longer. While having a general idea of when the wait will be up (ie., buses or trains) may ease anxiety for some, impulsively thinking about how much time there is left can make the experience seem longer, too. Guestimating when one will be done waiting (while avoiding getting too specific) can be a way of easing anxiety, if not simply providing a distraction in itself.
- The wait is unanticipated or unexplained – Most times when a bus or flight we are waiting for is delayed, we are given no warning or explanation as to why. Not knowing the cause of the delay can lead to ruminating about how late it will be, how serious the setback was, or if it will even come. If the person we are waiting for happens to be someone we care about, then anxiety from wondering what happened to them is another unneeded source of stress. Reassuring oneself that the delay is not due to some catastrophic issue can be helpful in most cases. Waiting that occurs at an unexpected time (such as cops slowing down traffic while the rest of the world is driving to work) also is very effective at creating stress and anxiety.
- The wait is unfair – Studies have shown unfair waits to be more anxiety-inducing than equitable ones. Watching people cut in line or buy their way out of things causes considerably more anxiety than waiting with other people in a more fair and balanced manner. If the wait itself is unfair or seemingly random, such as ones caused by a traffic accident or natural disaster, then the perception of the time we are waiting as well as the stress associated with it can be more severe as well.
- You’re alone – “Solo waits” have been shown to seem longer than more social lines. Most likely due to being able to commiserate with others and the distraction that conversation provides, talking to others (even if it means texting) can be an effective means of passing the time.
Waiting is something that we have to endure every day of our lives. We recognize how vital patience is on the road to recovery, incorporating mindfulness based therapies and therapeutic activities such as yoga and meditation into our treatment programs. Our Utah-based White River Academy emphasizes the development of life skills such as patience and tenacity, equipping our students with the skills they need to maintain a lasting recovery. If you would like to learn more, feel free to browse the rest of our site or contact us today.