“I would not sit waiting for some value tomorrow, nor for something to happen. One could wait a lifetime. ... I would make something happen.” Louis L’Amour
Normally at the beginning of February different people would be waiting for different things and outcomes. Some people will be waiting to see the benefits of a dry January or a vegan January or a dieting January and some people will be waiting to find out what cultural festival or sporting or music festival programmes are going to be coming out this year. There are birthdays and anniversaries and bank holidays and Valentine’s Day and so on and so forth.
However in February 2021 as we continue to go through the Covid-19 Pandemic, another lockdown and more isolation, the waiting game feels different. For example, when we are waiting for an examination result or a date to move homes we have some idea of the time frame. With this Pandemic, there is a lack of global certainty of the time frame and this makes the waiting more stressful. For so many people across the globe, 2020 has been a year of waiting and uncertainty. Additionally, we are waiting to hear about unemployment aid or job opportunities. We are also waiting to hear about loved ones in the hospital.
There are, of course, medical appointments that have been postponed and many people are waiting for these. So many of us are asking ourselves what are we waiting for, how long will we have to wait and how are we waiting? We feel suspended in air. Some of us are waiting to feel safe on the streets again, or to be able to hug family and friends, or to have dinners together again or to return to places that nurture us, make us feel safe and secure and sustain our mental wellbeing such as our community swimming pools, yoga centres, places of worship, coffee shops, cultural venues, sporting venues, pubs and restaurants to name a few. We continue to wait in line to get into supermarkets and wait for shops to open again.
The vast majority of us are of course waiting for our vaccine and we pin our hopes on this to help alleviate the losses and grieving that we have been enduring for almost a year now.
As we have discovered over the past year, regardless of the specifics, waiting carries with it a host of difficult feelings such as uncertainty, anxiety, worry, and impatience. Waiting for possible good news or bad news can feel draining and exhausting, as we sit in the space of not knowing. Why is having to wait so difficult?
One reason why waiting can be so hard is that often the outcome of whatever we are waiting for determines our next steps. If we get the answers we are hoping for we celebrate and keep moving forward. If we receive news that is unwelcome and not what we had wanted, we process the loss and disappointment and replan. Either way, once we know we have the possibility of movement. However, with not knowing, we feel stuck, as if life is on pause.
Waiting is also hard because people crave certainty and having control. We feel stressed when we don’t have this. The need to know and have control over our destiny is adaptive and built into our drive to survive. It’s part of our more primitive wiring. If we know what to expect, we can adequately prepare for it, and most likely get by okay. If we are uncertain about what’s to come, we are less likely to thrive, let alone survive. So wanting certainty and control is built into our blood and bones. So what does the research tell us about the best way of playing the waiting game? The following are top tips that you may want to embrace:
It is important to be optimistic about outcomes as we make our journey towards them. This means that we need to think and hope for the best outcome. However a week or two before the outcome, we need to change our thinking to a more pessimistic style. This means that we need to start thinking about how we are going to react if we do not get the outcome we desire. It is almost like having a plan B. This is important to buffer us from feeling completely let down if the outcome that we had hoped for does not materialise. So optimism prepares you for waiting whilst pessimism prepares you for bad news. This enables people to shift perspectives and start to think about Plan B.
Having a silver-lining really helps with mental wellbeing and dealing with trauma. This involves thinking about anything good that might happen in a bad situation. Many people have found a lot of silver linings throughout lockdown including closer relationships with supportive family, friends and neighbours, acts of kindness, not having to commute to work and appreciating more time. Some people have discovered new hobbies or invested time in learning new jobs. It has reduced our fear of missing out. So one way of helping to play the waiting game is to think about your silver linings as you wait.
Do things that induce your flow experience. This means taking part in something that you can lose yourself in and time vanishes without you really noticing. Activities that are immersive and deeply engaging require your complete focus and help you achieve a flow state. Being in your flow can be calming, grounding and rewarding. It also helps us to remember that life goes on, even as we wait. There is food to cook, essays to write, and art to make. The waiting is there, and so are these other powerful experiences that remind us that there is more to life than the news we are waiting on. Getting lost in an immersive experience can be helpful in retaining this awareness and do wonders to shift your mind out of the worry of what will be and thereby time can pass more quickly.
Imagine yourself in a psychology experiment and instead of being the guinea pig, imagine yourself as the scientist. Instead of looking at the world with frustration, look at the world with curiosity. Ask yourself why do you feel the way you do and then tweak your daily routines and see if they make a difference in how you feel.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a useful reminder that there are big powerful things in life that we cannot change. More importantly, this does not mean that we are powerless. We always have the power to change how we react. So why not try the above evidence-based strategies and see if we can all play the waiting game without time being our enemy.
“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” George Herbert
Dr Sima Patel Chartered Psychologist and Coach 15 New Road | Brighton | East Sussex | BN1 1UF 01273 803 013 thewellbeingpractice.co.uk