How to Worry Less While Waiting

Waiting for results is hard, trying to worry less while waiting is even harder.

In the past few years, I’ve done a lot of waiting and worrying. My husband and I stood by our daughters as they went through the complicated application process for New York City public high schools. So, I know what it’s like to wait for admissions results over which I have little control. Moreover, I’ve had to wait for countless test results during and since my younger daughter’s battle with cancer.

worry less while waiting

I’m not going to tell you not to worry. That’s impossible when the people involved are important to you or when the stakes seem high to you or them.

I also know better than to tell you “It’ll be fine no matter what.” or “You got this!” or “Just chill out.”

Personally, I detest, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God only gives you what you can handle.”

And, I get pretty annoyed when people suggest that I worry because I am a Mom.

Women and Worrying

Most people believe that women worry more than men. According to research led by Dr. Kate Sweeney, a professor of Psychology who runs The Life Events Lab at University of California at Riverside, there appears to be some truth to that assumption.

Dr. Sweeney and her team study how people cope with “uncertain waiting periods,” times that have both “a lack of certainty of one’s future outcomes combined with a lack of control over those outcomes.”

They reviewed results from 20 different studies and found that women report greater worry than men. At the same time, however, women are more likely than men to employ coping strategies.

What was fascinating about this study was that Dr. Sweeney also found that more than gender differences it was the worrying itself that prompted the deployment of coping strategies. That is…

When worry arises, as it does for most people during gate most stressful waiting periods (e.g. awaiting a biopsy result or the announcement of layoffs), men and women are equally likely to rifle their coping toolbox in an effort to confront the frustrating combination of uncertainty and a lack of control that waiting entails.

Kate Sweeney, Victor Kwan and Angelica Falkenstein

Strategies to worry less while waiting

Dr. Sweeney and her colleagues suggest two ways to cope during uncertain waiting periods: mindfulness and finding flow.

And, while I agree with these suggestions, I would add a step. Based on what I know from my conversations with clients and from my own personal experience, you have to first make some choices. Before you attempt to focus on the present moment (mindfulness) or engage in an activity that makes you lose track of time, you have to know what you value, what is meaningful to you.

To do that, here are some good questions you can ask yourself:

  • What sort of person do I want to be?
  • How do I want to “show up” in my most important relationships? Or, what kind of mother/daughter/spouse/partner/friend do I want to be?
  • What do I want to stand for in this life?
  • What attributes in people do I admire that I’d like to instill in myself?
  • What objects or possessions represent to me something more worthy or meaningful than the value others might assign them?

Some of these questions may be too difficult to answer depending on what kind of uncertain waiting period you’re going through. Definitely skip those! But, even if you can ask yourself one, it might help you to put you in the right mindset for the other two strategies of mindfulness and flow-finding.

Let me know if this helps you or if you have other strategies that help you worry less while waiting.

And, please share this with someone for whom it may be helpful.