How to Cope With Waiting

Waiting isn’t known for being fun. It’s not generally fun when you’re waiting in line at the supermarket, and it’s really not fun when you’re waiting for a piece of life-altering news like a job offer.

In fact, previous research has found that, on average, people consider waiting for uncertain news as unpleasant as receiving bad news. And waiting for uncertain news actually tends to cause people more intense feelings of anxiety than receiving bad news.

Still, waiting for uncertain news is a natural part of life. Which raises the question: how do people cope with waiting for news, and do some people cope better than others?

One helpful coping strategy appears to be finding activities that induce “flow” – that is, absorbing activities that you can “lose yourself” in. A new study published in the journal Emotion suggests that when people engage in such activities, waiting for news becomes less stressful.

In the study, researchers looked at three different groups of people who were waiting for some type of news: law students who were waiting for their results from taking the bar exam, doctoral students who were searching for academic jobs, and college students who were about to have their physical attractiveness rated by their peers.

For both the law students and the doctoral students, those who experienced more activities that induced “flow” reported being less worried as well as having fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions.

For the college students, the researchers tried something else. They had some of the students play a video game, to see if the experience of being absorbed in the game would those students them cope with waiting. Once again, when people experienced more flow, their levels of positive emotions went up and negative emotions went down, although in this case their levels of worry didn’t change.

These results fit with the intuition that when you’re waiting for news, dwelling on the uncertainty isn’t always the best approach. Rather, continuing with your life and finding activities that are engaging has the potential to make waiting a happier process.