Can you recall what it feels like to sit in a waiting room?
A waiting room could be literal or metaphorical:
… in a doctor’s waiting room, before an appointment or test results.
… by a reception desk in a company where you are about to interview for your next project.
… on the edge of your chair at work, as your kid is taking the a big exam at school.
… in a government office where your papers may (or may not) get approved.
… at your house, by the phone, in case the news comes.
… in your cubicle, after your company just went through a merger. None of your cubicle neighbors can work either. Everyone is waiting.
I’m not taking about the kind of waiting when you wait for a bus, having plenty of time to get to your destination. I have in mind the anxious, worried kind of waiting, with unasked questions on your lips:
What will happen to me?
What will be next?
Will everything be ok?
Whenever I have to take my kids to the doctor, the first question they ask is whether or not they’ll be getting a shot of some sort. I always answer honestly. Otherwise, if they get ambushed by a shot at the doctor’s office, they won’t trust me again, and will put up a fight every time they have to go to a doctor.
If the answer is “yes”, they immediately start sulking. Their misery is so apparent that I swear it has its own greenish-grayish shade on a color palette, and the kids’ faces turn that color.
“Do you know what the worst part of a flu shot is?”- I ask my kids.
“When the doctor sticks the needle in?”
“No. That part only takes a second. The worst part is now, waiting for that shot.”
If you are prone to anxiety, waiting may indeed be the worst part of any experience for you. The good news is that waiting can be managed. Here are five things you can do to manage dealing with literal or metaphorical waiting room.
1. Be present. Look around and get a realistic idea of what is actually going on around you right now. Mark Twain famously said: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which have actually happened.” Evaluate what has not happened yet other than in your mind. Breathe, and live with what is, not with what you thing might or might not be. You don’t have to cross the bridge of “what will happen” until it happens. For now, get off the bridge. It’s shaky, and it makes you nervous. Have a seat right where you are, and breathe.
2. Be prepared. Whatever is happening to you right now is your reality. Whatever will be happening to you after you cross the bridge is your newreality. It is entirely possible that your new reality will bring you good news. It is also possible that the worst part of your transition is crossing the bridge (say, having a major surgery). In the example that I gave earlier with my kids, “crossing the bridge” into the new reality is getting pricked by the needle, which only takes a second. What are some of the things that you can do to prepare for your new reality? Preparing will certainly make you feel better than just worrying in the waiting room. Should you get your resume in shape? Can you start setting money aside? Can you start building a support network for your new reality? Can you schedule something to look forward to in your new reality, no matter what the new reality will bring?
3. Allow alternative possibilities. When you are anxiously waiting, you are living in terrible “what if” scenarios. In reality, you are just sitting in the waiting room. At the same time, you’re living in your head rather than in the waiting room. So, why not make that space in your head more livable? You can do it by creating alternative “what if”s:
“What if I get fired?”
“Well, what if my contract gets extended for another year or two?”
“What if something happened to my friend?”
“Well, what if she’s having such a wonderful time that she is not thinking about reaching out?”
“What if this is really going to hurt?”
“Well, what if you have the easiest procedure ever, with phenomenally quick recovery?”
If you are choosing to live in your head, at least make your head livable, please. (Yes, you can quote me on this.)
4. Manage the waiting. For the time being, you don’t have to manage crossing the bridge or living in your new reality. Just manage “being in the waiting room”, as it is possibly the worst part of the whole experience. The waiting room is where your fears are. The fears are not crossing the bridge with you, and the fears have no room in the new reality; in the new reality, you already know what’s going on, you’re not afraid of what’s going on. In the new reality, you act. In the waiting room, you manage: look for temporary distractions, take a break, chat with an optimistic friend, breathe, watch a movie, or read. Why do you think there are so many toys for kids and magazines in the doctors’ waiting rooms? Play while you wait – you might as well.
5. Get comfortable with uncertainty. I just finished reading “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You” by Marc Schoen, where he talks about people in the modern age being too quick to fix their discomforts. People often act out of fear of anticipated discomfort, not even discomfort itself. For example, we often don’t just take meds at the sign of pain, but overmedicate inanticipation of pain; we don’t just eat at the first sign of hunger, but we overeat in anticipation of hunger.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable, much like standing on one foot for a prolonged period of time. For now, learn to become at ease with some discomfort. Observe it rather than immediately fix it. A small discomfort is not catastrophic, and often doesn’t require an immediate action. Eventually, the situation will resolve itself – either you’ll find a place to put your other foot down, or get a chair, or you’ll collapse – then you will deal with what comes next. Learn to stand on one foot and balance to the best of your ability, until the next thing happens.
In your new reality, there will be no time to be anxious or afraid, you will just respond to what has happened. So, here’s the silver lining of the waiting room, literal or metaphorical: if you can still afford to be anxious at the moment, it’s a good sign. It means that you still have time, you still have hope, you still have space to breathe and plan before you get to the bridge.
Take advantage of this time and freedom: call someone you love, write a thank you note, listen to a good story, and get a strong cup of tea.
When you cross the bridge, you will know exactly what to do. For now, just be Here.
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With Love and gratitude,