Classic rocker Tom Petty summed it up when he sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
This lyric no doubt resonates with anyone who’s ever had to sit through a period of delayed gratification. Perhaps waiting for a future event or circumstance makes you feel tense or stressed (even if you’re waiting for something exciting to happen). Maybe you fear that you won’t actually get what you want, or that things won’t be as great as you’re imagining they will be. This state is referred to as anticipatory anxiety, wherein you feel anxiety when you think about an event or situation that’s expected to happen in the future. Or maybe waiting feels unbearable simply because—like a kid who can’t sleep on the night before Christmas—you’re really excited for the thing you’re waiting for to happen.
Whatever the nature of your struggle, the fact remains that waiting can be really (really) hard. But the good news is that there are ways to cope with waiting. Help pass the time with any of these five effective strategies.
Take up a hobby: Time passes more slowly when you’re doing nothing but waiting.
Call it the modified theory of relativity: Time passes more slowly when you’re doing nothing but waiting. Conversely, one of the best ways to kill time—in both the short and long term—is quite simple: Do something with that time.
Now’s your chance to finally learn how to play the guitar, or skateboard, or sew your own clothes. Whenever you catch yourself bemoaning the wait, throw yourself into this new hobby, and the time will seem like it’s passing more quickly. That’s partly because immersing yourself in a creative pursuit can result in what psychologists refer to as “flow,” a state that promotes deep satisfaction and seemingly speeds up the passage of time.
Bonus: Mastering new skills boosts confidence, so you’ll be empowered to tackle any new challenges that arise when you finally get what you’re waiting for.
Give meditation a try: Cope with anticipatory anxiety
One of the best ways to cope with anticipatory anxiety is to learn how to be wholly present in, well, the present. Practicing meditation for even just a few minutes each day has been shown to reduce stress, improve concentration, boost immunity, improve self-awareness, and increase feelings of contentment. Learn to sit with the moment and appreciate everything you already have, and it will be much easier to wait for whatever’s coming ‘round the bend.
Catch up on sleep: Prepare for what you are waiting for
Millions of Americans are walking around sleep deprived, and odds are good you’re one of them at least some of the time. The consequences of sleep deprivation include memory and cognitive impairment, stress, compromised performance in all facets of your life (from work to relationships), and decreased overall quality of life. Thus, it’s important to catch up on sleep if you actually want to enjoy the thing you’re waiting for when it finally comes to fruition.
Make a point of practicing good sleep hygiene by keeping electronics out of the bedroom, decluttering your sleep area, keeping the room cool and dark, and learning how to combat snoring. While you’re at it, be sure to practice other self-care techniques, like exercising, staying hydrated, consuming adequate nutrients, and cultivating healthy relationships. Taking good care of yourself—and sleeping better as a result—will help you feel sharper in all aspects of your life, so you’re ready for whatever comes your way.
Beef up your savings: Prepare yourself for change
If you’re anticipating a big life change in the near future, then the odds are good that finances are going to be involved in some way. Prepare for this change by making it a priority to contribute as much as possible to your savings account each month. Increasing your savings will give you peace of mind, reduce stress, and help you look forward to the future with excitement, because you’ll have the means to address challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. It may even be helpful to see if you can pick up some overtime at work—doing so will both help you pad your bank account and provide a distraction while you wait for time to pass.
Take baby steps toward your goals
The misery of waiting often stems from a feeling of powerlessness—if you need something to happen in order to move forward, then it can feel like you’re just running in place until that thing actually comes to fruition. Help beat this feeling by identifying small ways in which you can move toward your goals even without the big event having happened.
Let’s say you’re waiting to move across the country six months from now. Why not spend this time winnowing down your possessions and packing up items that you rarely use? Or perhaps you could research a list of restaurants and activities that you want to check out in your new locale. Taking small steps will help you feel like you’re contributing to the ultimate goal, which will make the time spent waiting seem more productive.
No matter what you’re waiting for, practicing any or all of these strategies will help make the process of waiting much more bearable. Heck, you may even find that you’re enjoying yourself in the process.