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How to Cope When Waiting for Important News

How to wait for news without losing your mind or your focus.

Key points

  • It can be difficult to wait for important pieces of news, such as the results of a medical test or job application.
  • Identifying what you can control, completing simple tasks, and trusting yourself to handle the news when it comes can help relieve stress.
  • If those measures fail, it may be valuable to accept the difficult feelings and disrupted attention.
 Aleksandra Sapozhnikova/Unsplash
Source: Aleksandra Sapozhnikova/Unsplash

Everyone has times in their life when they're waiting on potentially life-changing news.

Examples of Waiting on News

  • You interviewed for a job, and you're waiting to see if you got it.
  • You applied to a college course and you're waiting to see if you got in.
  • You bid on purchasing a house.
  • You're waiting to see if you're pregnant.
  • Medical test results.
  • You asked someone on a date and you're waiting for their reply.
  • Whether you passed an exam.
  • Whether you were awarded a big contract.

In most of these situations, you're unable to control the outcome. All you can do is wait. So, how can you do that gracefully? How can you focus and concentrate on other aspects of life while enduring uncertainty and strong emotions (whether that's fear or excitement?)

Try these suggestions.

Note: In these examples, I'm going to assume you're waiting about a week, so that I can use specific sample language. Adjust as needed.

1. Try this thought exercise

Write two (brief) lists.

  • If my news next week is positive, how will I wish I spent this week?
  • If my news next week is negative, how will I wish I spent this week?

Once you've done this, look for the overlap. What will you wish you had spent this week doing, regardless of whether your news is positive or negative? What do you want to get done regardless of what your news is?

2. What can you control?

Even in largely uncontrollable situations, there may be a few things that you can exert some control over. Sometimes, we feel so frustrated at not being able to control the outcome completely, we don't take full responsibility for the elements we can control. Take care of those things. (More on this here, including some other quick and easy mood boosters you can try.)

3. Trust yourself to handle whatever news you get after you get it.

Anxious people try to pre-think through every possible outcome and how they'll react to them. If you can trust yourself to cope with whatever news you get, you don't have to do that.

In general, trying to imagine every possible outcome won't improve how you will actually cope with whatever news you get. You'll cope just as well regardless.

Taking a wait-and-see approach can be especially helpful in situations in which there are more than just two possible outcomes. It relieves rumination and worry. Many times, even when we think a situation only has two possible outcomes, it doesn't. For example, you get turned down for the permanent job you applied for, but offered a temporary contract. Often, we need to react to the unexpected, even when we think we've thought through every possible scenario.

4. Talk to yourself compassionately.

Talk to yourself compassionately about:

  • How it feels to have something very important going on for you personally, when the rest of the world is moving along as normal
  • How it feels to be anxious
  • How it's difficult to focus and concentrate when you're anxious

When you talk to yourself compassionately, you might still struggle to focus and might still lose sleep because of anxiety. However, you won't get angry about yourself for those things.

5. Do simple productive tasks to ground yourself.

Anything we've done many times, we can do on semi-autopilot. When we're stressed, it knocks off part of our cognition. But you can probably still do tasks that are very familiar and well-practiced.

These could be work tasks or tasks around your home. Lean into these to feel a sense of normalcy and stability.

6. Tell someone what you're going through.

Waiting on news can feel very lonely. You might avoid telling people you're close to for various reasons, like not wanting to worry them, or not wanting their requests for updates to become intrusive. However, this cuts you off from support. A way around this is to tell someone you know less well. Sometimes we get better empathy and fewer intrusive questions/comments from people we're not as close to. You don't have to tell other people all the details. Even a quick one-sentence mention in an email can help you feel less lonely.

7. When all else fails, accept your feelings and disrupted cognition.

If you've tried a few of these suggestions and you still feel distracted and anxious, try accepting those feelings. Take practical steps to avoid any major harms. For example, ask for an extension on a deadline rather than just failing to submit your work, or at least submit something acceptable even if it's not your best work. If you can do that, feeling unsettled and distracted for a period isn't likely to be harmful to you. You can be patient and accepting of your feelings, let them be as they are, and let them come and go in whatever waveforms they take.

Waiting on important news is hard. I hope these suggestions will help ease your path. Good luck!

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