Why waiting is stressful – and how to make it easier

“Wait for it!” is a comic icon, thanks to Vaudeville and Monty Python. But in just about any other context, “wait” is a four-letter-word.

For the past week we’ve been waiting with one of our daughters – waiting for meds to kick in, for her moods to stabilize, for our family to have peace again after a season of rage and volatility. This will be a life-long battle for her, and us as her family, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how not to get stuck in life’s waiting seasons.

Why is waiting so annoying?

It represents “hope deferred.” Proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes it is a tree of life.”* Whether it’s for the pizza to finish baking in the oven on a night you’re particularly hungry, or for the resolution of a painful argument with a friend, waiting means we’re still longing. And that’s a tough place to tread water for very long.

It represents dissatisfaction with now. When we’re focused hard on waiting for what we want, we’re missing right now. We’ve somehow judged right now as not enough. And when we do that, it makes waiting seem even longer and robs NOW of it’s joy.

It reminds us we’re not the boss. We don’t have ultimate, complete control in our lives and that is really frustrating. We wish we could have it, but waiting reminds us there is something or someone else in life who has a share of the control.

It wastes our time. There are probably a hundred things we could be doing if we weren’t sitting in traffic on the way home. Waiting for drivers to distractedly stare at the car in the median is not likely in your top ten. That time sink causes stress and keeps us away from things we value.

It’s emotionally draining. Probably not for the pizza. But when we’re waiting for a child to heal from a debilitating condition, waiting for results of a biopsy, waiting for the effects of a long-past bad choice to wear off… it’s like a computer virus running in the background of your life, draining your power.

How can we take the sting out of waiting?

Learn something new. This is particularly good for long, undefined waits. Find a new hobby. Get books from the library on topics you’ve always wanted to study. Try a new exercise class. Visit zoos, museums and aquariums and read about the exhibits. It helps us stay mentally sharp, and keeps us growing forward – a precious commodity when we’re waiting in life.

Distract yourself. Clean your kitchen, go for a walk, call a friend, watch a favorite movie. Read a magazine, play a smart phone game, sing your favorite song while you’re driving in traffic. Distraction actually acts on our brains like a tylenol tablet to relax your body. So use denial to your advantage in those short-term frustrating waits.

Help someone else. Again, good for long-term waiting in life. Because at the heart of it, waiting comes with a sense of helplessness. But when we decide in the middle of that to help someone else, it reminds us that we’re not completely helpless – that we can still be a force of action and good in life around us.

Enjoy the view. Waiting brings opportunity to catch the smaller, quieter things. Little sounds, sights, smells, feelings, memories formed in the slower moments with people we love. The other day while stopped in traffic, I noticed the etched pavement on the freeway around me. It made me grateful for that smart city planner who thought of it to help roads drain and tires work better. Something I’ve always raced right past when life is running smoothly.

What helps you keep going in a waiting moment or season in life? To leave a comment on this post, click here.


*Proverbs 13:12

Share the love. . .Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookEmail this to someonePin on PinterestPrint this page


  1. says

    You know, since I started my own business, I've got an endless list of things I can, could, should or must do! It isn't easy to wait though. We're in such a “now” time in our culture that many have forgotten what it means to stop and smell the roses (probably why meditation is so popular now). I love when I wake up in the morning and can just lay there for a moment, not rushing, thinking, texting, typing, answering or questioning, just me welcoming the day.

  2. says

    As soon as I read the title Tom Petty's “The waiting is the hardest part…” popped in to my head. I agree, one of the most difficult things about waiting is the future focus. That “I can't do ___ until ___” feeling.

    Thanks for the great ideas to get through the waiting 🙂