People who need to wait for results deal with their worry in different ways. They either distract themselves or try to stay positive; some even brace for the worst — and for good reason: According to research, the wait for potentially bad news is often as hard as actually receiving it.
Kate Sweeny, University of California Riverside’s (UCR) “worry and waiting” expert, looked into the effectiveness of these techniques in her research. The results of the study had determined that they are not as effective and that they can “even backfire and make it worse.”
However, Sweeny’s research has unearthed something that can help. These “ineffective strategies” can be supplemented with “mindfulness” meditation, or “focusing on the present using meditation.” (Related: Mindfulness meditation improves decision-making skills.)
Research funded by the National Science Foundation confirms that mindfulness can address the “curse” of waiting. This curse starts when we get so fixated on the past or future, and we keep asking questions like “Why did I say that?” and “What if things don’t go my way?”
Sweeny said, “We try to predict our fate and regain a sense of certainty and control over our life.” She continued, “We know from lots of research that rumination (repetitive thoughts about the past) and worry (repetitive thoughts about the future) are quite unpleasant and even harmful to our health and well-being, so it’s important to seek solutions to this painful form of mental time-travel.”
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She then advised worrywarts to concentrate on the present and acknowledge your “thoughts and feelings as they arise” instead of trying to avoid them. This can help you deal with your emotions differently and “more effectively.”
The study involved 150 California law students who were waiting for the results of the bar exam, which was scheduled to be posted online after four months. The students were asked to accomplish a series of questionnaires during the four-month waiting period. During their wait, the students were also invited to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week.
Sweeny determined that mindfulness meditation helped postpone the phenomenon of “bracing”, which is defined as the act of “preparing for the worst.” In earlier studies, other researchers, including Sweeny, had proven that bracing was an effective technique to manage expectations. However, there are no benefits to bracing “when it occurs too early in the waiting process.”
She adds that while optimism can feel good, it’s not enough to prepare us for when we have to listen to bad news. This is the right time to practice bracing.
While the benefits of mindfulness meditation have already been proven before, Sweeny shared that this is the first of its kind to show its effectiveness in situations when an individual has to wait. She continued that while meditation is one way to reduce stress on a daily basis, their study is a pioneer when it comes to determining “if it also makes it easier to wait for personally significant news.”
The study was also the first that isolated a strategy that “helps people wait better.” It also reveals that “brief and infrequent meditation can be helpful.” Sweeny added that the mindfulness tactic doesn’t require training and money and that it only needs minimal time and effort.
Sweeny shared, “Meditation isn’t for everyone, but our study shows that you don’t have to be a master meditator or go to a silent meditation retreat to benefit from mindfulness.” She concluded, “Even 15 minutes once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practiced by our participants, was enough to ease the stress of waiting.”
A beginner’s guide to mindfulness and meditation
If you’re curious about mindfulness and meditation, here’s a simple guide to get you started:
Find a quiet space and set aside some time to meditate.
Observe the present moment without judgment.
While meditating, simply let your judgments pass.
Keep returning to the present moment.
Be patient and simply let your mind wander, then bring it back on track gently.
You can learn more about meditation and mental health at Mind.news.