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Photo by Ivan Obolensky

Most people think that stress is the result of crisis, but that is not always the case. Waiting and boredom are key stressors that are often overlooked.

Two points to note:

  1. The most significant anxiety in waiting comes from the uncertainty of how long the wait will be. Uncertain wait times are more stressful than finite known wait times.
  2. Waiting as a result of arriving early for an appointment, even if an hour, does not create stress. Many can relax during this period since they are sure not to miss the appointment. Once the appointment time passes; however, even waiting for a short period is annoying because the wait has moved from a known and finite length to one of no known limits. It is this uncertainty that creates stress.

A truly positive aspect of the smartphone is that one has something to look at and poke at during the wait periods. One is doing something, or at least, thinks one is. For myself, I always carry a Kindle so that I can read whether standing in a checkout line or waiting at an office.

Boredom, too, can create stress because of the implied question: how long will this keep going? It is the unknowability of the length of time until something changes that is stressful.

We all must wait on occasion, and we can get bored even in adverse conditions. How we manage these two elements can improve our ability to cope and to enjoy waiting when it can’t be avoided.

Note that uncertainty is a common denominator of stress. Wherever uncertainty is introduced, stress and anxiety will follow. Most news organizations are experts in this, and I doubt that is a matter of chance.

Much of the research above comes from David Maister’s The Psychology of Waiting Lines, 1985

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