“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”-Khaled Hosseini
Waiting is never fun, but it is something we have all experienced and something we have to do all too often. Some instances of having to wait include waiting for our food when we are out to dinner, waiting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, we wait for the clock to strike five so we can go home at the end of a long work day and we wait in rush hour traffic. We are constantly waiting and while we are waiting we try to remain patient by busying our mind as the minutes slowly tick by as to not allow excitement to heighten or anxiety and worry to take over.
Waiting can be hard enough but it becomes even more difficult when it is partnered with the feeling of anticipation. Anticipation is that feeling of knowing something is coming, maybe even being prepared for it to occur, but still having to wait because it is not quite time yet and there is nothing to do but wait and anticipate. An example of this for me would be Christmas Eve as a kid. Dinner is over, bath and story time done, good nights have been said and the lights have been turned off. Now all that is left is one more sleep, but how on earth could we or our parents possibly expect us to peacefully go to sleep knowing the occasion that is upon us. Knowing that sometime in the middle of the night Santa would be visiting the house and that when we wake in the morning there would be both presents and the pageantry of Christmas. I can feel the anticipation now just describing the memory of those nights.
Christmas is obviously just one example of something we must wait for and anticipate, but it is certainly not the only reason for these emotions. Anticipation and waiting can be related to situations both positive, such as Christmas morning, and negative. Sometimes we are waiting and anticipating an event that we might be worried about. Examples of these types of events might be a presentation or public speaking engagement we have coming up, medical or lab test results that may be pending interpretation; we could be waiting to hear back from a potential employer after a job interview or from a financial institute regarding a loan or payment. Waiting and anticipating is not only reserved for feelings of excitement, they can also bring about feelings of worry and anxiety.
In an article for Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, authors Dan W. Gripe and Jack B. Nitschke state, “The ability to use past experiences and information about our current state and environment to predict the future allows us to increase the odds of desired outcomes, while avoiding or bracing ourselves for future adversity. This ability is directly relative to our level of certainty regarding future events – how likely they are, when they will occur, and what they will be like. Uncertainty diminishes how efficiently and effectively we can prepare for the future, and this contributes to anxiety.” (Grupe and Nitschke, 2014) (Link).
In instances where we know what is coming, we know what to expect and we are able to prepare; the feeling of anticipation may be centered around confidence and wanting to “get the show on the road.” But if the situation resembles a previous poor experience or is completely unknown; fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety begin to creep in as we don’t know what to expect and are unsure of the results we may be able to produce.
According to an article by Megan Bloom entitled, Joy of Anticipation and Hope – Key to Daily Happiness, “Scientific research has found that the more you allow yourself to experience the joy and uplifting excitement of anticipation, the more easily you will be able to overcome obstacles that may present themselves to you on the way to that something.” (Bloom, 2020) (Link). For someone who suffers from anxiety, I wish that anticipation led to excitement but for me anticipation is not generally a pleasant experience. I am more likely to feel worry than excitement, and to doubt myself more so than to display confidence. This is often true whether or not I have past experiences with what is about to happen. Take public speaking for example; I actually enjoy public speaking and it is something I have been told I have an aptitude for, but that does not change my feelings of anticipation before I deliver my speech. In the moments leading up to taking the stage; I can be found shaking in my seat, my heartbeat racing and my mind all over the place. These antics are exponentially worse if I am dealing with the unknown; in those situations I find myself imagining the worst results possible and manifesting tumultuous outcomes. Though these outcomes rarely come to fruition, in the anticipation of events to come they can be found playing themselves out in my mind.
I am thinking about anticipation this week because I was experiencing it this past weekend. As I have mentioned in a previous post (Link), I have been back in school for the past couple of years in pursuit of my Bachelor’s Degree. This last weekend was the due date of my final assignment. I submitted it Sunday morning while sitting on the couch watching Winnie the Pooh with my son (the reason I went back to school in the first place) and I knew that my grades would not be posted until at least Monday. I also had a reasonable expectation of what the result would be, positive, and with it I would complete the program. That expectation did not stop me from checking the school’s website repeatedly yesterday though in hopes that grades had somehow been miraculously posted early. No such luck, but on Monday morning when I woke up, one of my two assignments had been graded and that had me even more frantically hitting the refresh button in search of my final grade in the class. Despite knowing the outcome, the excitement of my impending graduation was diminished by an overwhelming sense of worry that I may have submitted something wrong or not completed the assignment appropriately and therefore getting a grade that would leave me feeling disappointed. None of that happened though, the results were as expected, and my Bachelor’s Degree is now completed. Despite being prepared, and being confident in what was to come; those 24 hours were filled with anxiety and worry. It was the all too familiar waiting game of anticipation.
Bloom, M. (2020, January 29). Joy of Anticipation and Hope – Key to Daily Happiness. Thrive Global. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/thriveglobal.com/stories/joy-of-hope/amp/
Grupe, D., Nitschke, J. (2014, December 24). Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276319/#__ffn_sectitle