How to Endure the Wait – The Light at the End of the Tunnel Strategy
The best epidemiologists, public health officials, government officials don’t concur on how long it will take to “flatten the curve” of the current coronavirus pandemic. When it will be deemed safe for people to resume normal social and work activities, for students to return to classes, for workers to return to their jobs, for sporting events, theaters and restaurants will re-open as favorite gathering places for families and friends.
The not knowing how long, not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel or the end of the tunnel moving further and further into the unknown, is itself a great cause of anxiety.
Research I found on reducing the hardships of waiting in The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business offers several helpful suggestions for how to endure the wait. (It offers many, many other provocative ideas, too; that’s a post for another day.)
1. Anxiety makes waits seem longer.
Many posts recently on Radically Shifting from Anxiety to Strength and Calm. Another way we reduce our anxiety is by becoming as informed and pro-actively engaged as possible. “The cure for anxiety is action” Angeles Arrien used to teach. Dealing with reality with realistic optimism rather than burying our heads in the sand and allowing anxiety to wash through us unchecked. “Don’t just sit there; do something!” has its merits in times like these.
2. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.
People feel more alive when pro-actively engaged with other people and with activities that are meaningful to them. It’s all to easy to go passive in the face of the unknown and fall into a slump. And un-slumping one’s self is not easily done, as Dr. Seuss taught us years ago. To prevent slumping, people are watching YouTubes and films, playing Scrabble and board games, experimenting with new recipes. (Or reading good books like The Velvet Rope Economy.)
3. Solo waits feel longer than group waits.
Folks are getting together for dinner by connecting by Zoom, eating their separate meals in their separate homes, but connected in conversation and laughter.
A client of mine shared how her family on the West Coast and her brother’s family on the East Coast have set up tournaments for their children (the cousins) to play together via Zoom. They are enjoying Farkle, but any game involving two or more people could creating enjoyable companionship this way.
4. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.
Once people understand the reasons behind social distancing, and when those reasons make sense to them, it’s a lot easier to take pride in being able to inventively master the process rather than falling into resentment over something that’s frustrating if it doesn’t make sense.
5. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.
Here’s the” light at the end of the tunnel” strategy. It’s a lot easier for people to comply with the restrictions of shelter-in-place until April 15, or schools educating students through online learning until the end of the term, than to not know when this will be over and have no way of knowing. The human psyche will invent its own end dates if others don’t do it for us – I’m planning on returning to my job by mid-May. This will be over by mid-June so we can go on our annual camping trip in July. It may be a trick the mind plays to keep us patient and enduring, but it works.
6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.
If everyone is self-sequestering during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s a lot easier to feel like we’re all in this together; the fairness of common humanity makes it easier to “take one for the team” and even feel some pride in the selflessness of our humanitarian nature when we do so. A sense of belonging to a community is buoying to the spirit, and essential to enduring waits with no definitive end date.
7. The more value perceived in the service, the longer I will wait.
The current social distancing and self-quarantining policies are meant to save lives and prevent suffering. We take that seriously for ourselves and for everyone important to us. The stakes are high, and that helps fuel the perseverance.
May you find your own patience and pro-active engagement to turn these waiting times into moments worthy of meaning.