Photo: Jeremy Segrott via Flickr
For some of us, waiting to hear back from a job we want can be an excruciating exercise in anxiety.
If you have followed up on the job application, the work on your end is essentially done. Intellectually, we may know this, but that doesn’t stop some of our minds from going into overdrive and worrying while we wait for an answer. Did I make a mistake in that interview? Should I have answered that question differently?
This defense mechanism is known in psychology as “bracing,” or preparing yourself for the worst news in an attempt to manage our expectations. Some amount of worrying can be a productive force for good, but persistent worrying can also lead to an unhealthy rumination loop where we get stuck obsessing over the past.
One study has found a way to counter our bracing impulse and make our job waiting periods a little easier on our minds.
To be less anxious about waiting, change your outlook
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that adding just 15 minutes of mindful meditation to your week could offset the anxiety that waiting for results can cause.
UC Riverside researcher Kate Sweeny and a colleague surveyed 150 law school graduates during the four-month period that they waited for the test results of the California bar exam in 2011. Students were reporting high levels of stress as they they waited for results that could decide their careers with one saying they had “fever flu sick” levels of anxiety.
To ease this stress, students were asked to follow a 15-minute, audio-guided meditation session at least once a week. This brief respite ended up having an outsized impact on students’ minds. Those that practiced meditation were better able to manage their expectations about the test and they perceived themselves as coping better.
The students most vulnerable to distress — the ones who reported a high intolerance for uncertainty and low dispositional optimism — benefited the most from adding mindful meditation into their lives.
The bottom line
This study shows that by focusing on the present, you can better help yourself prepare for any uncertain future while you wait for news.
“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,” Sweeny said. “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.”
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