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When Waiting Gives You Anxiety: Find Peace by Being Present

Man Waiting

“The time is now, the place is here. Stay in the present. You can do nothing to change the past, and the future will never come exactly as you plan or hope for.” ~Dan Millman

Nothing gives me anxiety quite like waiting for things to happen. If I don’t know how long I will be in line, stuck on a delayed NYC subway, or behind someone at the grocery store who is paying in pennies, I get very anxious. Or at least I used to.

Going to the doctor’s office was the worst. I know that no one likes to be sick or in pain before going to the doctor. People don’t like to be poked at or asked personal, embarrassing questions during the exam either. Those were not the worst parts for me at all. The worst part for me was the waiting.

I once went to a doctor’s office for a 9:45AM appointment and had to wait in the lobby until 11AM before going to the exam room.

I waited in that exam room for over an hour before the doctor even showed up. She was in the room for five minutes, and that was that. I wasn’t even sick. It was just for a yearly checkup that I had voluntarily went in for.

Being in a small room all alone, unable to go anywhere, was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I sat and waited. Looked at the clock. Tried to stay warm (it was freezing in that tiny room). Looked at the clock again. Told myself to just get up and leave. Looked at the clock again.

Then it hit me: My very first anxiety attack.

When you have been in a lobby waiting and waiting, just to get into an exam room to wait and wait some more, your brain does funny things that work against you. I started to feel like I was going to be there forever, like I was forgotten, and like I didn’t matter.

I thought about leaving numerous times, but then my brain would convince me that I was sure the doctor would be in in the next five minutes…she just had to be. Then she wasn’t, and I would wait five minutes more.

This made the cycle of waiting even worse, since I began to do the math in my head about how much time of my life was being wasted at this doctor’s office.

By the time my doctor came into the room, my palms were sweating, I was probably a bit pale, and my legs were shaking uncontrollably. I was also fighting back tears of frustration, anger, and stress.

With a smile, she said, “Sorry for the wait. It’s been a busy day.” Trying to be polite I just nodded, and said it was okay, even though my body wanted me to scream, “If you know you’re going to be busy, let me know! I’ve been in here for over an hour!” and run out of the room.

The next time I went to the doctor’s office I prepared. I had a big meal so I was well fed, I brought a book to pass the time, and I also brought a sweater to combat the cold. These little tweaks helped me to overcome the terrible inconveniences of my waiting environment, but not overcome the anxious feelings brought on by the waiting.

The only thing that helped my anxiety was staying present.

When I think about being right here, right now, I also like to think, “There is no where else I am meant to be.” If I know that I an meant to be right where I am, I can stay there and not feel like I should be somewhere else or that I am wasting my time waiting for others.

I like to think that maybe I was meant to stay in that office for over two hours because on the way home I went to get coffee and saw an old friend that I would have otherwise missed.

Maybe half an hour before I was able to go home, the perfect parking spot was unavailable in front of my apartment building. Perhaps my timing was so great that I got that perfect spot, and one of life’s little victories was mine.

Maybe somehow the universe had me stay at that doctor’s office for over two hours in order to avoid heartache, pain, or annoyance that I could have been a part of otherwise.

Maybe I was right there, right then, learning a lesson for future me to live in the moment and control my anxious thoughts.

Things happen that are out of our control every day. Sometimes the person in front of you at the grocery store pays in pennies. Sometimes you sit alone and are in your own head for two hours feeling forgotten.

If you can learn to acknowledge that you are right here, right now, for a reason, the thoughts that want to run wild in your head can be tamed, you can gain some control, and you can control your anxiety.

Man waiting image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Katie Dunne

About Katie Dunne

Katie Dunne is an event producer from New York. Through promoting focus and less stress, she collaborates with event hosts to envision, design, and produce the celebration they have always wanted. Find out more at www.ExpertlyDunneEvents.com.

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  • Hi Katie
    Thank you for this post and sharing your experience. I have found one of the best ways to deal with anxiety is practicing surrender–the idea of just living in each moment and accepting it for what it is; the idea that everything is unfolding in a way that is ultimately for our benefit. When we can get into this space, we realize there is nothing to be anxious about because every moment is ‘perfect.’ I may not be able to stay here every second, but the more I practice, the more I can move into surrender and stay there. When I have my moments when I am out of it, it doesn’t feel as far away from me, and I can go back in that direction, even if not fully, more easily.

    Great post!

  • kmr1able .

    I wish I could see it that way. But to me surrender means to give up. Giving up for me means that there is no hope.

  • mimi

    I interpret her word of “surrender” as “letting go”…..It doesn’t necessary mean to give up and lose you hope….We always hear they say learn to accept and let go open to new opportunities and stop the anxiety that creates our own suffering now,,,,,

  • Jazzy

    Great post! Thank you.

  • mtorres253

    I am going through something now that requires me to constantly focus on the moment. I am waiting for what could be terrible news, or nothing at all. And I don’t have a timeline. I have found that I have no choice but to be present as it is unbearable to live in the past or the future, and It takes all of my strength every day to be present. I am finding that two things help me above all: practicing gratitude and changing my environment when possible. By doing either of these things, I am pulling myself out of a pattern of thinking and forcing myself to concentrate on the moment. When I express gratitude, I humble myself and let go of any desire I have to control outcomes. When I change my environment, I am drawn out of myself and forced to pay attention to an unfamiliar environment. Practicing these things gives me relief from the dread and anxiety I would otherwise be experiencing during my wait.

  • Tir

    I’ve also learned that there are more than one doctor in the world and that I don’t have to wait on those who do not value me or my time. If it is a specialist and I need them because they are the best, I wait. Otherwise, I just go to the front window and tell them that my time is valuable too and I will find someone who understands this. However, in situations out of my control I do use gratitude to keep me focused and I accept graciously. I’m often in a calm space because I let go of expectations for things I can’t change but use my own reasoning and self worth to know when I can change things. Waiting for a random doctor I don’t need to see but who is rude and unprofessional is something I can change. I can see someone else who values my time and person.

  • account03

    Ridiculous nonsense. There’s no reason to even imagine there’s some magical meaning behind being forced to wait for something, whether it’s due to someone’s rudeness or unavoidable vagaries of life.