Waiting (By John Fraissinet, Flickr)

Can you recall what it feels like to sit in a waiting room?

A waiting room could be literal or metaphorical:
… in a doctor’s waiting room, before an appointment or test results.
… by a reception desk in a company where you are about to interview for your next project.
… on the edge of your chair at work, as your kid is taking the a big exam at school.
… in a government office where your papers may (or may not) get approved.
… at your house, by the phone, in case the news comes.
… in your cubicle, after your company just went through a merger. None of your cubicle neighbors can work either. Everyone is waiting.

I’m not taking about the kind of waiting when you wait for a bus, having plenty of time to get to your destination. I have in mind the anxious, worried kind of waiting, with unasked questions on your lips:

What will happen to me?
What will be next?
Will everything be ok?

Whenever I have to take my kids to the doctor, the first question they ask is whether or not they’ll be getting a shot of some sort. I always answer honestly. Otherwise, if they get ambushed by a shot at the doctor’s office, they won’t trust me again, and will put up a fight every time they have to go to a doctor.

If the answer is “yes”, they immediately start sulking. Their misery is so apparent that I swear it has its own greenish-grayish shade on a color palette, and the kids’ faces turn that color.

“Do you know what the worst part of a flu shot is?”- I ask my kids.
“When the doctor sticks the needle in?”
“No. That part only takes a second. The worst part is now, waiting for that shot.”

If you are prone to anxiety, waiting may indeed be the worst part of any experience for you. The good news is that waiting can be managed. Here are five things you can do to manage dealing with literal or metaphorical waiting room.

1. Be present. Look around and get a realistic idea of what is actually going on around you right now. Mark Twain famously said: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which have actually happened.” Evaluate what has not happened yet other than in your mind. Breathe, and live with what is, not with what you thing might or might not be. You don’t have to cross the bridge of “what will happen” until it happens. For now, get off the bridge. It’s shaky, and it makes you nervous. Have a seat right where you are, and breathe.

2. Be prepared. Whatever is happening to you right now is your reality. Whatever will be happening to you after you cross the bridge is your newreality. It is entirely possible that your new reality will bring you good news. It is also possible that the worst part of your transition is crossing the bridge (say, having a major surgery). In the example that I gave earlier with my kids, “crossing the bridge” into the new reality is getting pricked by the needle, which only takes a second. What are some of the things that you can do to prepare for your new reality? Preparing will certainly make you feel better than just worrying in the waiting room. Should you get your resume in shape? Can you start setting money aside? Can you start building a support network for your new reality? Can you schedule something to look forward to in your new reality, no matter what the new reality will bring?

3. Allow alternative possibilities. When you are anxiously waiting, you are living in terrible “what if” scenarios. In reality, you are just sitting in the waiting room. At the same time, you’re living in your head rather than in the waiting room. So, why not make that space in your head more livable? You can do it by creating alternative “what if”s:

“What if I get fired?”
“Well, what if my contract gets extended for another year or two?”

“What if something happened to my friend?”
“Well, what if she’s having such a wonderful time that she is not thinking about reaching out?”

“What if this is really going to hurt?”
“Well, what if you have the easiest procedure ever, with phenomenally quick recovery?”

If you are choosing to live in your head, at least make your head livable, please. (Yes, you can quote me on this.)

4. Manage the waiting. For the time being, you don’t have to manage crossing the bridge or living in your new reality. Just manage “being in the waiting room”, as it is possibly the worst part of the whole experience. The waiting room is where your fears are. The fears are not crossing the bridge with you, and the fears have no room in the new reality; in the new reality, you already know what’s going on, you’re not afraid of what’s going on. In the new reality, you act. In the waiting room, you manage: look for temporary distractions, take a break, chat with an optimistic friend, breathe, watch a movie, or read. Why do you think there are so many toys for kids and magazines in the doctors’ waiting rooms? Play while you wait – you might as well.

5. Get comfortable with uncertainty. I just finished reading “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You” by Marc Schoen, where he talks about people in the modern age being too quick to fix their discomforts. People often act out of fear of anticipated discomfort, not even discomfort itself.  For example, we often don’t just take meds at the sign of pain, but overmedicate inanticipation of pain; we don’t just eat at the first sign of hunger, but we overeat in anticipation of hunger.

Uncertainty is uncomfortable, much like standing on one foot for a prolonged period of time. For now, learn to become at ease with some discomfort. Observe it rather than immediately fix it. A small discomfort is not catastrophic, and often doesn’t require an immediate action. Eventually, the situation will resolve itself – either you’ll find a place to put your other foot down, or get a chair, or you’ll collapse – then you will deal with what comes next. Learn to stand on one foot and balance to the best of your ability, until the next thing happens.

In your new reality, there will be no time to be anxious or afraid, you will just respond to what has happened. So, here’s the silver lining of the waiting roomliteral or metaphorical: if you can still afford to be anxious at the moment, it’s a good sign. It means that you still have time, you still have hope, you still have space to breathe and plan before you get to the bridge.

Take advantage of this time and freedom: call someone you love, write a thank you note, listen to a good story, and get a strong cup of tea.

When you cross the bridge, you will know exactly what to do. For now, just be Here.

Like Worried While Waiting? Do These 5 Things. Mind Terrain eNews 03/14 on Facebook
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A snow storm is coming. 

Your company has allowed you to work from home.

Your babysitter has already called to say that she probably won’t be able to come in tomorrow.

The daycare is closed as a precaution.

Your kids’ school hasn’t said anything about closing yet, but you know you will be getting that call tomorrow at 5:30 a.m., just to notify you that there is no school. If you are lucky, the kids will ignore the phone and continue sleeping. Otherwise, you might as well get up, grab a cup of coffee, and let the fun begin: welcome to a snow day.

Let me say upfront that this article is not a survival guide for families that are stuck in a snowstorm on the highway with kids, in a car that is running out of gas (think: Atlanta during a recent storm). Neither is this a post that provides a list of activities that you can do with kids if you are stuck at home all day.

This post is for parents who usually work not-at-home, and need to maintain sanity as they are trying to get work done from their home office (think: dining room table) while managing their kids during a snow day.

Let’s keep to the right, please, and let the parents on white horses ride by:

“Some of us do this all the time: we work from home, manage the kids, run the household… What’s the big deal?! If we can do it every day, you can do it for one day, without complaining about it.”

“You should enjoy the snow day! What a great opportunity for you to spend a day with your kids!”

“What kind of parent are you if you can’t even handle one day at home with your kids?!”

“You shouldn’t need all that wine just because it’s a snow day, really.”

“Snow days are awesome! We’ll bake cookies together with the kids, and play in the snow!”

“What are you talking about? My kids will just read and practice piano, won’t yours?”

“Just let ‘em watch TV all day. It’s just one day, don’t get all worked up.”

Whew.

Now, let’s dust off, and have a frank conversation among those who remain.

For parents who normally work from the office, snow days can present a unique challenge. Here’s why:

- You want to get work-other-than-parenting done, but can’t

- You are used to having mental space to think about things, but “kids + snow day = zero mental space”

- You’d rather read a book (or do anything else, honestly) than cook/clean/entertain kids even on a regular day, let alone on a day when the kids are cooped up at home all day

- You find yourself repeating simple directions multiple times, without any impact on anyone or anything other than your nervous system, and that’s not how things usually work during your regular workday

- Your partner is trying to work from home as well, and somehow, it is your responsibility to make sure that the kids are occupied and not interrupting the work flow, even though you both have work to do.

On a snow day, depending on the age of your kids, you may be dealing with anything from temper tantrums to the war of the worlds between the siblings. Your objectives:

1) to survive the day without feeling angry and resentful (anger and resentment is just bad for your nervous system)

2) to help your kids survive the day without feeling angry and resentful (anger and resentment is just bad for your kids’ nervous systems)

3) to feel at the end of the day that your day was not completely wasted (you will hopefully accomplish objective #3 if objectives #1 and #2 are taken care of).

If you have amazing kids who will simply find things to do for themselves on a snow day, kids who wipe their own behinds, resolve conflicts with siblings quietly and fairly, warm up their own meals, and let you work without interruptions, that’s wonderful. Feel free to grab a spare white horse and gallop away without reading any further (I mean it without sarcasm. I’m genuinely happy for you and your children; a job well done).

For those of you who remain, here are 10 strategies that can make your snow day experience saner.

1. If you can take a day off rather than work from home, do it. This way, you can possibly get some sleep either in the morning or during your kid’s nap. You will also avoid the frustration of trying to “work And…”, or rather, “babysit And…”. If you’re looking for a good read on “working And…[fill in the blank]”, here’s an article from Penelope Trunk.

2. Minimize multitasking. If you manage to get a snow day as a day off, just for one day put your phone away. Don’t plan on anything other than following the attention of your kids. Not because it’s “the right thing to do”, but because people are simply not so great at multitasking. It’s upsetting to feel like a failure, so set yourself up for success: if you’re playing with your kids, don’t even think about the fact that you could be doing something more interesting (yes, like work; if you’re thinking that playing with kids is the most interesting thing a parent could possibly do, please feel free to gallop away on a white horse now, even if you’re right about playing with kids).

3. Add “under the table” to any activity that you set up for the kids. Do you  remember that game where you add “in bed” after a fortune that you get from a fortune cookie? Try adding “under the table” to any activity that the kids choose. This will make the activity last longer, and potentially give you a longer uninterrupted chunk of time to get work done. Miraculously, reading a book or building with legos under the dining table becomes a much more attractive activity than just reading or building.

4. Have designated time for play and for work, if your kids (and your boss) are mature enough to understand the concept. “I’ll play Connect Four with you from 10-10:30, we can bake cookies from 10:30-11, but at 11, I have to get on the phone for a conference call, and you need to find yourself something to do from 11 to 12. Do you think you can draw or read then?”

5. Use TV as your last resource, not your first resource. It is improbable that your kids will want to stare at a screen (TV or computer) from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.. I’m sure there are exceptions, but just work with me here. In the morning, while your attention span is still not shredded into pieces, it may be worth your time to get the kids involved in a game, or set something up for them. Then, at some point of the day, there will be a time when you must have peace and quiet, and that’s when you hand over the remote. Think: 4 p.m. client call that you must take without interruptions.

6. Break up your work into smallest possible chunks. You will be interrupted, often. If you work from home all the time, your kids are probably used to the rhythm, and tend to interrupt less than they would on a snow day, when, all of a sudden, they have a luxury of having you at home. You will get interrupted. Often. (Did I already say that? That’s what happens when you get interrupted, often.) In order to feel like you’ve accomplished something work-related, have a list of small things that you can keep crossing off the list between interruptions.

7. Lower your standards for order and cleanliness, just for one day. At least ‘till 5 or 6 p.m., when you can stop working for a while. Let the basement be a mess, let the unfinished food sit on the dining table, let the crumbs be all over the place, and let the crayon art projects remain on the walls. Just for now. It will all get cleaned up in due time. Just not right now. It’s “cheaper” for your nervous system this way. Until you are ready to deal with it, pretend that you don’t notice the mess.

8. Make an effort to be present rather than be absent (think: coffee rather than wine). If you have time, google “benefits of being present”. Or simply, take a look at this link.

9. Think in terms of survival, not discipline. We were stuck in a half-flooded house upstate NY, w/o electricity or cell phone reception after hurricane Irene. Our youngest was a couple of months old at the time. For breakfast, we had ice-cream. That’s one of our most vivid memories from those days – not moving everything to the second floor in hopes that the water won’t go up that high, not the fact that the kids had to wait for everyone to pee before they flushed with a bucket from a water-filled bathtub in order to conserve water. They remember ice cream for breakfast. The freezer was broken, so why not… “It’s bad for your teeth” is “why not” , but forget discipline: you’re in a survival mode. Our experience post-Irene wasn’t as bad as it was for many New Yorkers post-Sandy (read  my post-Sandy blog entry from NYC ). Hopefully, your snow day will be safe.

10. Remember your main objective: for you and the kids to survive the day without anger and resentment. If you accomplished this, you’ve done a great job. I know: it sounds like we’re setting the bar really low. Just for one day, though, can you be ok with a bar that is set low?

Good luck!

Now, excuse me while I go get my white horse. In our house on a snow day, the kids will be catching up on homework, reading, baking cookies and watching movies. Or at least, that’s what you will see in my Facebook feed.

And if you call me tomorrow (2/13), and I don’t pick up the phone, it’s probably because it takes me too long to crawl from under the dining table, where the kids and I will be playing “bored games”, as I refer to Monopoly and such, while my husband is working from home. (Please, call me anyway, though, because it’s my birthday!)

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