For so many of us, test day comes as a relief. At last, we can complete that solemn task we worked weeks, perhaps even months, to master. But after the test, a different sort of stress creeps in. We are, for once, powerless to control out destinies. Instead, we must wait for our scores. How do you wait?
Do you distract yourself in order to think of anything but those scores?
Do you assume an air of calm, acknowledging that worrying won’t change a thing?
Do you freak out and brood over all the worst-case scenarios?
We generally envy the cool customers, imagining that remaining unfazed by events beyond our control is the most adaptive stance to assume. Researchers from the University of California, Riverside discovered a more surprising connection between waiting and stress:
“Participants who suffered through a waiting period marked by anxiety, rumination, and pessimism responded more productively to bad news and more joyfully to good news, as compared with participants who suffered little during the wait.”
In the study Two Definitions of Waiting Well, Kate Sweeny and her colleagues studied of 230 law school graduates awaiting their results on the California bar exam. They broke the students into two groups: those who wait in such a way as to ease their distress during the waiting period and those who worry their way through their wait.
Interestingly, while many of the subjects had difficulty managing their anxiety during the waiting period, this was for the best. Those who fretted, fussed, and freaked out were better prepared to react in a productive manner to bad news, which is to say they had already come up with contingency plans to do better next time. In addition, the worriers felt higher levels of exultation at receiving good news.
TAKEAWAY: Worried about how you scored? Keep worrying! You may suffer for a few weeks (or longer) but your pain may pay off once the news arrives.