How should I deal with fear of results?

Why waiting with an uncertain outcome is torture

People don't like to wait at all. The longer the waiting time and the more uncertain the outcome, the worse the feeling of uncertainty that comes with waiting. Whether you were accepted at the university you absolutely wanted to go to, get the job after the interview or whether the doctor's diagnosis after the blood sample is positive: Waiting with an uncertain outcome is always perceived as excruciating - even more agonizing than bad news, that you can somehow deal with.

Researchers led by Kate Sweeny from the University of California in Riverside have therefore now looked at the strategies people use to better deal with such waiting times. She was interested, on the one hand, in whether there are ways to feel better while waiting and, on the other hand, if there are ways to prepare for the good or bad news at the end of the waiting period.

When do you do a plan B?

The psychologists examined 230 law students who had to wait four months for the test result after their state examination - and until then had no idea whether they had passed or not. Sweeny and her colleagues asked the students, for example, whether they had any ideas or even concrete plans in the event of bad news, i.e. failing the exam.

Would you retake the exam, switch to another job? Would you drive home to your parents for a week to cope with the disappointment? Or a week to Las Vegas to numb the pain?

The researchers also asked whether the examinees were mentally concerned with how they would deal with good or bad news emotionally, and from what perspective they would look at it. Did you relativize how important the exam was for your life? Did you lower your expectations so as not to be disappointed? Or did they not even think about it, but distract themselves and suppress feelings of fear?

No strategy reduces the waiting stress

Every two weeks, the prospective lawyers filled in questionnaires while waiting and again shortly after the results were announced. The result: No matter which of these strategies the graduates used, none of them really helped reduce the stress of waiting. Sometimes the experience of stress became even greater through preoccupation with the uncertainty.

But there was a positive effect. Not for the time of waiting, but for the time after the decision has been made. The psychologists report in the journal "Emotion" that those students who prepared to have failed felt best after the results were announced. If they actually failed, they reacted calmly, if they did, they felt overjoyed.

The optimists did not fare so well. If they failed the exam, they remained in a state of shock. If they got through, the joy and relief were nowhere near as great as with the pessimists. Tormenting yourself through waiting with brooding, fear and pessimism seems to pay off, at least in the end.