It’s mid-January, almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic and we are still waiting for the horror story that was 2020 to end.

After waiting months for scientists to develop the vaccine, we are now waiting to get it, so our lives can return to some kind of “normal.” We’re waiting to see the full economic fallout of the corona-mess and what our careers will look like when it’s over.

The waiting goes beyond learning the outcome of our post-coronavirus lives.

We spent much of 2020 waiting for the election, and now we wait — and pray — that we make it through the presidential inauguration. Once President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn into office, with the insurrection at the Capitol still fresh, we have to wait for America to reclaim its standing as the defender of democracy.

And here is my big question, after watching Black Lives Matter come to the forefront in 2020 as a mass movement: Will Black Americans have to wait another 400 years for true equality?

The wait for all these things is painful. Sure, I’d like to return to a world where I can leave my house wearing red lipstick and no mask and take trips to the Caribbean, but will our new normal support that? Up until now, I assumed my future would be a stable one, but, like many others, that certainty is now gone.

Will 2021 simply be another year of waiting? This is why it’s so hard, and how to make it easier.

It’s not just you: Americans are terrible at waiting.

Life is full of waiting. Still, said Eric Zillmer, a professor of neuropsychology at Drexel University, we aren’t very good at it.

And with the introduction of high-speed internet and next-day Amazon delivery, we’ve gotten worse at it. Our consumer-driven society has made us less likely to wait for anything, Zillmer said. We are spoiled. Because of the advances of technology waiting for anything “frustrates us and causes major anxiety.” We are at the point Zillmer said that if there is too long of a wait, “Americans just won’t do it. They will look for different options immediately.”

This wait is harder

According to psychologists, the wait to get our lives back on track is harder than anything we’ve gone through before for two reasons.

The first is that it’s seemingly endless, which makes it impossible to plan. “We all feel that we’ve been robbed of the power to manage our own destiny,” said New York-based psychologist Richard Orbe-Austin. “The goal post keeps moving: first we were waiting for summer, then we were waiting to go back to school, then we were waiting to get past the elections, then it was the holidays. All of these moments have passed and we are still waiting for our lives to return to some semblance of normalcy.”

The second reason this wait is even more taxing: it’s both hopeful and scary said Crystal Reeck, a Temple University marketing professor in the Fox School of Business, who studies consumer behavior. We are optimistic that there are better days ahead, but also afraid of what will happen tomorrow, and these two forces are pulling us in opposite emotional directions. “One motivates us to avoid; the other pushes us to approach,” Reeck said and living with this push day in and day out is tough. “Mentally this can be a very hard place to be and it’s all very unprecedented.”

Why unfairness makes waiting harder

What’s more we are over the unfairness of it all, Zillmer said. Many people are flagrantly breaking the rules, acting like the world has already returned to normal. People have continued to gather or travel despite CDC warnings to stay put. Others treat masks as largely optional. While many of us wait patiently, it feels like others are trying to skip the line.

And while the rest of us wait for the system to work, we do this knowing that it doesn’t treat everyone equally. The Inquirer reported COVID-19 vaccines have mostly gone to white Americans. For some, unemployment benefits are running out. And for many others, the stimulus checks don’t even come close to providing the help that’s needed. Black people and their allies are met with violence when they ask police officers to stop killing people of color, while it appears that Capitol insurgents were invited on in. The result: mayhem. “Fairness is ingrained in our most basic of democratic principals,” Zillmer said. “If Americans see something as unfair, they won’t wait it out. They are more likely to rebel.”

And so this wait feels depressing. We are isolated. We are scared. The waiting is adding to the mental health crisis, because people feel hopeless, Zillmer said. “Everything we do impacts our community. It has a global effect. That’s not something Americans are used to dealing with,” Zillmer said.

How to get better at waiting

  1. Shift your focus. If we want to be better waiters, we have to learn how to value the process more than the outcome, Orbe-Austin said. We have to settle into this as our new normal. “Every time we run through different outcomes, we increase our sense of dread, fear and concern,” Orbe-Austin said. “This is why meditation during these times is helpful. It teaches us how to embrace the waiting.”
  2. Take action. Now that our calendars are clear from the distractions of the holidays, Orbe-Austin suggests we use this time to act. If you have dreams of starting a business, this is when you can research what it will take to get it off the ground. Taking safe actions inspires us “embrace waiting so we are able to reframe, recharge and prepare for our futures even though we don’t know exactly what they will look like.”

Other action steps you can take while waiting.

  • If you are waiting to get the vaccine, stay informed. Find out when and where you will be eligible to get the vaccine so that you are first in line.
  • If you are waiting to see what happens to the economy, find a financial advisor or make an appointment with your own to help you plan a strategy if your job is in jeopardy, or how you can plan now for your future.
  • If you are waiting to see what your future will hold, journal about how you want your life to look. It helps to visualize how your life will look so you can take steps to get there. Be optimistic. “We need optimism to motivate us,” Reeck said.
  • If you are waiting for racial justice, continue to speak up and out. Find groups what you can support, donate to or volunteer at so you can be part of the solution.
  • If you are waiting for politics to get better, try not to dwell on possible bad scenarios. There are many, true. But there comes a point where you can’t control the outcome, you can only control your response to it.
Expert sources
  • Eric Zillmer, PsyD. professor of neuropsychology at Drexel University and director of athletics.
  • Richard Orbe-Austin, PhD in psychology and founder of Dynamic Transitions.
  • Crystal Reeck, PhD, assistant professor, Temple University Fox School of Business