For most people, it’s possible to do multiple things in a 24-hour period. For others, having a 3 p.m. appointment on the calendar means the entire beginning of the day is canceled, postponed, or otherwise put on hold. The urge to sit and do nothing in the hours before an event has been dubbed “waiting mode” — and, with over 43 million views on TikTok, it seems to be a relatable experience.
Say you have a meeting at 1 p.m. Instead of doing other things beforehand — like focusing on work, going out for lunch, or running errands — you might feel stuck, checked out, distracted, or disengaged until it’s time to log onto Zoom, says therapist Mollie Spiesman, LCSW, PLLC. You could find it hard to concentrate, check things off your to-do list, or even pop out to the corner store for a quick snack. Instead, you’ll sit, watch the clock and, well, wait in anticipation.
If you relate to this feeling with your entire being, you’re not alone. “Waiting mode is relatively common,” Spiesman tells Bustle, adding that most people have encountered it at some point in their lives. While it’s often associated with ADHD, she says it can happen to anyone and that it’s more likely to kick in before important events, like a doctor’s appointment, exam, or job interview.
According to therapist Amy Braun, LCPC, PLLC, waiting mode often stems from anxiety. Dropping all of your other tasks to focus on waiting is a way to feel more in control of your surroundings, she says, and thus more prepared for the upcoming event. Eliminating other factors can help alleviate some of your stress.
In some cases, stopping everything to wait really does make sense. As an example, you probably wouldn’t want to pop off to Starbucks ahead of a big interview and risk getting stuck in traffic on the way back. But other times, it’s a little less rational.
If you have no real reason to wait beyond a sense of overwhelm, it could be a sign of executive dysfunction, says therapist Sarah Shapiro, LCSW. “Executive functioning refers to how we prioritize, plan, organize, and track our activities and responsibilities,” she tells Bustle. “Someone who struggles with executive dysfunction may feel stuck when they attempt to prioritize their to-do list.”
Those who deal with the phenomenon of waiting mode know that a looming appointment steals all of their mental bandwidth, making it impossible to do other things. This is especially true if the upcoming event is stressful or anxiety-inducing, Shapiro says. To get ready, you’ll want to lay as low as possible.
To feel a little less stressed while in waiting mode, Gideon Javna, LCSW, a clinical social worker and therapist, suggests practicing a few mindfulness techniques. “Rather than thinking about the future, focus on your five senses,” he tells Bustle. “What does the room smell like? What does your desk feel like? Take a deep breath and connect with the world in front of you.” This will help you feel less anxious, stuck, or stagnant. And who knows? You might even be able to answer an email or two while you wait.
Mollie Spiesman, LCSW, PLLC, therapist
Amy Braun, LCPC, PLLC, therapist
Sarah Shapiro, LCSW therapist
Gideon Javna, LCSW, clinical social worker, therapist