Making the most of time spent in the waiting room

Woman in waiting room

Woman in waiting room

Whether the waiting room belongs to a dentist, an optometrist, a pediatrician or a surgeon, we know that time spent in one can induce feelings of tension and anxiety. It can be difficult to prioritize your thoughts and emotions as you wait, and while some visits are more tedious than they are worrisome, each visit can leave you feeling frustrated and drained. Below are a few helpful suggestions to make the most of your time in the waiting room.

Cutting down on the stress of waiting.

Your time in the waiting room might be for more than an annual trip to the doctor. Sometimes, people endure long stints in the waiting room waiting to hear news of friends and family as they undergo more extensive medical treatment. These times are exceedingly stressful, and the waiting room with its rows of cramped chairs, loud noises, and tense atmosphere can only add to feelings of nervousness.

Taking care of you

Your time in the waiting room might be for more than an annual trip to the doctor. Sometimes, people endure long stints in the waiting room waiting to hear news of friends and family as they undergo more extensive medical treatment. These times are exceedingly stressful, and the waiting room with its rows of cramped chairs, loud noises, and tense atmosphere can only add to feelings of nervousness. Even though a waiting room vigil seems like the necessary action, know that you can and should take breaks. Our environment can directly impact our stress and mental wellbeing, and subconscious factors can hugely affect our emotions. The University of Minnesota does a wonderful job of highlighting how stress and the environment directly influence each other . Know when the appropriate time is to step outside of the facility and breath some fresh air. It’s important to remember that your health is as important as the person your there to support.

While you’re taking a break, keep in mind that light exercise can raise your endorphins and improve your mood. We’re not suggesting you start doing sit ups in the waiting room, but consider taking a walk, or doing some stretching. Exercise gives you clarity of mind and allows you to process your feelings through a healthy outlet.

Also, consider bringing a few preventative health measures along. While you’d think that a hospital would be cleanly, surfaces that get a lot of use don’t always get swiped down. Avoid things that get touched often and can’t be cleaned, like magazines, vending machines, remotes or handles. Pack some hand sanitizer, your own tumbler or cup for beverages, and, for prolonged time spent in the waiting room, your own comfort items like a blanket or neck pillow.

Control the environment

Excessive amounts of noise can set any person on edge. Waiting rooms and medical facilities tend to be overwhelming because it’s a deviation from our normal routine. Bring along a pair of headphones and invest in something that takes you away from where you are. That could be music you enjoy, a favorite podcast, a meditation app, or a streaming service on your phone. Come prepared, and plan accordingly before your visit.

Sensory overload doesn’t always come in the form of noise. Our eyes can be similarly impacted by overstimulation, and it’s important to plan for that as well. Bring along a good book, a journal, or even a small project to keep yourself occupied. These tools can also serve another purpose; providing a sense of detachment from others. Every person in the waiting room is there for their own purpose, and just as sound and images can overwhelm us, so can other people’s emotions. Humans are very in tune with how their fellow humans are feeling, and while this is an inherently good thing, it can also have the effect of overwhelming yourself with the burden of other people’s pain or frustration.

Children are very perceptive to their environments, especially when they are unfamiliar to them. If you have children along with you, give them something familiar to occupy their attention. Quiet activities or toys are the best option, but if you happen to have headphones and mobile devices with interactive games or videos, you can make your child feel as if the environment fades into the background.

Using down time for productivity

Hopefully, most of your visits to a waiting room are for health check-ups or annual exams. While inconvenient for a day-to-day schedule, time spent in a waiting room can easily be turned into time spent taking care of tasks you might not otherwise have time for.

Luck favors the prepared

The most apparent thing to do when you arrive in the waiting room with time on your hands is to update your contact information and prior health forms. Visit the front desk to ensure that all the information they have on file for you is current.

Another helpful tip for staying productive is to write down a list of questions you have for your doctor. Often times, it’s easy to step into the doctor’s office and forget everything you had prepared and leave feeling like you’re missing something. Writing questions and notes about the reason for your visit also gives a permanence to questions you might feel embarrassed about asking. Having them on paper might give you the courage to bring them up and ensures that your doctor can provide an accurate and thorough diagnosis.

Depending on the appointment, this visit to the doctor might just be the first in a series. Take this time to organize your calendar, whether it be in your phone or planner. Consult with the attendant at the desk to ensure you have all the dates and times correct, and if there’s extra time, tidy up some of the non-medical related tasks on your agenda too.

Small tasks, big impact

For some, the time spent in a waiting room or reception area might be no time at all. Ten or fifteen minutes might just be the right amount of time to complete a few small tasks that don’t depend on location. Here are a few items on your daily to-do list that you can check off your list, all from the comfort of your waiting room chair:

  1. Plan your meals for the week: If you’ve considered meal-prepping and planning before, but need a place to get started, this guide from The Kitchn has some great suggestions and tips . We’ve even got a few Bright Health tips of our own for planning easy breakfasts-on-the-go.
  2. De-clutter your smartphone: Our smartphones and devices are a hotbed of distraction and clutter. Photos we don’t need, email promotions we haven’t checked in months, and the constant barrage of notifications are just the beginning. Take the time to organize your phone so that when you need something, it’s easy to find, and you can get back to enjoying life in the moment. This article by Consumer Reports  has step-by-step instructions on how to kiss digital overload goodbye.
  3. Learn a skill or research something you’ve had on your mind: Picking up an entirely new skill can seem daunting, but any interest or passion can be ignited with 10 simple minutes. It doesn’t have to be something complex like learning a new language, or a new crafting technique, but these 10 minutes could certainly be the catalyst for some harder to master skills. If a skill seems like too big a task to take on, why not funnel that interest into learning something new instead? Scroll through local news sources, watch some instructional videos, or take some time to dive into a Google Search that you’ve been meaning to swim in for a while.
  4. Make a quick list of things to accomplish for the next day: Prioritization is key to stress-reduction. Turn what could have been 15 minutes of tedious waiting into an active crusade against the slog of everyday planning. Whether on a post-it note, a planner, or your phone, make a simple list of to-dos and rank them by category: Personal, Family, Work, or Home. Then, assign numbers to each task based on their level of importance and the time it will take to accomplish them.
Chris Todd

July 12, 2018