When you're anxiously awaiting news -- whether it's waiting to hear about a job offer or waiting to hear if your candidate won a race -- there's little you can do to make waiting more bearable.
You can keep refreshing your email. Then explore every possible reason why the hiring manager hasn't emailed you back.
You can keep checking the poll numbers. Then crunch the numbers every which way to see how they can work in your favor.
You can pace back and forth trying not to think about whatever you're trying not to think about.
None of it helps.
What should you do to pass the time, reduce anxiety, and boost your mood? Grab your phone. Download Tetris. Play Tetris.
Getting into the flow.
This is precisely what researchers had participants do during a recent study. The researchers published their results in the journal Emotions. They found that having students play Tetris while they were awaiting stressful news put them in a state of flow -- a term psychologists use to describe what happens to your brain when you're deeply engrossed and don't really notice time passing. It's kind of like a state of blissful distraction. Researchers already know that people who experience flow regularly have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
"Tetris is not a cure-all for any life problem, but it does have some useful qualities," the study's lead author, Kate Sweeny, told tech website Ars Technica.
What to do when waiting for stressful news.
The first step was to put about 300 college students who participated in the study in a state of stress. The students had their pictures taken and were told they were being evaluated by their peers on their attractiveness. Talk about a way to bring on the social anxiety.
While waiting to hear if they were hot or not, students played Tetris for about 10 minutes.
Those playing a challenging-but-doable Tetris level -- meaning the game would get harder as they got better -- reported more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions. Playing the game didn't entirely alleviate their stress, but the positive emotions were measurable.
"It wasn't a huge difference, but we think it's noticeable," Sweeny told NPR. "And over time, it can add up."
Enjoyable distraction puts you in a flow state.
She went on to tell NPR that Tetris isn't the only way to distract yourself from anxiety-inducing news. It can really be anything that you find enjoyable and can help you find that flow. You already know you're not going to make the time pass faster by worrying about it. So get out of your own head and go for an engrossing activity (scrolling through Instagram doesn't count.)
That focused activity is different for everyone. In a /reddit thread on the topic, users share what puts them in a flow state. Several musicians chimed in, as did a few runners. Others discussed the flow state of computer programming. A couple people even heralded data entry as their way to achieve flow. "Excel was like a drug to me when I was deep into some pivot tables and such," recounted one user. There was a yo-yoer too.
And if you're not sure what that thing is that gets you in a flow state? Try playing Tetris on your phone.