The Psychology of Waiting in Line

Don’t judge my singing voice–sing along!

How much time do you think we spend waiting in line? This week, after several trips to Party City for costumes,  it felt like I wait…a lot. Whether I’m picking up kids or checking out at the grocery store, I spend a lot of time waiting. Don’t even get me started on waiting in lines at amusement parks. I don’t know about you, but I am in the habit of either “checking out” by scrolling through social media on my phone thereby not paying attention to what is going on around me, and/or, I feel a nagging sense of frustration build and my mind starts to panic. I become irritated that I am wasting time. My body temperature seems to intensify with heat and soon this blossoms into the angry version of myself. That person is not pretty or patient or kind. I can’t stand that person.

Over the years, through my mindfulness practice, I have learned to tame the flames and make the most out of waiting in line. I’ll share with you what works for me, but I encourage you to take a different outlook in general at lines and it just may shift your experience for the better.

Here is an example, if you are waiting to pick up your kids from school and you are deep behind a pile of cars, take this as an opportunity to spend a few more minutes by yourself. Cherish it! Blast the music, or turn the music off, think about how to set the rest of your day up for success, reach out to a friend, listen to a podcast, stretch, breathe, the possibilities are endless! Waiting often represents the calm before the storm and it presents us with an opportunity to “check in” versus “check out”.

Taking time for yourself in this way empowers you to be the best version of yourself. Now when I am in lines I notice those people who are clenching their teeth, pushing their car as close as possible to the car in front thinking this will make a difference, honking their horns, and cursing under their breath. This observation generates a reminder to turn my mind into a sanctuary of possibility instead of a dungeon of  frustration.

Dr. Shannon Albarelli is a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating a range of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, grief/bereavement and mood disorders. Her number one priority is to bring happiness and well-being to patient’s lives by restoring their mental balance. To find out more about her practice, visit


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