By Alexandra Sifferlin
October 19, 2015

People who feel particularly ridden with anxiety during a period of uncertainty can seek some solace in the fact that they react better to bad news, a new study suggests.

In the study, published in the journal Emotion, researchers studied different ways of waiting during a period of uncertainty. The study authors looked at 230 law graduates who were waiting to receive their results on the California bar exam.

First, the researchers wanted to find out if there was a way to wait that reduces stress. They also wanted to find out if there’s a way to wait so that the pain of bad news is more subtle.

The men and women in the study filled out questionnaires before the bar exam, every two weeks during the four-month waiting period and soon after they found out if they passed or failed. The researchers found out that despite people’s best efforts, it’s hard for them to successfully manage stress and anxiety during the waiting period.

Interestingly, the people that took an optimistic view of the situation and did not experience a lot of anxiety during the uncertain period felt hopeless when the news they received was bad news. On the other hand, the men and women who were highly anxious during the waiting period experienced a boost when they got good news, and didn’t feel as bad when they news wasn’t in their favor.

“Most coping strategies were ineffective for reducing distress associated with uncertainty – sometimes even backfiring,” said study author Kate Sweeny, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside in a statement. “But thankfully, people who suffer through a period of uncertainty respond more productively to bad news, and more joyfully to good news.”

“These findings substantiate the difficulty of enduring a stressful waiting period but suggest that this difficulty may pay off once the news arrives,” the authors conclude in the study.

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