Procrastination and Anxiety
Why do we continue to choose that which causes us to fall into a downward spiral of anxiety masked with excuses and delay?
This is an escapable agent; we do not have to choose to procrastinate. But we do, we choose it, again and again, only to have the coat of anxiety and angst wrapped around us. Why? Ask yourself, why do I something that brings with it additional anxiety?
Because it does bring relief (even for a moment) from the sensory overload of a deadline, assignment due, or daily pressures of life’s demands. Procrastination is a coping skill, but not an effective one. It creates more stress, worry and preoccupation of that “thing” that is not getting done.
The choice to procrastinate is an action of avoidance which causes anxiety. One seeks to find relief through more procrastination because of all the distressing symptoms, although this only perpetuates the inevitable.
There are reasons why people choose to procrastinate which include, fearing the end result, being overwhelmed with the details of the task and possibly boredom.
Fear of failure. It makes sense to fear failing at something.
You have a big test and you are unsure the grade you may get, waiting until the last minute and pulling an “all-nighter” is the only solution. Because of exhaustion and continued stress, you fail the test and the cognitive process that follows is, “well I failed because I did not have enough time to study.” This belief justifies the failing grade, but it also reinforces the behavior of procrastination. Our truth is to faces our fears. It is important to acknowledge this hesitation and not let it paralyze us. It does not make the fear go away but it can make it less intense.
The steps to complete a task can be so daunting, we go into a flight or freeze response. When we feel overwhelmed, we lose connection to the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that likes to problem solve. The limbic system, our pleasure-reward center is in the driver’s seat, which feels the need to go into survival mode. A potential solution is to list tasks from most important to least important and cross each off once competed. Anxiety will go down once we begin to tackle a job.
It is difficult to put effort and energy into something we are not invested in. If it is a paper for school or a project for work, there needs to be a buy in or the choice to procrastinate will feel like a great option. The key solution here is to first acknowledge the limited interest or passion in the task. Second, our insights are really just thoughts which leads to emotions. So what are you feeling? Possible feelings, well yes boredom is a feeling. So “I am feeling: bored, uninterested, annoyed, distracted. Ok, great, so to create some motivation, we need to go back and change our thoughts.
- “I can get through this.”
- “I am not interested in this project, but I will try to find one aspect that I invest a little energy into to help me get through the project.”
- “I know my deadline, and I have 5 days to finish it so I need to get started on Sunday and work for 1 hour with a 10 minute break to get done by my due date.”
- NOW, new feelings are surfacing, creating some momentum. Stay in this space, begin, start the project or task.
- You don’t have to finish it, just START!!! Once there is a beginning, the end is easier to conceptualize.
Anxiety is like wearing a warm winter coat on a hot day. You want to take that coat off, but it is really heavy and hard to pull off. It is ok to ask for help, maybe from a friend or significant other, or even a therapist.
There are techniques and coping skills that can help cope with anxiety and even panic attacks. Procrastination may feel like an option and it does create a feedback loop, reinforcing this behavior but it only offers temporality relief and the after taste is ANXIETY.
1. JUST DO IT !!
Begin. Get Started. If the project or task feels overwhelming, break it down in “doable” steps.
Once you get started it will be easier to complete.
2. TAKE BREAK, if this is a large project, set aside a reasonable about of time each day to work on a task, this can make the idea of the project not so daunting.
3. POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY. When you begin, think positivity about how it will feel to accomplish this project or task. Another important part, especially if this is a big project is to have a reward planned, give yourself something to look forward to.
Stephanie Childress, MA, LADC. LPCC Track
Stephanie is a psychotherapist in private practices in Minneapolis Minnesota.
She specializes in addiction, process addictions, depression and anxiety.