By: Suad Othman
Ticktock…ticktock. As the minutes turn to hours on the seemingly faster-than-usual digital clock I stare at, I ponder to myself a series of questions that are already formally acquainted with my mind. The questions have already quickly formed a fast-paced rhythm of answers. Answers as to why putting off the task at hand is necessary and beneficial to me. Like, “The pressure will make my writing that much better.”
If this moment is relatable to you it’s probably because you’re familiar with the dreadful and habitual act of procrastination. But did you ever stop and think that your anxiety has become an unwanted passenger? We all know how bad it feels when we procrastinate. For those who are in a constant battle with their mental health, the effects this has on the brain can exacerbate and even trigger certain issues. And we definitely don’t want that to become a habit in our routine of self-care.
I first noticed a link between anxiety and procrastination in college. Now obviously this is not a miraculous discovery. Millions of other students partake in the same habit.
This however was especially difficult for me because I majored in English Literature and frequently had to write papers in place of typical homework assignments. As the workload piled, I started to become familiar with procrastinating. I was so good at it that I actually thought it made me a better writer. While I’ve broken free from making procrastination a lifestyle choice, I still occasionally notice a flare of anxious behavior when I postpone tasks to a later time.
Gladly there’s research to back that procrastination actually isn’t due to laziness or the inability to manage properly at all. It’s due to a lack of being able to effectively manage your emotions. Who knew?
The emotions tied to procrastination are usually disinterest, boredom, fear of failure or fear of end result, insecurity and many more.
Firstly, it’s important to note that anxiety that follows procrastination is a harmful lifecycle that needs to be successfully broken. Studies have shown that prolonged anxiety can have serious long-term effects such as heart disease, hypertension, and heart attack. While also contributing to depression and a weakened immune system.
Essentially, because procrastination is a form of self-harm disguised as a reward in the brain, a retraining of the mind needs to occur in order for it to be cut off completely.
“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,” psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center told the New York Times.
One of the ways to substitute healthy habits for procrastination leading to anxiety is to practice the art of positive self-talk and learning to incorporate this into your self-care. For example, when you do end up procrastinating, don’t tell yourself everything you did or do wrong. Instead tell your mind that you’re giving yourself a pass and that you’ll learn in time to not do it again. The simple act of giving yourself grace can have a positive effect on your brain.
Some other ways to tackle negative emotions that trigger procrastination is to…
Remember the purpose:
Remind yourself of the reason why tackling the task early benefits you. Remind yourself of the purpose for doing the task at all. If it’s a school assignment that can be, “I need my degree”. If it’s related to work then tell yourself, “I want to be a positive and efficient employee” or “I’m striving for that promotion.” Whatever the scenario try to remember what the greater purpose of completing the task is. In essence, look at how it completes the bigger picture.
Theoretically and physically map out your plan:
By mapping out what the beginning steps of the project are in your mind, you allow yourself to focus on one aspect at a time which is easier for your brain to process. This creates a feeling of direction and you’re better able to then physically map out what the steps are to complete it.
Create positive thoughts around the result of finishing the task:
Try to associate positive emotions around the completion of the task. Envision what you’re planning to do after you finish it and remind yourself of that goal. This will give you motivation throughout your mission while also giving you something to look forward to at the end.
Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself throughout the process. Give yourself some grace and remember that breaking the cycle of procrastination induced anxiety is possible. If others have done it there’s no reason why you can’t as well.