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Link Between Procrastination and Anxiety Plus 3 Helpful Tips

August 13, 2020 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Do you procrastinate? If so, how's your anxiety? Many people are surprised to learn that procrastination and anxiety are often closely linked. Procrastination can be a defense mechanism to gain temporary relief from anxiety as you avoid anxiety-provoking tasks. Unfortunately, procrastinating can ultimately increase anxiety because of the added pressure and stress it adds to your already busy life. When you know more about what links these two cruel partners, you can recognize them as they occur and then take measures to stop procrastinating and reduce anxiety. 

The Link Between Anxiety and Procrastination

Procrastination and anxiety share underlying features. These elements can cause either anxiety or procrastination independently, and they can also be so bothersome that they cause both. Each of these is unsettling and can disrupt thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They are so unpleasant that they make people naturally want to avoid the feelings of stress and anxiety that accompany them, and procrastination allows that avoidance.

Three common features permeating anxiety and procrastination are

  1. Fear of failure--The fear of failure is a common cause of anxiety. Closely tied to perfectionism, performance anxiety, and social anxiety, the fear of failure can range from mildly irritating to crippling. The idea of failing can prevent people from starting projects, engaging fully in relationships, or trying new things. If you find yourself holding back, whether it relates to work or home tasks or to your interactions with others, anxiety and the fear of failure might be behind it. 
  2. Uncertainty intolerance--Also known as fear of the unknown, uncertainty intolerance can cause anxiety to skyrocket. When we don't know what to expect, the mind fills in the gaps with hordes of negative, anxious thoughts, worries, what-ifs, and worst-case scenarios. The disastrous mental picture we paint does not inspire us to dive into a situation with both feet. Avoiding the unknown through procrastination can provide temporary relief. 
  3. Information overload--Modern technology affords and curses us with constant information. Constant access to everything fact, fabricated, and in between on seemingly infinite websites and social media platforms is overwhelming. This can cause us to magnify tasks or problems, thinking them to be too big to know where to begin. It can also contribute to heightened anxious emotions that drive decisions to avoid through procrastination. 

These are just a few examples of anxiety that can cause procrastination. While putting off tasks or interactions with others can temporarily prevent the discomfort of facing problems and challenges, in the long run, this approach increases anxiety. When we don't face what we need to, problems tend to grow rather than shrink. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce both anxiety and procrastination. 

3 Tips to Help Stop Procrastination and Anxiety

Making a few adjustments to how you view situations and yourself and to the way you approach daunting tasks can go a long way to helping you live freely, embracing rather than avoiding. 

  1. Examine your expectations--Thoughts about the way things "should" be or how we "should" perform can stop us in our tracks. Rather than remaining caught up in your thoughts of how you must be, what you must do, or how things must turn out, spend some time deciding realistic goals for what you are facing. Write them down or create a different type of visual representation of them and keep it in your sight as a reminder. 
  2. Replace self-blame with realistic acknowledgment of your progress--Anxiety makes us incredibly hard on ourselves. Being self-critical and calling ourselves mean names isn't motivating but instead can cause procrastination and increased anxiety. Catch your negative self-talk, pause, and reframe it to remind yourself of what you've already done and the strengths you have to meet this challenge and goal. 
  3. Create a daily routine--Following a predictable schedule can help reduce procrastination and anxiety. Carve out dedicated time each day to work on your project as well as to complete other tasks. Knowing that you have time set aside for various items on your to-do list can help you stay focused and resist the temptation to put off one task so you can work on something else. Also, don't forget to include self-care in your daily routine. Taking time for an activity such as a short mindfulness walk, meditation, yoga, a healthy snack or cup of tea consumed mindfully, or connecting with others is revitalizing and can keep your exhausted brain from looking to procrastination simply for a break. 

While anxiety and procrastination do fuel each other, and together they team up to interfere in your life, you are the one who is ultimately in charge. You can break free from the cycle of procrastination and anxiety. 

                                   

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, August 13). Link Between Procrastination and Anxiety Plus 3 Helpful Tips, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/8/link-between-procrastination-and-anxiety-plus-3-helpful-tips



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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