Procrastination and Anxiety

Procrastination and anxiety are normal human emotions and experiences, but they can sometimes lead to entrenched thinking patterns and behaviors that can feel paralyzing.

Procrastination begins with an anticipation. For example, you face a priority or activity that you initially perceive as anxiety producing. The activity is judged as inconvenient, tedious, or frightening. When we avoid discomfort or fear, we feel temporary relief from this retreat. Anxieties and procrastination share a common feature: an impulsive reaction to avoid discomfort. When a fearsome situation looms, we may not think about our thinking.

Imagine the student who has a report to write that is due in five days. He feels awkward about the writing task. Self-doubt creeps in and he begins to worry heʼll receive a poor grade and his teacher will make critical comments about his work. Instead of examining his fearful thinking, the student begins to associate the writing assignment with discomfort. He avoids.

Itʼs common for us to miss a significant self-observant step when weʼre feeling anxious: what we tell ourselves about the situation weʼre avoiding and the emotion we feel. By thinking about our thinking, we can identify the pattern and refocus our attention on what we want to accomplish. When we veer from the task we want to avoid, we may experience temporary relief. It is typically costly in the long run, however. When we focus on gaining relief, we can can take hours avoiding what may take several minutes to do. When this pattern is repeated, it can result in feelings of despair, long-term stress and fewer achievements.

 Tips for Breaking the Habit of Procrastination

  1. When you feel tempted to procrastinate, use the temptation as a signal to think about your thinking. Keep a log, if needed, describing the anxiety producing situation, and your accompanying thoughts and feelings.
  2. Rather than withdrawing from discomfort, accept that the solution for both procrastination and fear includes facing and tolerating discomfort.
  3. Do a short term and long term cost-benefit analysis to assure yourself that a personal change to address the obstacle is truly meaningful to do.
  4. Avoid diversionary actions (sidetracking yourself with behavioral, mental and emotional distractions, such as “later is better”).
  5. Make a written contract with yourself, establishing what youʼll do, when youʼll do it, the rewards for following through, and a penalty for not following through. Fix a reward that is equal to the task.
  6. Most challenges can be broken down into bits and pieces. Commit to a ten minute effort. Decide on the first step, and spend ten minutes on the task at hand.

At the end of that ten minutes, decide if youʼll commit to ten minutes more and so on until youʼve progressed through living through the discomfort associated with taking that step.

I hope that these tips will be helpful for you. The bottom line is, avoidance strengthens anxiety and the pattern of procrastination. And the good news is, unpleasant feelings dissipate as we live through them and meet challenges.

If youʼd like to address the effects of anxiety or procrastination in your life, therapy can be a helpful tool. Please contact me at (952) 484-3509, if youʼd like to schedule an appointment. Together, we can develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs, for positive change and growth.

Lisa Knudson, LICSW
Chaska Counseling and Guidance, LLC
562 Bavaria Lane
Chaska, MN 55318