Procrastination and anxiety: reasons and ways to deal with it
To most of us, phrases like “I will start in an hour” or “I will do it tomorrow” will be perceived as familiar. Eventually, what was scheduled to start in one hour may start in five hours and what was scheduled to be done tomorrow, will be done next week – or even next month. So, at this point we start to wonder how the days go by so fast while we are not finishing our work and at the same time we feel anxious. So, procrastination is a problem that many can identify with.
Which are the reasons that can lead to procrastination?
First of all, procrastination – the unnecessary delay of things that one plans to do – is a phenomenon that has accompanied humanity since at least the time of Cicero (Steel, 2007) and has strongly attracted the interest of researchers, especially in the last four decades. It is a phenomenon that often occurs in the daily lives of many people, who continue to postpone their obligations despite the negative consequences they experience both emotionally and behaviorally (Klingsieck, 2013).
Some of the reasons for procrastination are:
- Anxiety. Stress can precede and / or proceed procrastination. More specifically, people with perfectionist tendencies set very high goals – perhaps unattainable – and so because the effort to be made may exceed the person’s capabilities, the person feels anxious and delays in starting the effort. At this point, then, the fear of failure is activated and so individuals postpone the fulfillment of their obligations.
- Avoidance. People after feeling anxious, may choose to avoid the stressful situation. Nonetheless, most people are aware that avoidance is not helpful but why do they continue doing it? The answer lies in the immediate feeling of relief that is being caused through avoidance. However, this relief leads to new avoidant tendencies and thus the problematic behavior is being maintained. Thus, in the short term, the consequences of avoidance are positive as the person is not exposed to the stressful situation and remains in his comfort zone. In the long run, however, the person feels more stressed as his belief that he is not able to complete some obligations that cause him unpleasant feelings, can be confirmed. More specifically, it has been found that students who procrastinate tend to have less stress at the beginning of the semester as they are not involved in stressful processes, but much more stress at the end of the semester, in comparison to other fellow students with less procrastination tendencies (Yerdelen, McCaffrey & Klassen, 2016). In addition, procrastination predicts poor physical and mental health, given that increased stress acts as a mediator in this relationship (Grunschel, Patrzek & Fries, 2012). Further consequences of procrastination are defined as feelings of guilt and self-blaming, usually followed by thoughts such as “I wish I had started earlier” and therefore people become distracted and discouraged.
- Low self-esteem. Procrastination is considered by some to be a way of protecting a vulnerable sense of self-worth (Steel 2007), which is described as a personal assessment of value, importance or one’s potential (Rosenberg, 1965). People with low self-esteem believe that any failure to follow standards indicates inadequacy and thus tend to avoid testing their abilities (Rebetez et al. 2015). Avoidance in turn, creates more stress and thus maintains the vicious circle as the already existing low self-esteem of individuals is more affected through procrastination.
- Excessive use of Social Media. Social networking sites have been recognized as potential enhancers of procrastination due to their features that encourage absorption and continuous interaction (Alblwi et 2021). People try to distract themselves with other activities to help them avoid a stressful situation. They spend a lot of time on social media and report their difficulty in staying away from them. Thus, the use of internet, despite the benefits it can bring, can become a dysfunctional way of escaping from problems and stress. Therefore, procrastination enhanced by constant avoidance creates more stress and feelings of exhaustion.
How can procrastination be reduced?
First of all, it is important to understand that the above reasons are usually associated by each other by creating vicious circles that people cannot always realize in order to confront them. Thus, the first and basic step is together with the mental health specialist to realize that the person is postponing his responsibilities and to investigate the possible reasons that lead to this behavior. In addition, there are various ways and techniques of dealing with procrastination, such as proper planning, breaking goals into smaller goals, having an efficient time management, limiting the hours devoted to enjoyable activities and defining these activities as a reward for the hours devoted to responsibilities.
However, in order to have a substantial and long-term improvement, it is helpful for the person to be prepared for these techniques. More specifically, various interventions have been proposed to reduce procrastination. In their study, Van Eerde and Klingsieck (2018) identified several therapeutic techniques as effective in treating procrastination, with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) being the most effective.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy interventions explore the personal experience, aim at understanding the personal pattern of procrastination, and focus on identifying dysfunctional thoughts and modifying them into more realistic in order for the individual to be prepared for the application of techniques.
Procrastination, through effort and proper guidance can be explored and reduced, so that feelings of stress and exhaustion can be replaced by feelings of self-efficacy and satisfaction.
Spyros Tzeranis, Manager and Scientific Director of the Clinic.
Eleni Theofili, Clinical Psychologist MSc
PSYCHIS OMMA CLINIC TZERANI
1 Pentelis Ave., Nea Penteli 210 8044332/210 8047624
Alblwi, A., McAlaney, J., Al Thani, D. A., Phalp, K., & Ali, R. (2021). Procrastination on socialmedia: Predictors of types, triggers and acceptance of countermeasures. Social NetworkAnalysis and Mining, 11(1). doi:10.1007/s13278-021-00727-1
Grunschel, C., Patrzek, J., & Fries, S. (2012). Exploring reasons and consequences of academic procrastination: An interview study. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(3),841- 861. doi:10.1007/s10212-012-0143-4
Klingsieck, K. B. (2013). Procrastination. European Psychologist, 18(1), 24-34. doi:10.1027/1016- 9040/a000138
Yerdelen,S., McCaffrey,A., Klassen,R.(2016). Longitudinal examination of procrastination and anxiety, and their relation to self-efficacy for self- regulated learning: Latent growth curvemodeling.
Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice. doi:10.12738/estp.2016.1.0108
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UniversityPress.
Rebetez, M. M., Rochat, L., & Van der Linden, M. (2015). Cognitive, emotional, and motivationalfactors related to procrastination: A cluster analytic approach. Personality and IndividualDifferences, 76, 1-6. doi:10.1016/j.paid.scent.11.044
Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessentialself- regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94. doi:10.1037/0033- 2909.133.1.65
Van Eerde, W., & Klingsieck, K. B. (2018). Overcoming procrastination? A meta-analysis of Intervention Studies. Educational Research Review, 25, 73-85. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2018.09.002