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Anxiety-Related and Depression-Related Procrastination

You sit down and create a goal. You are extremely excited about this goal. You write down the steps to achieve this goal. You tell your friends about this goal. Yet, when the time comes to achieve your goal, you don't. Of course, you are hungry for your goal. Of course, you want to be this person, but there is something internally stopping you from doing right by yourself.             More than likely, your symptoms are anxiety-related or depression-related procrastination. Anxiety-related procrastination is defined by Boyce (2019)  as, “people who put off tasks due to the negative emotions raised by the task, anxiety is often part of the picture. Even when, on the surface, a person doesn't want to do a task because it's boring, boring is often code for hard (e.g., kids who find math 'boring' often really mean it's hard).” [1]

Depression-related procrastination states that "people (who) are depressed will tend to procrastinate over all types of tasks, whether they're simple or complex, fun or tedious. People with depression often experience a lot of rumination (negatively-toned overthinking), and they often lose confidence in their capacity to be reliable friends, partners, coworkers, etc..”[2] You likely want to complete the task but you associate negative thoughts, rumination, boringness, and sadness with the task at hand.

Obstacles and How to get over them Perfectionism & Perfect Timing The demand to be perfect can produce anxiety and depression related to procrastination. You have a vision of how you should be, but stop the process because the task seems insurmountable. Or you have a vision and are waiting for the perfect moment to start the task. One way to notice when perfectionism is impacting your ability to start a task is the “should statements”. [3] Should statements be mini red flags that you are creating more stress?  Stress often leads to feelings of defeat and defeat is an emotion that is disempowering. You rarely turn this into action. You can rarely move forward when you are steeped in defeat.   Overwhelmed, Fear, and Low Self-Esteem             Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association is, "an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat.”[4]

An intrusive thought is that the task is way too big, the task is too big and you are incapable, the task is too big and you will fail at it anyway, the task is too big and it will take too long, the task is not big, but you will fail at the goal anyway, or the task is too big and you don’t have the mental and physical energy to see it through. All of these thoughts are not based in reality, they are based solely in your mind. You have created the timeline, and the weight of the task, and decided that your ability is not enough. Those are limitations dictated and created by you.

The reality of your life is that if you start small with any task and work on it daily, every other day, weekly, or monthly, it will eventually get done.  This idea is a fact. The only way a task will not get completed is if you do not try to work at it and allow fear and low self-esteem to get in your way. Now, this is easier said than done, but I will provide tips on how to overcome this voice in your head. One way to notice these thoughts is to be in touch with your body. When you think of a task or a goal and your heart starts to race, your stomach drops, and you feel the tension in your shoulders and back, that is a sign that you are creating a problem bigger than what it is. Your body is communicating with you at all times, and it communicates anxiety and depression easily. Habitual Response A Habitual response is described as “The person has procrastinated so many times, it becomes an ingrained response. The person no longer thinks about why they do it, they feel it's just a part of themselves. It becomes an automatic response to say, "This is too hard", "I'm too tired", or to laugh it off as a character flaw.”[5] Impulsivity Your phones were designed to function like a casino. Every time you receive a notification you release serotonin. As a result, you impulsively lift your phone to see if you received that notification, vibration, or ding. You are looking for serotonin and therefore you are receiving it via your phone. That leads to social media and wasting 6 hours of your day scrolling on the timeline. Notice these responses and follow these practices below:

  • Do you truly want to achieve this goal or do you want the acclaim? For example, videographers love capturing a narrative or the world, they may be reaching towards the awards but capturing the narrative is their driving factor, not the rewards. So, ask yourself if are you in love with the skill or the possible acclaim, and that might not be driving you enough.

  • Put your phone on airplane mode so that you will not receive text messages while you are doing your task. You can still use the timer in airplane mode, but the ability to be on social media and communicate with others is limited.

  • Change expectations. what if instead of learning how to play the guitar, you learn how to play one song? Technically, you are learning how to play the guitar but in a more digestible way.

  • Don’t bite off a lot, going back to the guitar lessons. Choose a song instead of choosing something abstract like trying to play the guitar or learn every chord.

  • Start that moment. if you feel sad, anxious, or negative feelings just start doing the task. It is not the trained response, but if you do it long enough it can be.

  • Remind yourself that these thoughts do not belong to you. You've never created these thoughts. They are thoughts that were given to you by broken people who needed you to be small for them to survive. A common affirmation is, “This is (fill in the blank with an imaginary name or the source that has given you low self-esteem), this is not me.”  “My child self will attack this task.” “The perfect time is now” “If I give 30 minutes, I am 30 minutes closer to my goal.”

  • Remind yourself that dedication is a skill that can be developed. There is a lie in our culture that some folks are born with dedication and others are not. There is a lie that some folks are smart and others are not. Those people who you aspire to be are trained by their parents, supported by their community, and provided tools that you were not growing up. There is nothing brilliant about them, they just have the resources and the tools. You can be this person by developing the skills that they have. Skills are easy to develop when you break them down in bite-sized pieces. 10 minutes a day is building a lasting skill, so try it.

  • Reward yourself, after every 15 minutes of focus with 5 minutes of social media use.


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