Procrastination is a common struggle that many individuals face in their daily lives.
Small confession here, I often face this challenge and have been trying to find ways to deal with procrastination. I recently came across a great series on procrastination by the researcher Tim Pychyl which was a great help in understanding what causes procrastination, and I can highly recommend it. While he has many helpful things to say, and he’s written a book about it (Solving the Procrastination Puzzle – link here), I want to focus on one study he published this year looking at the health outcomes of procrastination.
Pychyl and his fellow researchers define procrastination as “a voluntary delay of taking action on important, necessary and intended tasks despite knowing there will be negative consequences for this delay” (Sirois, Stride & Pychyl, 2023). According to Pychyl, what underlies procrastination is that we are trying to cope with negative feelings such as fear, anxiety, boredom, frustration that come up when we’re faced with a challenging task. If we procrastinate and put off doing that task, it is because we are trying to cope with those difficult feelings by avoiding them and the task that is generating those emotions. The problem is that whatever task we are avoiding doesn’t go away but tends to get more urgent the longer we avoid it. While we may get some short-term relief from avoiding the task and the negative emotions, we are simply making it into a bigger task in the future, which often generates more stress and anxiety and negative feelings.
This is where it’s relevance to health comes in. Procrastination can lead to many things including increased stress levels, impaired sleep quality and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Increased Stress Levels
Procrastination often leads to a buildup of pending tasks, creating a sense of overwhelm and mounting stress. As deadlines approach and time becomes scarce, individuals find themselves trapped in a cycle of anxiety and pressure. Prolonged exposure to stress can have detrimental effects on both our mental and physical health, including increased risk of anxiety disorders, depression, high blood pressure, and weakened immune system function.
Impaired Sleep Quality
Procrastination can disrupt our sleep patterns, leading to inadequate rest and reduced sleep quality. When tasks are postponed until the last minute, we may find ourselves working late into the night, sacrificing precious hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation, in turn, can negatively impact cognitive function, mood stability, and immune system strength. Chronic sleep disturbances have also been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes.
Unhealthy Lifestyle Choices
The tendency to procrastinate can also spill over into our lifestyle choices, particularly when it comes to health-related behaviours. Procrastinators often delay engaging in regular exercise, opting for sedentary activities instead. They may postpone healthy meal preparation, leading to a reliance on fast food or processed meals. Neglecting preventive healthcare, such as skipping doctor appointments or postponing necessary medical screenings, can have serious long-term consequences for our well-being. I’m not saying you need to go see someone for every ache and pain you experience, but usually dealing with a problem early leads to better outcomes than hoping it will go away.
So, is there a health issue or wellness activity that you’ve been putting off?
Whatever that is, and whoever that may be with (us, the doctors, physio, chiro, or getting back into a regular routine of exercise and movement or meditation), take a moment to quietly notice if there are some negative feelings that you are bouncing off, that are leading you to procrastinate on doing it. Likely even just doing this will remove some of the barrier to getting started, making that booking, scheduling in that exercise or movement time in your week.
Sirois, F. M., Stride, C. B., & Pychyl, T. A. (2023). Procrastination and health: A longitudinal test of the roles of stress and health behaviours. British Journal of Health Psychology, 00, 1– 16. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12658
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