Healthy You - Every Day

Don’t Put Off Dealing With Procrastination

Believe it or not, that delay in doing stuff isn't good for your health!

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That thing you’ve been meaning to do? It can wait until tomorrow … right?

The act of putting off until later something that could or should get done now is called procrastination. And research shows that the consequences of procrastination go beyond a longer to-do list for tomorrow. It can affect your mental and physical well-being.

Why do we procrastinate?

Research has shown that people are aware of the potential negative consequences of putting things off. But that doesn’t stop us from doing it.

So, why do we continue to procrastinate? There are a few theories. “It could be that we value our present time more than our future time,” says Susan Wiley, MD, with Preferred EAP and founder of the Lehigh Valley Network (LVHN) Center for Mindfulness. “Or it could be that it takes an imminent deadline to make a task seem more important than other priorities. Sometimes we just don’t know how to begin a task. In other cases, the anticipation of imagined failure is enough to discourage us and cause us to delay getting started.” 

Whatever the reason for it, procrastination has been a problem since ancient times. Seriously: There are descriptions of procrastination from ancient Egypt and Greece. And the problem has only grown in recent decades.

Procrastination’s associations with health

Studies show that procrastination is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Disabling pain
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Physical inactivity
  • Loneliness

Research has even shown that a procrastinating lifestyle may increase your risk for disease and lead to generally poorer health.

Tips to stop procrastinating

Considering all these negative health associations, it’s a good idea to kick a procrastination habit, if you have one.

“Reconnecting a task with your overall purpose can help to give an otherwise tedious task meaning and make its completion a source of joy.” - Susan Wiley, MD

Some research-backed tips for overcoming procrastination include:

Practicing mindfulness: This meditation practice that focuses on expanding attention has been shown to help people procrastinate less. Mindfulness can be integrated into cognitive therapy, and it can be learned as part of a guided program, such as the mindfulness offerings through the LVHN Center for Mindfulness. “By enrolling in a guided mindfulness course, you can learn how to center yourself,” Dr. Wiley says. As an introduction, try this mindfulness activity to pause from your distractions, and relax the body:

  • Take a few moments to breathe and follow the sensations of breathing.
  • After a few moments of relaxation, consider the purpose of the postponed activity.
  • Why is it important to you? How does it fit in with your goals?
  • Are there others besides you who will benefit from your actions?
  • Can you imagine that you are receiving encouragement from other beneficiaries to complete the task?
  • Can you imagine how you will feel when the task is successfully completed?

“Reconnecting a task with your overall purpose can help to give an otherwise tedious task meaning and make its completion a source of joy,” Dr. Wiley says.

Treating stress and anxiety: These problems go hand-in-hand with procrastination. Putting off tasks increases stress. And stress can cause you to put off tasks. Taking steps to address your stress and anxiety can help.

Activity scheduling: This doesn’t just mean scheduling activities. “It’s an established mental health treatment that focuses on social engagement and rewarding activities,” Dr. Wiley says.

LVHN Center for Mindfulness


Don’t procrastinate getting help

Mindfulness is a universal human capacity to bring our full attention to the present moment with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and receptivity.

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