Haste can harm your health. here’s what you can do

The worst procrastinators probably won’t be reading this story. It will remind them of what they’re trying to avoid, says psychologist Piers Steele.

Maybe they’re dragging their feet to get to the gym. They may not have been able to keep their New Year’s resolutions. Maybe they are just looking forward to one more day to study for that exam.

Steele of the University of Calgary in Canada says that procrastination means “putting off something you know you should do now,” even if your situation is worse. But all those tasks that were pushed off for tomorrow seem to be driving themselves into the mind – and this can harm people’s health.

In a study of thousands of university students, scientists linked procrastination to a host of poor outcomes, including depression, anxiety and even disabling arm pain. “When I saw him, I was shocked,” says Fred Johansson, a clinical psychologist at Sophiahemmet University in Stockholm. His team reported the results on January 4. jama network open,

The study is the largest yet to deal with the relationship of procrastination to health. The results echo those of earlier studies, which have been largely ignored, says Fuschia Sirois, a behavioral scientist at Durham University in England who was not involved in the new research.

For years, she says, scientists didn’t think the dysfunction was anything serious. The new study may change that. “It’s the kind of big splash that … is attention-grabbing,” Sirois says. “I hope it will raise awareness of the physical health consequences of procrastination.”

Procrastination Can Be Bad for the Mind and Body

Whether or not procrastination harms health can seem like a chicken-and-egg situation.

It can be difficult to tell whether certain health problems make people more likely to procrastinate — or the other way around, says Johansson. (It can be a bit of both.) And it’s not easy to conduct a controlled experiment on procrastination: You can’t just ask a study participant to be procrastinating and wait and see if their health changes, he says. .

Many previous studies have relied on self-reported surveys taken at a single time point. But a single snapshot of one makes it difficult to sort out cause and effect. Instead, in the new study, nearly 3,500 students were followed over nine months so researchers could find out whether students who procrastinated developed health problems later.

On average, these students performed worse over time than their trailing peers. Johansson and her colleagues found that they were slightly more stressed, anxious, depressed, and sleep deprived, among other issues. “People who score high on procrastination to begin with … are more likely to develop both physical and psychological problems later,” says study co-author Alexander Rosenthal, a clinical psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden. There is danger.” “There is an association between procrastination at one time point and these negative outcomes at a later point in time.”

The study was observational, so the team can’t say with certainty that procrastination leads to poor health. But the results of other researchers also point in the same direction. A 2021 study linked sleep procrastination to depression. And a 2015 study from Sirois’s lab linked procrastination to poor heart health.

Stress may be to blame for the ill effects of procrastination, data from Sirois’s lab and other studies suggest. She thinks the effects of chronic procrastination can build up over time. Although procrastination alone may not cause disease, says Sirois, it “could be an additional factor that could tip the scales.”

no, procrastinators are not lazy

Some 20 percent of adults are estimated to have chronic procrastination. Joseph Ferrari, a psychologist at DePaul University in Chicago who has spent decades studying procrastination, says everyone can procrastinate a task or two, but chronic procrastinators make it a lifestyle. “They do it at home, at school, at work, and in their relationships.” These are the people, he says, who “you know are going to RSVP late.”

Although procrastinators may think they perform better under pressure, Ferrari has reported the opposite. They actually worked more slowly and made more errors than non-procrastinators, their experiments showed. And when deadlines are slippery, procrastinators tend to put off their work, Steele’s team reported last year. Frontiers in Psychology,

For years, researchers have focused on the personality of people who procrastinate. Findings vary, but some scientists suggest that procrastinators may be more impulsive, worriers, and have trouble controlling their emotions. One thing procrastinators are not, Ferrari insists, lazy. They really are “too busy doing things other than what they’re doing,” he says.

In fact, says Rosenthal, most research today suggests that procrastination is a behavior pattern.

And if procrastination is a behavior, he says, that means it’s something you can change, whether you’re impulsive or not.

Why procrastinators need to be kind to themselves

When people put off a difficult task, they feel good—in the moment.

“You made a mistake and procrastinated. It’s not the end of the world…. What can you do to move forward?,

Behavioral scientist Fuchsia Sirois, Durham University

Procrastinating is one way to overcome negative feelings associated with work, says Sirois. “We try hard to avoid anything painful or difficult,” she says. “When you procrastinate, you get instant relief.” The background of stressful situations—such as a worldwide pandemic—can affect people’s ability to cope, making procrastination even easier. But the relief it provides is only temporary, and many people look for ways to stop the lethargy.

Researchers have experimented with procrastination treatments that run the gamut from logistical to psychological. What works best is still under investigation. Some scientists have reported success with time-management interventions. But the evidence is “all over the map,” Sirois says. This is because “poor time management is a symptom not a cause of procrastination,” she adds.

For some procrastinators, seemingly obvious tactics can work. In his clinical practice, Rozental advises students to simply put their smartphones down. Siphoning off information or studying at the library instead of at home can be distracting and keep people on task. But that won’t be enough for many people, he says.

Hard-core procrastinators may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. In a 2018 review of procrastination treatment, Rosenthal found that this type of therapy, which involves managing thoughts and feelings and trying to change behavior, seems to be most helpful. Still, not many studies have examined the treatment, and there is room for improvement, he says.

Sirois also favors an emotion-centered approach. Procrastinators can have shame where they feel uncomfortable about a task, put off the task, feel ashamed for postponing it and then feel worse than when they started. She says people need to short-circuit that loop. Self-forgiveness can help, scientists suggest in a 2020 study. So can mindfulness training.

In a small trial of university students, eight weekly mindfulness sessions reduced procrastination, Sirois and colleagues reported in January. learning and individual differences, Students practiced focusing on the body, meditating during unpleasant activities, and discussed the best ways to take care of themselves. A little self-compassion can lift people out of their spirals, says Sirois.

“You made a mistake and procrastinated. It’s not the end of the world,” she says. “What can you do to move forward?”

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