It’s a vicious cycle—depression causes inaction, which in turn fuels anxiety. But hope is not lost; you can break the cycle.
By Jay Boll
Is it ironic that I’ve been procrastinating on a column about procrastination? I’ve been putting it off for weeks. Every day that I waffled I felt worse, and my anxious feelings ratcheted up as the time to my deadline counted down.
This morning I found a fresh insight that would enable me to write this piece: The anxiety caused by my procrastination was causing me to procrastinate even more, causing more anxiety. The solution, of course, was to just sit down and write the thing. Problem solved. I had my theme and could start the article. Then came the next thought after that: But not today.
When I was young, I thrived on a last-minute approach to completing tasks. In college, the last two weeks of the semester were my favorite of the year as I pulled successive all-nighters, racing to churn out papers the night before they were due. Somehow, I managed to get As, which seemed a validation of that approach.
But I find that this is not a strategy I can carry into middle age. All those sleepless nights, fueled by caffeine and excess adrenaline, take their toll. That kind of stress, compounded by day-to-day life challenges, can grow to toxic levels and start to affect my mental health.
What’s worse, anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with depression. Not writing when I have a project to do makes me anxious—but depression makes it hard to start.
When I feel depressed, it is easier to put things off. I wake up with a fresh idea on how to approach what I’m supposed to be writing … but it’s Monday morning … and last week was really rough … I really need more time to recuperate … not today.
In the end, I resolve to do something easier, like checking my email.
That’s the kind of thinking that fuels anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, makes me want to retreat from the world, which can lead to more depression. This creates a vicious cycle—depression, procrastination, anxiety, depression—from which the only escape is action.
The newspaper columnist and playwright Don Marquis famously quipped that, “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.” That’s a good description, but I think Mary Todd Lincoln said it best when she called procrastination her “evil genius.”
Not writing when I have a project to do makes me anxious—but depression makes it hard to start.
There are often good reasons to procrastinate. Some procrastination might be seen as a signal from the subconscious that a person is not ready to take on a difficult or complicated task. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of needing to collect more information. Other times it’s a sign that the person lacks the necessary inner strength at that moment, or is not prepared emotionally.
In such cases, it may be wise to put off a difficult task that is causing stress and focus on something more achievable. Checking my emails may not be the most productive use of my time, but it may be what I need to help soothe my anxiety while I replenish the inner resources to take on more challenging tasks.
Or am I merely delaying the inevitable, feeding depression and anxiety in the meantime? It is in this respect that procrastination is an evil genius: We cannot always be sure if it is working to our benefit or harm.
Every morning for two weeks, I thought about my looming deadline for this article and asked myself if today was the day that I would lift the burden and finally get it done. As a writer, I often need to wait for inspiration. Finally, it came to me as my mind wandered in the shower. But that alone was not enough.
The key for me in such situations is to recognize when inspiration strikes and ignore the evil genius that “whispers me to tarry,” not today. I had to put aside the emails and half a dozen other matters, and actually sit down to write.
With the column finished and ready to submit, I felt a tremendous release of the heart-pounding anxiety that was my companion when I got up. Now to attend to all the emails that were accumulating in my inbox all day long.
Printed as “The Procrastination Cycle”, Winter 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
(This and our other articles are provided by some of our curated resources. We encourage readers to support them and continue to look to these sources in times of need and opportunity.)