You know you should be working on that presentation but can’t seem to resist checking the score for the game one last time. Or wait, maybe you can get down to it after you get a cup of coffee. We’ve all done it – putting off chores, dawdling away a whole working day, or leaving important tasks too late and then rushing last minute to complete them. And it sure has an effect on performance, whether it’s at work or school.1 But did you also know you could be putting your health at risk by procrastinating?
The Procrastination–Health Connect
There seem to be essentially two paths through which procrastinating can affect health – one involves stress while the other involves behaviors that have a poor impact on health.2 Procrastination also seems to have a role to play in anxiety and depression.
The Impact Of Stress
Many studies have shown a link between procrastination and stress. Putting off important tasks can result in stress as you rush to meet a deadline at work or miss paying bills.3 Stress, in turn, is related to various illnesses ranging from headaches, flu, backaches, and even a sore throat4 to conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure.5 Procrastinators also tend to have a poor self-image and are harder on themselves (poor self-compassion), and these too contribute to elevated stress levels.6 There are higher chances of procrastinators resorting to drugs, smoking, and alcohol as coping tools to deal with stress and disengage from reality.7
Stress also happens to be a common thread in many of the other health issues procrastinators face.
People who procrastinate regularly have been found to sleep poorly. They sleep fewer hours at night, find it tougher to stay awake during the day, and might need to use medicines to sleep well. This is because they tend to experience more stress and restlessness, which in turn affects their sleep quality.8
Cardiovascular Health And Hypertension
Studies show that procrastination may be one of the factors that increase vulnerability to cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. Procrastinators tend to cope badly with these conditions and to manage them poorly. They may also not deal well with stress, an important factor in cardiovascular health, using dysfunctional ways to cope which, unfortunately, lead back to elevated stress levels. For instance, procrastinators are more likely to engage in negative and critical thinking and blame themselves. They may also shy away from taking action to deal with whatever is causing the problem.9
Health And Immunity Hazards
When compared to non-procrastinators, procrastinators have been found to have low immunity and tend to fall sick more often.10 This can be linked to poor wellness behaviors such as a reluctance to eat right, exercise regularly, or sleep on time. Health maintenance is also neglected, as they fail to attend to their medical needs, say getting dental care or shots, routine checkups, or hospital visits for illnesses in time.11
Stress plays a part here too. The inclination to put off important responsibilities tend to build up stress as the deadline for the task approaches. For instance, a student who has been putting off working on a term paper will feel more pressure as the deadline for submitting it draws closer. The stress and cortisol hormone buildup wreak havoc on the immune system, exposing the body to illnesses.12 As one study showed, toward the end of the semester, with deadlines and exams fast approaching, students who procrastinated not only showed greater stress but fell ill and visited the doctor more often.13
Mental health takes a beating too. Poor self-esteem, anxiety attacks, and even depression are common among procrastinators, with one issue feeding off the other.14
Why Do We Procrastinate?
There are many theories – some of us may be seeking the rush of excitement that comes with finishing something off at the last minute, while others put off things due to a fear of failure. Strangely enough, some people might even fear success. Then there are people who procrastinate because they simply don’t want to take a decision.15 We also tend to put off doing things when we have poor self-discipline or are impulsive.
We’re also more likely to delay things that we find disagreeable or if the rewards for our action aren’t immediate and will only materialize in the future.16
What Can We Do About It?
An interesting way to psyche yourself into getting things done is by making the future seem more immediate. Studies show that you tend to view the future as closer while using a smaller unit of time to measure it. For instance, thinking of a deadline in terms of days rather than months can make it seem closer – it looms closer if you think of it as thirty days away rather than a whole month away.17
Tactics like being accountable to someone else may also help. For example, committing to a friend that you’ll finish that report before the weekend may get you down to work. If something seems too daunting, breaking it up into smaller parts can also be useful.18
In any case, if you’ve been procrastinating, the important thing to remember is that beating yourself up about it will not help. A study found that students who forgave themselves for putting off preparing for an exam were less likely to delay preparing for the next exam than those who felt bad about themselves.19 So cut yourself some slack, but do it right away!
|↑1||Tice, Dianne M., and Roy F. Baumeister. “Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling” Psychological science (1997): 454-458.|
|↑2, ↑12||Sirois, Fuschia M., Michelle L. Melia-Gordon, and Timothy A. Pychyl. ““I’ll look after my health, later”: an investigation of procrastination and health.” Personality and Individual Differences 35, no. 5 (2003): 1167-1184.|
|↑3, ↑11, ↑16||Sirois, Fuschia, and Timothy Pychyl. “Procrastination and the priority of short‐term mood regulation: Consequences for future self.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 7, no. 2 (2013): 115-127.|
|↑4||DeLongis, Anita, Susan Folkman, and Richard S. Lazarus. “The impact of daily stress on health and mood: psychological and social resources as mediators.” Journal of personality and social psychology 54, no. 3 (1988): 486.|
|↑5||Das, Sajal, and James H. O’Keefe. “Behavioral cardiology: recognizing and addressing the profound impact of psychosocial stress on cardiovascular health.” Current atherosclerosis reports 8, no. 2 (2006): 111-118.|
|↑6||Sirois, Fuschia M. “Procrastination and stress: Exploring the role of self-compassion.” Self and Identity 13, no. 2 (2014): 128-145.|
|↑7||Melia-Gordon, M. L., Sirois, F. M., & Pychyl, T. A.. Procrastinators’ coping styles: Restraint in the face of demand. Paper presented at the 13th Annual American Psychological Society’s Convention, Toronto, Ontario. 2001.|
|↑8||Sirois, Fuschia M., Wendelien van Eerde, and Maria Ioanna Argiropoulou. “Is procrastination related to sleep quality? Testing an application of the procrastination–health model.” Cogent Psychology 2, no. 1 (2015): 1074776.|
|↑9||Sirois, Fuschia M. “Is procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model.” Journal of behavioral medicine 38, no. 3 (2015): 578-589.|
|↑10, ↑13||Tice, Dianne M., and Roy F. Baumeister. “Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling.” Psychological science (1997): 454-458.|
|↑14||Beswick, Gery, Esther D. Rothblum, and Leon Mann. “Psychological antecedents of student procrastination.” Australian psychologist 23, no. 2 (1988): 207-217.|
|↑15||Sirois, Fuschia M. ““I’ll look after my health, later”: A replication and extension of the procrastination–health model with community-dwelling adults.” Personality and Individual Differences 43, no. 1 (2007): 15-26.|
|↑17||Lewis, Neil A., and Daphna Oyserman. “When does the future begin? Time metrics matter, connecting present and future selves.” Psychological science (2015): 0956797615572231.|
|↑18||Van Eerde, Wendelien. “Procrastination: Self‐regulation in Initiating Aversive Goals.” Applied Psychology 49, no. 3 (2000): 372-389.|
|↑19||Wohl, Michael JA, Timothy A. Pychyl, and Shannon H. Bennett. “I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination.” Personality and Individual Differences 48, no. 7 (2010): 803-808.|