The Surprising Link Between Procrastination and Threats to Your Health
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We all know the negative consequences of procrastination firsthand; we wait too long to start a project, or delay that important phone call, then end up feeling more pressure than we would had we started things sooner.
Related: 11 Ways to Beat Procrastination
All of us do this from time to time, and, according to research by Joseph Ferrari, about 20 percent of us are what’s known as “chronic procrastinators,” frequently and intentionally delaying work on projects with no gain other than to temporarily delay the inevitable.
In school, we’re taught not to procrastinate because the practice leaves us less time and more pressure, and those issues certainly aren't good. But, later in life, the consequences of procrastination might go even further than we realize.
The correlation with heart health
Research by Fuschia Sirois, from Bishop’s University in Quebec, suggests that trait procrastination (the tendency to regularly delay important tasks) is correlated with both hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The correlation exists even when researchers control for variables like age, race, education level and personality factors.
The procrastination habit itself may not directly cause hypertension or damage to your heart, but it's correlated with other factors that could influence your health:
- Stress. It’s no secret that procrastination is a major source of stress. People most often procrastinate on their most stressful tasks as a strategy to cope with that stress. But in turn, they prolong the time they spend thinking and worrying about those tasks, thereby increasing the amount of time that they feel stress. In addition, they leave themselves with less time to finish the task, and feel even more stressed than just doing it would prompt.
- Behavioral disengagement. Sirois’s study also noted the tendency for participants to demonstrate behavioral disengagement; in other words, they procrastinate as a way to distance themselves from a given problem. It’s a coping strategy, and not a healthy one, so chronic procrastinators aren’t able to manage their stress effectively.
- Self-blame. Procrastinators also tend to feel bad after procrastinating, understanding that this is a bad habit and knowing they’ve put themselves in a difficult situation. But that self-blame can make them even more stressed.
- Health procrastination. Chronic procrastinators, it's also worth noting, are also likely to delay health-related tasks; they might avoid seeing the doctor until their health problems are more obvious (and more difficult to correct), or might delay starting a new diet or exercise program because of the perceived discomfort. Those delays leave them in even worse health, and allow years of damage to accrue unabated.
The bright side
Though procrastination's health consequences are impossible to ignore, it’s not fair to cast all instances in a negative light. For example, one study from the Journal of Social Psychology noted two distinct types of procrastinators: active and passive.
Passive procrastinators delay tasks until absolutely necessary because they find themselves unable to summon the discipline to do them sooner. Active procrastinators intentionally decide to delay their work as a time-management strategy.
As you might suspect, while active procrastinators spend the same amount of time procrastinating, they display a more productive use of time and more adaptive coping skills.
So, what can you do to overcome procrastination in your own life?
1. Become an active, rather than passive, procrastinator. Instead of allowing procrastination to manifest in your life, make an active decision to procrastinate. Take charge of your delay, and deliberately choose a time to deal with the problem.
2. Think about why you’re procrastinating. If you feel like putting a task off until tomorrow, ask yourself why. Are you doing this because it’s going to genuinely make the task easier to deal with, or just because you don’t want to deal with it now? Recognizing these influences can help you make more logical decisions.
3. Manage your self-blame. If you do procrastinate -- and almost all of us do from time to time—avoid the tendency to blame yourself, and try not to feel too guilty. Procrastination happens to all of us, and your lack of action doesn’t have to haunt you the rest of your week.
4. Set tighter deadlines. You could also try setting stricter deadlines for yourself, so you don’t have as much time to fill with procrastination. Unfortunately, self-imposed deadlines won’t do you much good, so you may need to ask a supervisor, coworker or friend to help you stay accountable to your new deadlines.
Procrastination is something that has and will continue to affect all of us from time to time, but it doesn’t have to control your life -- nor do you have to let it affect your health.