mental health

The real reason you procrastinate at work

The real reason you procrastinate at work
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Do you frequently find yourself postponing tasks on your to-do list at work? Instead of moving forward on a project with an impending deadline or being proactive about your overflowing inbox, you feel stuck.

Maybe it’s not you, it’s your nervous system. Too often, procrastinating on a task can be seen as laziness, but this habit is actually one of the most common forms of work anxiety.

“The public is probably not aware of the role or extent of the nervous system in our daily lives and how it influences our well-being,” said Chicago-based psychotherapist Cathy Ranieri. “In the workplace, when we feel overwhelmed, overworked, or nervous about our work…the nervous system responds by assessing it as a potential threat to our safety. For some, this triggers the reaction of fight or flight… For many people, especially at work, this triggers the freezing reaction: procrastination.

Procrastination is one of the less discussed symptoms of anxiety because it’s often seen as a choice rather than a byproduct of a deeper issue. In reality, many instances of procrastination may be essentially avoidance — a coping technique that many people with untreated anxiety tend to engage in.

But experts point out that this is not helpful behavior. Delaying sending an email may seem like a seemingly harmless act, but the more you shy away from your tasks, the more it can actually make your anxiety worse.

“Beware of your judgmental thoughts like ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I’m worthless’ as these self-criticisms maintain the threat state.

– Cathy Ranieri, psychotherapist

“Anxiety fuels procrastination by creating an ‘escape’ response,” said Jordan White, a licensed clinical social worker in Florida and Illinois who focuses on adults with anxiety. “An anxious person will feel the need to avoid the topic or task because completing or thinking about completing the task creates deep worry for them, whether it’s a thought that they’ll fail or it’s a thought of ‘I won’t. am not good enough’.”

It’s not totally your fault that you’re doing this – it’s usually how our brain reacts when we’re stressed. When you’re super anxious at work, procrastination can become your body’s way of surviving a perceived threat.

“When responsibility piles up, deadlines approach and expectations are overwhelming, procrastination is part of the automatic response to the identified threat,” Ranieri said. “In the freeze state, the body is trying to conserve energy to survive the threat, which is why it often seems impossible to get things done. There may be low motivation, fatigue, or a feeling of helplessness.

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You can manage anxiety and procrastination at work with a few simple habit changes.

Tips to combat your anxiety and procrastination at work

Ultimately, avoiding work deadlines ends up causing us more stress and anxiety. Here are some tips on how to manage your procrastination anxiety so you can get a task done:

Create a schedule for your week.

Plan your days so you know exactly what you need to do. “By creating a schedule, we’re planning our time and not creating space to avoid anything,” White said.

Pause to make it less intimidating.

“I also love when a client takes a break from their work and comes back to it,” White said. “Many find that by stepping away they can come back with fresh eyes and try something in a different way.”

Start with the smallest task first.

“Try to perform small tasks to get some easy ‘wins’ first which can both contribute some momentum and allow you to transition into a more parasympathetic nervous system state rather than living in threat”, Ranieri said. “You may start to feel more comfortable in this state and therefore more capable.”

Or, if that works best for you, do the hardest thing first.

“Another way to avoid procrastination is to complete the task you want to avoid first,” White said. “By doing the task you want to avoid first, you don’t give yourself a chance to avoid it and you tackle it instead.”

Finally, be kind to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating. Ranieri said to be careful of your judgmental thoughts like “I’m lazy” or “I’m worthless” because those self-criticisms maintain the threat state.

Instead, Ranieri suggested talking to you like you would a friend or loved one. “Be self-compassionate, like, ‘It’s hard for me right now,'” she said.

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