By Rochel Leah Itzkowitz
How often do people procrastinate? Procrastinating is a persistent, serious, habit, and one must be aware of its negative consequences on human health. People who procrastinate delay critical tasks even though it can eventually hurt them. The individual gets immediate relief when they push off a chore, but it is only temporary. Procrastination becomes a serious problem once it becomes a habit. Having unmanageable emotions and time blindness can significantly worsen the phenomenon.
One 2014 study found that about 20-25% percent of all adults are chronic procrastinators. They are at the point where procrastination becomes ingrained into their lifestyle. However, studies on procrastination are challenging to conduct. Instructing participants to procrastinate and wait to see if they get a health issue is simply unfeasible. Some studies try to circumvent this by using self-reporting at single points to see if their health deteriorated. However, self-report is not helpful as it is difficult to determine a clear causal link between variables.
In 2015, Dr. Fuschia Sirois, a behavioral scientist at Durham University in England, explored that procrastination may hurt one’s cardiac health. She believes that, “It’s that kind of big splash that’s going to get attention. I am hoping that it will raise awareness of the physical health consequences of procrastination.” He explains that researchers are trying to use time-management tools to teach procrastinators how to procrastinate less. However, it does not work best because poor time management skills are not the only cause of procrastination. Sirois also held a trial that included different mindfulness classes. After the sessions, the researchers found a decrease in procrastination. He explains, “a little self-compassion may snap people out of their spiral.”
Procrastination is even connected to physical issues, not just psychological ones. For example, since chronic procrastinators are typically stressed, they tend to delay doctor appointments and treatments which ultimately can have a negative effect on their health. Dr. Fred Johansson, a clinical psychologist at Sophiahemmet University in Stockholm, conducted a study on procrastination using a sample including thousands of college students. Johansson’s study tracked the students’ health by observing them for over nine months. This made it easier to analyze consistent data from their participants. Dr. Johansson and his team noticed that the students who were real procrastinators had worse health over time than the non-procrastinating students in the control group. They were more depressed, sleep-deprived, and anxious than the other students. Overall, his team discovered that procrastination is strongly linked to adverse health concerns such as anxiety, depression, stress, poor sleep quality, physical inactivity, loneliness, and even economic difficulties. When one procrastinates, it can significantly worsen their health. For a long time, scientists were not concerned about the health consequences of regular procrastination. However, Johansson’s study opened their eyes to something more serious. Another psychologist, Dr. Alexander Rozental, explained this study by stating that “people who score higher on procrastination to begin with are at greater risk of developing physical and psychological problems later on.”
Overall, this study was observational, not experimental, so the team cannot conclusively determine procrastination as the sole cause of health issues. However, many psychologists are performing more research to determine the scientific connection. As Sirois explains, “And though procrastination alone may not cause disease, one extra factor can tip the scales.”
Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a psychologist at DePaul University in Chicago, has been analyzing procrastination patterns for years. His experiment in 2001 tried to debunk the misconception that procrastinators “work better under pressure”. He concluded that procrastinators, in reality, perform worse under pressure and tend to make more mistakes. Ferrari also argues that procrastinators are not as lazy as others tend to believe; they simply have a challenging time being busy with the right things. He adds that procrastination is a behavioral pattern, insinuating that the pattern can be changed for the better.
There are straightforward tips that could help people with mild procrastination. One piece of advice is to put away your phone and turn off its ringer while trying to finish work. Others who are chronic procrastinators sometimes improve from cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy helps the individual decipher his/her thoughts in order to change his/her procrastinating behavior. Some also believe that learning about self-forgiveness in mindfulness training will help chronic procrastinators who are hard on themselves for procrastinating.
Those who are mindful of the frequency and intensity of their procrastination can become a healthier version of themself. One can move away from potential adverse effects on their health and instead cherish a more productive and meaningful lifestyle. If you suffer from procrastination, remember you are not alone, and procrastinating is a manageable behavior.