Is Procrastination Negatively Impacting Your Health?

Procrastination is a wolf in sheep's clothing. In the moment, you feel justified in taking a much-needed break or allowing yourself some space to fully assess the task at hand. You tell yourself you'll just watch this one 30-minute episode of "Seinfeld," check this one social media account or quickly clean out this kitchen cupboard and then you'll be ready to start. Procrastination can arise from feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, stressed or simply being uninterested, but the caveat to giving yourself a break is this: After putting off your errand or responsibility, you're typically more pressed for time and, thus, more stressed, overwhelmed or otherwise.

Unfortunately, that disguised wolf and the fallout from your break could be taking a toll on your health. Research shows that stress caused by procrastination has been linked to numerous poor health conditions, such as hypertension and heart disease. Fuschia Sirois, Ph.D., a psychological scientist at the Univeristy of Sheffield, looked at the health profile of "trait procrastinators," or those with the tendency to delay essential tasks despite the negative consequences. She found a significant association with those individuals having hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

Now, to be clear, Dr. Sirois's research was focused primarily on those people who chronically procrastinate—not those who procrastinate only occasionally (we're all guilty of it now and again, after all!). For these trait procrastinators, waiting until the last minute is more of an ongoing habit, rather than a sporadic event. For those in the position of regularly postponing acting on their responsibilities, most would agree this pattern causes both mental and physical discomfort.

Impending deadlines or always ignoring essential things that need attention inevitably cause worry and stress. When you constantly delay, you become prone to self-criticism and feelings of shame, pressure and even incompetence.

That stress adds up and impacts physical well-being. It is not unusual for chronic procrastinators to experience stress-related health problems, such as headaches, digestive issues and insomnia. That same stress also lowers our immune system, leaving us vulnerable to colds, flu and infections.

Everyone puts things off sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult or complicated tasks or situations that cause discomfort. For trait procrastinators, there is the tendency to stay busy with distractions that bring immediate gratification, rather than work toward the long-term reward of consistent follow-through.

Beyond being a barrier to productivity, procrastinating on scheduling and attending screenings and checkups with your doctor, dentist or eye doctor could also lead to delayed diagnoses for serious illnesses, gum disease or vision issues. Even relatively innocuous tasks—putting off going to the gym, stepping on the scale, paying the monthly bills—can lead to serious problems when repeatedly delayed.

Trade Procrastination for Productivity

If you tend toward procrastination and often find yourself asking, "Why do today, what I can put off to tomorrow?", don’t fear—it is possible to overcome procrastination! Often, just knowing that the habit could be damaging to your health increases the motivation for change.

Start by gaining an understanding of the reason behind your procrastination. When I realized that fatigue was holding me back, for example, I rescheduled my writing for later in the afternoon. A 30-minute nap was enough to make me feel refreshed and rearing to go.

Many have success using the "two-minute rule," which states that if a task can be completed in two minutes or less, you just do it!

If you always avoid dealing with a particular situation—tasks related to money, having crucial but challenging conversations, certain work projects—you may find it helpful to work on these issues with a mental health professional. A professional can help identify any underlying dissatisfaction or frustration that could be the cause of your disinterest in those tasks.

By working toward slowly eliminating the reliance on procrastination and looking to embrace the joy of accomplishment and the reduction in daily stress and anxiety, chronic procrastination can become a thing of the past.