Five minutes and then I start (but first one last phone call, an Instagram scroll, a snack…): how many times do we think about it during the day? Procrastination is human, but at some levels it could lead to more serious problems than a simple “hole” deadline. According to a study recently published in JAMA Network Openthe habit of procrastinating would in fact be associated with a greater risk of poor mental and physical health.
What comes first? Several works in the past have already found a link between putting off important tasks and various health ailments or a non-optimal lifestyle, for example because by dint of procrastinating they move later in time necessary medical tests.
But didn’t these researches answer an important question? Is the tendency to procrastinate the cause of poor physical and mental health (because one is too lazy to take care of oneself)? Or rather is it the consequence, because debilitating conditions such as depression wipe out energy and spirit of initiative?
A signal not to be overlooked. To answer this question, the new study followed a large group of volunteers over time, taking measurements of the observed parameters several times over the course of months. A team of scientists from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (Sweden) recruited 3,525 students from eight Swedish universities and investigated both their tendency to procrastinate and their health conditions through questionnaires submitted every three months for a year. It thus emerged that those among the students who showed the greatest tendency to procrastinate accused, nine months later, even more evident symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
Not only that: procrastinators also more often reported problems such as disabling pain in the shoulders or arms, poor quality sleep, loneliness and financial difficulties, all other factors being equal that can lead to poor physical or mental health.
While again we cannot be sure that procrastination is the direct cause of these problems, if nothing else it is more evident that it’s a wake-up call of future health problems. Indeed, the study observed that this trend is manifesting itself prima the physical and mental conditions reported by the volunteers.
How to intervene? The good news is that this harmful – if too ingrained – habit can be addressed, for example through cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of psychotherapy) which appears to reduce its occurrence.
In fact, interventions of this type help to divide tasks into smaller and more achievable goals, to better manage distraction opportunities and to continue working despite any negative emotions. Small changes that over time can bear fruit, and help make us feel better.