Is procrastination a mental illness? (How to know?)

In this guide, we will answer the question “Is procrastination a mental illness?” and some things to consider when we talk about procrastination such as what is understood by procrastination, and what could be the potential causes. Finally, we would also discuss some useful tips on how to stop procrastinating.

Is procrastination a mental illness?

procrastination is not considered a mental illness per se. However, it may be considered as a sign or symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression. But what is procrastination? It can be defined as the avoidant behaviour towards tasks that need to be done or accomplished by a certain deadline. In other words, we could understand it as an intentional delay when having to start and finish a task, even if the person is completely aware of the consequences. 

We all have procrastinated at some point, either through a work deadline for a report, an academic assignment or even having an important conversation with your partner to avoid the stress that may come with it. For some people, procrastinating has become their signature and also a personality trait associated with many negative consequences both at a professional and personal level. However, some people may associate it with being a wise response to certain environmental demands that could potentially have a negative outcome or risk. 

Even though procrastination si nos currently listed as one of the mental disorders included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, experts do agree it can be a consuming problem since it is not as simple as telling someone who procrastinates do to something ‘now’ instead of postponing it just like we can’t just simply tell someone who is depressed to ‘cheer up’ or ‘be happy’.

Are you a procrastinator?

Perhaps you belong to the group of people that starts by ‘quickly’ checking their newsfeed on Facebook or Instagram before starting work and then there is suddenly something else you start doing before committing to your daily tasks. You are fully aware you have a tight deadline for the delivery of a report or project but you can’t seem to put it off over and over again, which means you are procrastinating.

However, some experts may argue how there is nothing wrong with delaying the completion of a task, to do it properly but when you are compulsively putting things off then we are talking about procrastinating. As indicated by Michael Schroeder from the U.S. News: 

“Most people procrastinate at some time or another. Frequently it’s situational – limited to certain circumstances – or something a person may do only on occasion. It may be shrugged off as a common part of the human experience or even good for a laugh.”

Procrastinating can be serious

Procrastinating can be very serious and even deadly but not as you imagine it would be. The image different personality types can you are at home and you find a lump in your right breast. You think to yourself ‘I will go to the doctor next week’ and when next week comes then you keep postponing. Chronic Procrastination can make you delay medical tests or treatments and can certainly put yourself at risk. 

Is procrastination a mental illness? (How to know?)

Moreover, ignoring that you have a problem and what is causing it can have a significant impact in your life, affecting areas such as your job, school performance or relationships. It may start by affecting just one or two areas but it can become a real problem when your life is affected in all areas generating a reduced quality of life. But what causes procrastinating? Well, there are numerous causes, some lines to mental health illnesses. 

For instance, some researchers have indicated that depression is one of them. The symptoms associated with depression such as hopelessness, helplessness and a lack of energy will certainly make it difficult for someone to initiate an activity or finish a task. This in term means that being depressed will increase the chance for people to put stuff on standby. Subsequently, it is believed that people who are clinically depressed tend to procrastinate but most people who tend to put things off won’t necessarily mean they are depressed. However, for some people who are depressed and procrastinate, seeking treatment or help can be put off several times and even indefinitely.

Moreover, depression may not be the only mental health illness related to procrastination. Some experts have indicated that obsessive-compulsive disorder can also cause people to procrastinate. If someone is constantly washing their hands as part of their compulsion, this will keep them from doing something else or something they know they need to do.

How can I cope with procrastination?

As we have discussed, dealing with procrastination is not that simple. However, experts advice to focus on time management and organization skills but it won’t necessarily be effective if the reason why you are procrastinating relates to something else. 

As indicated by Michale Schroeder from U.S. News, “Whether that’s a mental health issue, like depression, or perhaps having a fear of failure (another reason, Schachter notes, that some people procrastinate) – the cause must be addressed, rather than trying to apply a one-size-fits-all model to solve persistent procrastination.”

Is procrastination a mental illness? (How to know?)

Psychologist and success coach Linda Sapadin sheds some light on the matter and indicates how different personality types can contribute to procrastination. Among those are the ‘worriers’ and they tend to be anxious and hesitant if they need to do something that will throw them out of their comfort zone. 

However, just like depression, people with anxiety are not necessarily procrastinators and the role that anxiety may play is still difficult to grasp but experts include another ingredient to the mix: impulsiveness. If you are a procrastinator, the first thing is to identify why you constantly put things off. For instance, if completing a task all at once is difficult for you, try approaching the task a different way by taking basic steps.

Tackling the ‘I can’t’ and ‘What if’s’ 

Procrastinators will always come with a reason why they ‘can’t’ do something. However, when this happens instead of just saying ‘I can’t’, try also looking for the things you can do. Besides, when we start sentences with ‘what if’ then it will create anxiety and will stop us from taking action. This is why it is recommended to answer the question, challenge it and contrast with reality. 

For instance, if you say ‘what if I can’t do it’, then think about why you wouldn’t be able to, what prevents you or what predisposes you to failure. Instead, you can say ‘I haven’t tried it so how do I know I can’t do it’. You may think that the task is too difficult but really, the most difficult part is to take the first step and start. 

Finally, when you face this type of situation, take a deep breath and close your eyes for a minute, have the right attitude by deciding to say to yourself ‘I can do this’ and minimize any interruptions.

Why is this blog about ‘Is procrastination a mental illness’ important?

As we have discussed, procrastination is not considered a mental illness but can be a sign or symptom of an underlying condition. We tend to put off tasks or delay starting and finishing them because we fear we may fail at it or won’t be good enough. Also, we could be suffering from depression which can make it very difficult for us to initiate an activity or sometimes we just find the task at hand very difficult. Whatever the reason may be, there are ways to tackle procrastination.

One of the most useful tips, as we have seen, is to determine the ‘why’ so we can act and start changing our current behaviours. Remember that procrastinating can become a real problem that may not seem like it at first but when it is chronic it can affect all areas of our lives which have a very negative outcome. Finally, tackle the ‘I can’t’ and ‘What if’s’ that can prevent us from acting so try to challenge those thoughts and contrast them with reality so you can consciously shift the perspective from ‘I can’t’ to what you can do.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Is procrastination a mental illness

What is the root cause of procrastination?

The root cause of procrastination could be an intense fear of failure or perhaps a fear of succeeding. We tend to procrastinate when we tend to be perfect at what we do, having low self-esteem or negative self-belief. Some may argue we procrastinate as a defence mechanism or to protect ourselves since procrastination often helps us relieve stress. 

How do I stop severe procrastination?

Here are some strategies on how to stop severe procrastination:

  • Start by forgiving yourself for procrastinating in the past.
  • Have a plan and commit to the task at hand.
  • Promise yourself a reward after.
  • Ask someone to help check up on your progress.
  • Act and think later.
  • Rephrase your internal dialogue.
  • Minimize your distractions (i.e. turn your phone off)
  • Eat healthily.

Is procrastination a symptom of anxiety?

procrastination is not a symptom of anxiety but believed to be the other way around, anxiety is a common symptom of procrastination, being best remedied through action. When we are anxious we tend to procrastinate to reduce the anxiety levels and it becomes a vicious cycle.

What are the 4 types of procrastinators?

Some believe there are 4 types of procrastinators or avoidant archetypes:

  • The performer
  • The self-deprecator
  • The overbooker
  • The novelty seeker

Knowing which group you are in can help you break the procrastination pattern. 

How do you break the cycle of procrastination?

If you want to break the cycle of procrastination, here are some useful tips and strategies:

  • Rationalize your excuses.
  • Use self-talk and self-motivating statements.
  • Make a list and organize the task at hand.
  • Set your priorities.
  • Break the task into smaller pieces.
  • Make a plan considering the deadline (dates).
  • Take a stand.

References 

Schroeder, M.O. (2017, Aug.) Is Your Chronic Procrastination Actually a Matter of Mental Health? Retrieved from health.usnews.com.

Riddle, J. (2020. Feb.) Procrastination: Why We Do It and What It Says About Our Psyche. Retrieved from psycom.net.

Is procrastination a mental illness? (How to know?)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.