Repeated behavior of putting off necessary tasks is not necessarily bad, but when exaggerated it can signal a mental disorder.
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By Fernanda Bassette, from Agência Einstein – It’s difficult to find someone who has never postponed an essential task to do something that wasn’t even that important, nor was it part of the obligations to fulfill the day’s routine. Generally, this postponement is to carry out irrelevant activities, such as checking what’s new in the timeline on social networks, check if there are messages in the chat app, take a look at the news of the day, visit a promotion that appeared in an ad or, who knows, even buy a book without having finished reading the one on the bedside . Who has never done this?
In this delivery, there are other “unnecessary” activities. Often, we wait for motivation to reappear to be able to finish that essential activity that we put aside to procrastinate. The name of this may seem strange, but procrastinating is nothing more than leaving for later, postponing, postponing until tomorrow what you should or could finish doing now. Popular wisdom already warns: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.
“The act of procrastinating is the repeated behavior of putting off until later what you should have done today. The idea is that the person postpones a generally important activity, not an irrelevant activity, and has no motivation to do it again. Procrastination is not a mental disorder in itself, but, when exaggerated, it can signal other mental health problems”, explained neuroscientist Karina Abrahão, professor of Psychobiology at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).
Translator and proofreader Bianca Damacena, 38, knows what this is and has been dealing with procrastination for years, a behavior that she is treating with the help of therapy, as the habit is associated with her recurring anxiety attacks. A self-employed professional, she reports that she procrastinates daily in relation to all types of tasks, from work to household chores. Damacena states that she organizes herself in a way that only she understands, always leaving tasks to be completed until the last minute.
“For example: I divide my work by translation goals. If I need to deliver content in a week, I divide the number of words to be translated to deliver it in exactly seven days, even if I could deliver it before the deadline. I’ve never been late for any job, but I take it until the last second. This is very painful, because it generates a lot of anxiety, affecting other areas of my life”, says the translator.
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Damaceno says he often procrastinates to take a nap, check social media and even wash the dishes. “Anything seems more interesting than sitting down and doing what I need to finish doing. Often, in order to finish something that the deadline is forcing me to do, I end up not doing other things. I negotiate with my deadlines, and it snowballs.”
What makes a person procrastinate? – According to psychiatrist Elton Kanomata, from Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, several reasons can lead to procrastination, but the act of procrastinating is not always bad – it can even be beneficial, if it involves improving productivity, for example.
“We often see procrastination as something negative, but it isn’t necessarily. There are cases where the person is very tired and stressed, which leads to cognitive inflexibility, a limitation of creativity. If she postpones that particular task, the result will be better, more productive. In this case, procrastination was not a bad act,” he explains.
Kanomata reinforces that the act of procrastinating is not considered a mental disorder, but highlights that, when this behavior is carried out very frequently and in a way that disrupts the person’s routine, it can signal a symptom among a set of other signs that can lead to the diagnosis of a mental disorder, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety or depression.
“The act of procrastinating is one of the items to be met in the ADHD diagnostic criteria, but the diagnosis is not restricted to that. Procrastinating is not synonymous with ADHD and many other disorders can have procrastination as a symptom, the most classic being depression and generalized anxiety disorder. In depression, for example, the person has a compromised desire to do something, lack of energy and willingness. This means that she does not feel motivated to carry out a certain activity – and this will lead to procrastination”, explained the doctor.
According to the psychiatrist, there are behavioral studies regarding procrastination and several ways to explain this behavior. But, from a neurobiological point of view, Kanomata says that it cannot yet be said that there is some type of structural or functional change in the brain that leads to the act of procrastinating.
According to Abrahão, procrastination is usually related to the level of demand and tiredness that people currently experience. “Our organism was originally created to look for food and care for offspring. But today we have an urban life, with many tasks, commitments and worries. Excessive tasks make us procrastinate due to tiredness”, assesses the neuroscientist.
Mental health – Kanomata highlights that the risk of exaggerated procrastination is that it leads to a person who already has some level of suffering, anxiety or stress to increase these levels and become even more anxious, with a feeling of guilt and frustration.
“In current times, there is a lot of demand for productivity at work, our time is very valuable. We have to make the most of our time to be able to get everything done. When we procrastinate, it can generate a loss of productivity and efficiency that will lead to more stress, more anxiety, more frustration. Consequently, this can lead to mental illness due to chronic stress”, warned the psychiatrist.
As procrastination is not a disease, there is no pharmacological treatment for this behavior. However, if procrastination becomes harmful, resulting in some degree of dysfunctionality and mental suffering, it is advisable to seek the help of a psychologist to evaluate and understand the reasons for this behavior. Only when procrastination reaches a significant level of incapacity, resulting in the diagnosis of a mental disorder, may there be a need for pharmacological intervention.
Damacena says she goes to therapy to control her anxiety. She sought help because of the disease’s crises, but realized that she talked a lot about procrastination in sessions with the psychologist. With the treatment, the translator says she learned to develop techniques to reduce anxiety, which is now under control.
“I don’t consider that I have cured myself of procrastination, I think this is an irremediable thing, but the anxiety is more controlled. I’m on a tight deadline, but I stopped to talk to you and give this interview. I am more relaxed managing this issue. I’m getting organized, little by little”, added the translator.