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Your Quick Guide to Dealing with Stress and Procrastination

These two areas affect everyone and often can get out of control. This can help.

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You're stressed from work, school, relationships, finances, and you want to give up.

It never seems to end. Life might be a marathon, but most of us daydream of being back in bed the moment our alarm rings and our toes hit the floor.

I know the feeling all too well.

I almost quit my graduate program as I stared at all the research papers I had due. I nearly quit the beginning of my internship as a psychotherapist because of the negative responses I received from symptomatic clients.

I would procrastinate days on end, and instead of marketing my startup, Psych Nest, I spent nights watching Elon Musk interviews. My company’s goal is to educate mental health professionals with psychotherapy techniques distilled from psychology books. I was supposed to edit some work, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. I didn’t accomplish anything, and I felt guilty for wasting time.

Ultimately, what changed my behavior was some education on stress and understanding some of the initial thoughts I would have on procrastination. I hope the same ideas help you. Note: If you're experiencing severe stress and nothing has seemed to work, please contact mental and health professionals as soon as possible.

Typically stress comes from a lack of these six factors working:

  1. Physical health–Are you spending time exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep, taking needed medications or supplements? This contributes to your mood. Less food and sleep may cause you to feel “hangry” and irritable.
  2. Social support–When’s the last time you communicated with your supportive friends and family? It only takes two minutes to text someone or send a meme to a friend on social media.
  3. Coping skills–These are things that relax us. Examples are unlimited, however, can include watching funny movies, traveling, sex, exercise, making music, playing with your pet, watching the stars, breathing exercises, yoga, art, and etc.
  4. Sense of purpose–What are your goals for tomorrow, next month, the next 3-6 months, next year? Write them out and read them daily. I suggest reading them when you wake up and before you go to bed to reinforce what you want to achieve.
  5. Self-esteem–Belief in yourself. You can do it. You may need a new inspirational quote as your phone’s wallpaper, or even a poster to remind yourself that failures are just the bridge to success.

    You might be thinking: Maybe this isn’t realistic? “I’m not confident. What if I mess up?” I’m sure your 16-year-old self used similar words when learning how to drive, and now look at you! You passed that obstacle. What’s to say that most of your problems aren’t just a driving test which you can conquer?

  6. Healthy thinking–Are you typically optimistic, neutral, or pessimistic? Your outlook dictates your reality. Try this quick exercise: Write out all the negative thoughts you have about work or your relationships. Now, write out how you may feel and behave as a result of each negative thought. It doesn't look good, does it?

    Now let's try the opposite. Write a positive thought that refutes it. Say my negative thought is: (-) = "It's not going to work" > (+) = "So what if it doesn't work. I'll learn, get better, adjust, and keep going." You'll quickly notice that one thought process has a better outcome than the other. The language is typically written in an open, accepting manner. Imagine what you would tell your best friend.

This leads us to the next conclusion. Do you choose to think that something won’t work or could it? Maybe you could try and seek evidence while allowing yourself to be accepting of the new optimistic you.

These six factors won’t always be at their best. Some may be low. A single mother of three may be unable to improve her physical health at times but her social support, coping skills, and sense of purpose may be high.

So understanding this isn’t meant to cause guilt or shame, but to be aware and adjust.

Procrastination works because of certain conclusions we make before a task, which then puts it off:

  1. "I don’t have everything I need."
  2. "I am really tired."

Now if we rewrite those conclusions here's how they look:

  1. "I can still start on parts of the task."
  2. "But I can still make a small start right now."

Notice how this looks similar to healthy thinking?

Here are some tactics you can utilize immediately in relation to changing your thoughts:

  • Use momentum. Start a task you like to help get you in the flow
  • Just spend five minutes on it. Then see how you feel in order to continue
  • Do the WORST first!
  • Give yourself a small reward after completion of the task (watch that show, play video games, eat that snack, etc)
  • Use your best time of day and place to maximize your productivity
  • Close your eyes and visualize your success before you begin
  • Set a reminder(s) (Google calendar is your friend)

Now, you have ideas and it’s a matter of trying them next time you’re stressed or feel like procrastinating.

My question to you reading this:

What currently works for you?