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Why Depression and Procrastination Are Linked

Procrastination is a very common aspect of depression.

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Avoiding and ruminating are core symptoms of depression. To help sufferers and their loved ones better understand this, I’ll unpack the links between depression and procrastination.

1. When people are depressed they often lose interest in activities they normally enjoy. This can lead to procrastination about even fun activities. Even if the person thinks they might like to attend an event, they may hesitate about committing due to fear they won't feel up to it when the time rolls around.

2. People who deal with stress by putting problems in their ‘too hard basket’ are more vulnerable to getting depressed. There is a huge chicken and egg relationship here. If you ruminate about problems rather than tackling them head-on, it can contribute to worsening depression, but depression can also make people feel frozen.

3. When people are depressed, it can be hard for them to plan out a sequence of behavior. For instance, if you need to grocery shop and meal prep, declutter your house, or sort out your debt you may feel intimidated about where to start. Planning out multi-step tasks can feel overwhelming when your mind is foggy due to depression. Your refusal to get started can seem like obstinance when it's actually difficulty planning out tasks when in a depressed state. (There is a chapter devoted to strategies in my book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit.)

4. Depression is associated with “what's the point” thinking. For instance, you’d like to be a parent but you think “Why would anyone bring a child into the world when we're destroying the planet.” Or if your spending is out of control you might think ‘why should I try to fix my finances when I have student loans I’m never going to pay off. This type of thinking is often quite stubborn and frustrating to others (e.g., partners/spouses). The conflict and tension this type of thinking can cause in relationships can make the person’s depression worse.

5. One psychological treatment for depression is called behavioral activation. Among other things, this involves scheduling enjoyable activities and engaging in activities that make you feel a sense of mastery and accomplishment. This can be an effective route out of depression. Changing your behavior in this way can make your thinking style less depressed, even though you're not specifically working on changing your thinking. Trying behavioral activation is potentially a decent option for people who don't have the funds to pay for a psychologist. The instructions are more straightforward than self-help options that focus on thoughts so it can be easier to do via a self-help approach.

6. The social withdrawal that comes with depression can lead to procrastination when doing a task would involve behaviors like phone calls to strangers, or meeting someone new. You might feel completely overwhelmed by the thought of phoning around the find a therapist or to find a tradesperson to get your roof fixed.

7. Over time, people with depression can lose confidence in their capacity to follow through. Depression can manifest as folks becoming flaky and unreliable, which can result in others getting annoyed. This then results in the depressed person feeling more hurt and embarrassed, and a vicious cycle ensues. Sometimes individuals with depression feel embarrassed about their struggle to get things done while they're depressed and tell lies to try to cover it up. Other people often detect that they’re not being told the truth and get angry, which again contributes to a vicious cycle of the person feeling more depressed and less socially accepted.

8. As with anxiety, there's an argument that some of the thinking we see in depression is actually an adaptive process run amok. Some types of thinking improve when people are in a sad mood, and the retreating that happens when someone's confidence is knocked has some self-protective aspects.

If procrastination is a major aspect of your depression, you're certainly not alone. Hopefully this article has helped you understand what is happening better and may help you explain it to others you're close to so they can have more insight and empathy.

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