It’s normal to feel a little anxious before a big presentation or deadline. Still, for some people, anxiety can be so overwhelming that it paralyzes them and prevents them from completing tasks. This is known as procrastination, and it can be a significant problem for people with anxiety.
For writers, this can be especially frustrating. After all, most of our jobs involve meeting deadlines. In other roles, chronic procrastination can be inconvenient. But as a writer? It can end your career.
The thing is, it’s not that you don’t want to work on the project, or that you’re not capable of doing it. So if it’s not an issue of motivation, what is it? Why does it only happen with certain tasks? And how do you move past it so you can — y’know — write?
The procrastination and anxiety connection
There are a few different ways that anxiety can lead to procrastination. First, people with anxiety may avoid tasks or put them off due to the fear of failure or other negative consequences. This can lead to a vicious circle, as procrastination can cause increased stress and anxiety levels. However, it is important to remember that procrastination is not usually a cause of stress and anxiety — but rather a symptom.
Anxiety may also make it difficult to focus on tasks or make decisions. For example, someone with social anxiety may avoid making phone calls because they fear saying the wrong thing. Or, someone with OCD might have difficulty starting a project because they’re afraid they’ll do it wrong. If we’re hoping to get a job as a writer, learning to overcome procrastination can help us build confidence in ourselves.
Procrastination can also be a form of self-sabotage. For example, people with anxiety may procrastinate as a way to protect themselves from disappointment or failure. If they don’t complete a task, they can’t be rejected or criticized. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle that makes them feel less confident about taking on projects in the future.
Types of anxiety
It should be said that there’s a difference between anxiety disorders and writing anxiety. It’s possible to have one, both, or neither. Anxiety-related procrastination isn’t limited to those with a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
Think of it like this: Anxiety is what happens when our fear of a potential threat begins to impact our daily lives. The particular triggers can take different forms, but the root cause is usually the same.
If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s a good idea to meet with a mental health professional. Even if your anxiety only pops up around writing, a therapist can help you create strategies to overcome it.
The difference between anxiety and fear
It’s important to understand the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or nervousness. Fear is a more intense emotion that is usually triggered by a specific situation, such as public speaking or heights.
People with anxiety may feel fear in some situations, but they also experience anxiety in other situations that don’t trigger fear. For example, someone with GAD may feel anxious about their upcoming work presentation, even though they’re not necessarily afraid of it.
For writers, anxiety symptoms tend to kick in when they have a project to do. This might happen even when they initially felt excited about what they’re working on. As the deadline approaches, negative emotions start creeping in. This can affect your ability to start or complete tasks, organize your time, or communicate with stakeholders.
People with anxiety may also avoid fearful situations, even if they’re not actually afraid of them. This is because avoidance can be a way to cope with anxiety. By avoiding feared situations, people with anxiety can reduce their stress in the short term. However, avoidance can also lead to long-term problems, such as social isolation and job loss.
Dealing with anxiety-induced procrastination
If you are dealing with anxiety and procrastination, there are many things that you can do to ease your symptoms and take back control of your life.
Start by talking to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you understand your anxiety and develop a treatment plan.
There are also many self-help strategies that can be effective in managing anxiety and procrastination. These include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Mindfulness meditation
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Exposure therapy
- Stress management
- Time management
Some exercises that may help you with your anxiety could include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, taking a walk outdoors, yoga, or Tai Chi.
Other anxiety management techniques
Mindfulness meditation can be great for people who struggle with anxiety and procrastination. It involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. This can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and better able to control them.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can be effective in treating anxiety and procrastination.
CBT can help you identify and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your anxiety, including negative thinking patterns. CBT can also help you manage stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing yourself to the things that you’re afraid of. This may sound counterintuitive, but exposure therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety.
If you have social anxiety, exposure therapy may be particularly helpful. Exposure therapy can help you overcome your fears and regain control of your life.
Time management techniques, such as goal setting and prioritizing, can also be helpful in managing anxiety and procrastination. By breaking down tasks into small, manageable steps, you can make them seem less daunting and more achievable.
Practicing stress management techniques, such as relaxation and self-care, can also help you to reduce your anxiety and take back control of your life.
You may need to try several different techniques before you find one that works for you. Be patient and remember that you can’t force yourself to change overnight. Change takes time, but it is possible.
Remember that it’s okay to ask for help if you’re struggling to manage your anxiety and procrastination on your own. There are many resources available to help you, including books, websites, hotlines, and support groups.
Managing writing anxiety
So what happens when your anxiety is getting in the way of completing a writing project, or another important task? It can help to create strategies and routines to deal with the anxiety. These may look different depending on what’s on your to-do list. But having a set of practices in place to deal with your anxiety can help you feel more in control.
Self-care and mental health support are always good ideas for dealing with any kind of anxiety. In addition, see if these tip help you make progress when you feel stuck:
1. Develop a writing routine
How do you need to feel in order to do your best work? Put together a short routine you can do that gets you in the mood to write when you need to.
2. Break down large tasks
Sometimes, the sheer size of a task can be overwhelming. Break down a big writing project into small steps. For bonus points, keep your stakeholders (whether clients, editors, or professors) up to date on the status of your project.
3. Recognize negative thoughts
When we’re anxious, our brains can be real nasty about it. We get ourselves into trouble when we don’t question the validity of those thoughts. Learn to recognize what anxiety looks and feels like, and develop strategies to deal with it when it happens. That might mean reaching out for support or doing something to make yourself feel better.
Understanding procrastination and anxiety
Anxiety and procrastination can be two very debilitating conditions that often work together to keep people from achieving their goals. However, with treatment, it is possible to reduce your anxiety and take back control of your life.
Don’t let anxiety stop you from doing the things you want to do or pursuing your writing career. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help if you’re struggling to manage your anxiety and procrastination on your own. There are many resources available to help you, including books, websites, hotlines, and support groups. The effort you put in to overcoming procrastination and anxiety will help you build resilience for your writing career.