Procrastination is universal. There’s no doubt about it. We all have things that we avoid because we think they are too difficult or are just not interesting. It can be something simple like folding the laundry or it can be a life-defining decision like marriage or health changes. The reasoning (or lack thereof) behind procrastination can be just as broad, ranging from simple laziness to debilitating anxiety or depression. The range varies from person to person and also within a person. Bipolar disorder can have a profound effect on the style and severity of a person’s procrastination traits. It stems from both sides of the spectrum: overwhelming anxiety and debilitating depression.
The basis of procrastination is making a conscious decision notto do something. Choosing not to could be based on the task itself. “Is it rewarding? What happens if I don’t do it?” For the latter, most of the time the answer is “Nothing.” If I choose not to do something today when the deadline is in two weeks, nothing will happen to me today. It will be two weeks before something happens, therefore I can easily persuade myself to put it off. This kind of thinking happens all the time and procrastinating in and of itself is not a disorder. There’s a difference between the occasional “I don’t really like this so I’m going to put it off,” procrastination and chronic procrastination. At least twenty percent of the population deals with chronic procrastination. Bipolar disorder can make it worse.
Again and again we talk about loss of interest being a key symptom of depression. Loss of interest doesn’t just mean you don’t like your favorite movie anymore. It means you find it difficult to engage in the world around you, like the rest of the world is on the other side of an invisible wall. Reaching through it can be almost impossible, and that’s just if you want to. Now imagine trying to finish a paper or weed the garden when you can’t even imagine getting out of bed. It takes an incredible amount of energy, which is something that lacks in a bipolar depressive state.
Then there’s anxiety. Over 50% of bipolar patients also have an anxiety disorder. Having an anxiety disorder with bipolar disorder means that anxiety can present itself no matter what state you’re in, whether depressive or manic. Neuroticism/anxiety is also one of the largest, if not the largest, component of chronic procrastination. Neuroticism is also especially high in bipolar II patients. Another component is perfectionism. Now, having high standards for yourself is good. Performance increases with higher expectations. It’s the good kind of stress. However, depressed and anxious patients often have unobtainable performance standards for themselves, and anxiety and fear of failure can absolutely debilitate someone on the cusp of responsibility. In that case, procrastination is a defense mechanism. “If I don’t do it, then I can’t fail.”
That would be great if no one ever had to do anything, but this is real life, so at some point, the bridge has to be crossed. So where do you start? Here are some tips:
- Start small. If you break tasks up into smaller goals, they seem more obtainable.
- Set soft deadlines for yourself so you still have more time to work before the actual deadline.
- Avoid distractions. If you take yourself out of the environment where you tend to procrastinate most, it’s easier to focus on the task at hand.
- Get help. Whether it’s help actually doing the task or counseling to overcome the anxiety, help will make things easier.
- Know when to stop. Nothing will be perfect and continuing to try to fix it will only cause more anxiety. Take a step back and admire the work you have done.