Procrastination and anxiety

If you’re wondering why I’ve been quiet, it’s this: I have an important exam coming up in a month. I am extremely stressed out about this. So any spare minute that I’ve been calm enough to study, I’ve been studying, and when I haven’t been calm enough, I’ve been playing video games to try to calm down enough to study.

So I figured I’d post about procrastination. Because it’s relevant. And because something on Tumblr gave me an aha moment.

Procrastination is not and has never been a matter of laziness for me. I can and am willing to do the work. Usually, I like the work and find it fun. I have a strong work ethic. I have worked till 3 AM on experiments, then gotten up and arrived at work on time the next morning. Hard work is not alien to me.

It’s not a matter of being unwilling to do the work.

It’s a matter of anxiety.

I fear failure. Probably more than anything else in the world. I fear being a failure. I fear fucking up. I fear the consequences of fucking up. Even contemplating that I might fail the exam brings tears to my eyes and ties my stomach up in knots so tight there’s no room for my breakfast. Failure terrifies me.

Because, to me, failing a thing is being a failure. As a person. If I fail a thing, I am a failure, and therefore I am worth nothing.

I literally think that if I fail a thing, my life will fall apart and everyone will hate and abandon me. That’s a lot of pressure I put on myself. Because to me, it’s not just “I take a few make-up courses and try again next year,” if I fail, it’s my life is over because I will be a failure.

Do you understand?

I don’t think you do.

If you did, you wouldn’t tell me I shouldn’t stress. Maybe that I should be easier on myself, or that my assumptions about the consequences of things are wrong, but not that I shouldn’t stress. To my brain, success or failure is life and death. I can’t not be terrified about this.

And that is why I procrastinate. Because prepping for the test is dancing on the cliff’s edge, and sometimes I just can’t stare into the yawning chasm and think about how to avoid falling anymore.

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14 thoughts on “Procrastination and anxiety

  1. autisticook says:

    Totally recognise this. I wouldn’t even call it procrastination so much as self-preservation. Because the fear is just that paralysing.

    I wish I had anything astute to say that will help you. But I think your current course of staying away from the edge by playing games is actually a valid strategy. Your brain is saying it can’t handle that stress all the damn time, and so it’s protecting itself.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Yeah. As I said to Alex, it’s hard b/c not studying also triggers anxiety. So. It’s walking tightrope between meltdown and shutdown and hope I get enough done to scrape out a pass.

      (I’m trying to tell myself that all I want is a passing grade. My brain is being jerkbrain going “anything less than an A+ may as well be an F!” but that’s not true and all I need is a B, so I will tell my jerkbrain to shut up and that I will be happy with a B.

      … even though it’s probably not true and May will see me in full meltdown if I do get a B. For now, I need to tell myself that to shut up the anxiety.

  2. alexforshaw says:

    I know that feeling so well. What you refer to as procrastination I would call avoidance of triggers for your anxiety. Avoidance is a valid coping strategy even if not the most rational; the point is that emotions and anxiety are not rational.

    Some people suggest planning the consequences of failure so that you have a script ready in the event. I’ve tried this but I often fall into catastrophizing which is counter-productive.

    In the end self-care is most important. If you need to avoid studying to manage anxiety levels then go play video games or whatever else works. And never feel guilty for putting your mental and physical needs first.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Nooooo no planning for failure no.

      Sorry. Not something I would find helpful, for the same reason as you. Don’t ask me, “What’s the worst that could happen?” ever because my brain plays worst-case-scenario like a boss.

      My issue is that I’m stuck in an anxiety catch-22 where not studying makes me anxious because exam in a month, but studying makes me anxious because zomg I should be more ready for it by now! and I only have a month! *cuefreakout*

      So… uh, yeah. Self-care necessary, but have to balance with how much it triggers my anxiety and walk the tightrope between meltdown and shutdown.

      • I’m actually finding that recognizing what induces anxiety and just kind of being with it while stimming madly and trying to mostly stay on the right side of shutdown/meltdown through the best self-care I can manage at the time sort of works as a strategy for me when the anxiety is unavoidable and long-term. Of course, YMMV.

      • autisticook says:

        That’s actually what mindfulness therapy advocates as well, just sort of being with it, accepting the fear and stress and anxiety and panic, and not berating yourself for feeling that way. It’s so easy to be going “I shouldn’t be feeling stressed out, I should be DOING something! STUPID FEELS”, which gets you nowhere.

      • ischemgeek says:

        That’s basically what I’m trying to do, yeah. And I’m also trying to not cut back on fun things because making my life miserable to feel more productive is counter-productive because I’m actually less productive when I’m miserable, even if I feel like I’m working more.

        And trying to shut up jerkbrain when it’s going “Shouldn’t be feeling stressed out! Stupid feels!” is difficult but a thing I need to be doing right now.

  3. While I would say that the projection of consequences might be a bit skewed, as outside looking in its easier to see than when youre inside. I struggle with this a LOT too…although at least for me its not solely my minds perception…my middle name should really be Murphy (as in Murphy’s law) sometimes. I dated a guy for two yrs always wondered why i expected the worst…why couldn’t I be more positive…after 2yrs he said “it’s not just in your head is it?” Ummm nope lol. Good luck!

  4. I’m sorry that you’re going through this – I know how this feels. I was raised in an environment that if I brought home a B instead of an A on my report card, I’d be made to feel like a stupid, worthless person. If I did anything less than perfect, I was criticized brutally. I know the feelings of tightness and crushing anxiety, and I know what it’s like to be unable to tackle the thing and then feel even worse about being too anxious to do it. I’m sorry you feel this way.

    I agree with autisticook, and I think you playing video games is actually healthy self-care (and, it’s exactly what I do when dealing with things like this). I think oftentimes, we instinctively know what we need; we’re just not used to being “allowed” to do it. It’s good that you’re giving yourself permission to do what you need.

    I don’t know if this pertains to you, but I found that most of my anxiety comes from internalizing the messages I was given growing up. The messages that my worth as a person is determined by my performance, and anything less than perfect is failure. I am slowly realizing that those messages are not what I really think; they are not my true values. They were my dad’s, and were drilled into me so much that they became mine. Do you think something similar might have happened to you?

    As my boyfriend always tells me when I get like this, “your mental health is the most important thing”. Because, if you don’t have yourself, you have nothing.

    Hang in there.

    • ischemgeek says:

      At some point I learned to judge my worth by how well I did at things. Certainly, by second grade, I couldn’t see a point to competition if I wasn’t going to win and I felt pressure to always win everything always. When I didn’t win, I had a meltdown, which was brushed off as me being a “sore loser” not as me literally thinking I was worthless because I’d lost. I avoid competition for this reason.

      People think I’m not competitive – on the contrary, I am over-competitive. I avoid competition because it has a tendency to take over my life and my performance becomes my sole dictator of my self-esteem and mental well-being. I do not like who I become when I am competing.

      I’m not sure why I associate my performance so strongly with my worth as a person, but I do. Probably it has a lot to do with the fact that finding something difficult simply wasn’t an option in my parents’ household growing up. I couldn’t find something difficult because I was smart. Therefore, if I was doing badly, it had to be because I was lazy/apathetic/etc. And ‘lazy’ was pretty much the worst thing ever according to my parents. I fear failure because in my mind, I can’t fail because of inability or due to things outside of my control. It must be because of lack of effort (i.e. laziness).

  5. Beth says:

    I relate so much to what you are saying. In fact I never went to university for the very reasons that you are now playing video games. My anxiety levels were so high after high school that I just couldn’t face it. I have two kids now and when they were babies they taught me mindfulness. When it is four in the morning and you are pacing with a teething four-month-old who doesn’t seem to understand that nighttime is for sleeping there isn’t much you can do about it. I used to tell myself, “This is what you are doing right now. In fifteen minutes you might be sleeping. Who knows?”

    I still don’t cope well with anxiety, there are still many skipped meals due to a knotted stomach, but I weather it better than I used to. That being said my stomach is knotting up for you at this moment. I think video games sound excellent. If it’s actually spring in your part of Canada you might even be able to go outside. (This is something that I personally forget to do and I am always shocked when it actually helps)

    Anyway, all I’m really trying to say is that I profoundly relate, and take care. Sounds like you are on the right track.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Sadly, the weather isn’t cooperating. It’s bitter cold today, and tomorrow we have a blizzard coming. However, I find physical activity helpful with anxiety sometimes, and have been looking for ways to be more active.

      • Beth says:

        Bad weather sucks, I hate the cold. When I was living in the Yukon I would stay in for week-long stretches but when I got stir crazy I would put on loud hyper music (usually Two Door Cinema Club) and dance around like crazy until I was good and tired. I sort of equate it to my cats running wild at night, but the combination of up-beat (if somewhat tacky) music and activity did make a difference and help me keep balanced. Neighbours there definitely found me eccentric but it was better than going out in the cold white. Swimming helps too if the pool isn’t too loud or crowded.

  6. Reblogged this on Le Chatelier's Principle and commented:
    With a month left until my IB exams, I find myself relating more and more to this post.
    “I fear failure. Probably more than anything else in the world… Because, to me, failing a thing is being a failure. As a person. If I fail a thing, I am a failure, and therefore I am worth nothing.”

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