Updated: Sep 10
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) presents a complex set of challenges for those who live with it. While symptoms like difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity are commonly associated with ADHD, there is another aspect that often accompanies these symptoms—a vicious cycle between procrastination and anxiety.
Procrastination, a common struggle for individuals with ADHD, can be particularly challenging. It begins when faced with overwhelming tasks or impending deadlines. For someone with ADHD, these situations often trigger a sense of anxiety or dread. The fear of failure, the pressure to meet expectations, or the worry of not having enough time to complete a task adequately can all contribute to this anxiety. In an attempt to escape these negative emotions, individuals with ADHD may resort to avoidance behaviours, leading to procrastination.
However, procrastination only exacerbates the problem. As the deadline draws near, the anxiety intensifies, creating a sense of urgency. The individual becomes overwhelmed and even more anxious due to the mounting pressure. The cycle continues as they struggle to find the motivation to start the task, resulting in further delays and increased stress levels. This toxic loop of procrastination and anxiety can have a detrimental impact on an individual's mental well-being and overall productivity.
To better understand this cycle, let's consider a couple of examples:
1. Meet Sarah: Sarah has ADHD and is a university student. She has a term paper due in two weeks, and she knows that she should start working on it as soon as possible. However, the thought of tackling such a significant task triggers anxiety within her. She worries about not having enough time, not meeting the professor's expectations, or making mistakes. In an attempt to alleviate these anxious feelings, she finds herself putting off the task day after day. As the deadline approaches, Sarah's anxiety intensifies, making it even more difficult for her to begin the paper. The cycle continues, leading to last-minute work, decreased quality, and heightened stress levels.
2. John's Work Struggles: John, a professional with ADHD, constantly finds himself falling behind on work projects. The pressure of completing tasks within specific deadlines creates significant anxiety for him. He worries about not meeting client expectations, disappointing his colleagues, or jeopardizing his career. To escape this anxiety, John often resorts to distracting activities, such as scrolling through social media or engaging in unrelated tasks. As the deadlines loom closer, John's anxiety escalates, making it increasingly challenging to focus and start the projects. This pattern of procrastination and anxiety becomes a never-ending cycle, causing him undue stress and hindering his professional success.
These examples illustrate how the procrastination-anxiety cycle can affect individuals with ADHD in different aspects of life. Understanding the interplay between ADHD, procrastination, and anxiety is essential for individuals with ADHD and their loved ones. Recognizing this cycle and its detrimental effects, strategies can be developed to address the anxiety which is a key driver of procrastination. Seeking professional help, such as therapy or coaching, can provide valuable guidance and support in breaking the cycle and developing effective coping mechanisms.
Anxiety often accompanies ADHD and it’s important to address during treatment. Often by treating the anxiety first, the roots of the procrastination are resolved and the vicious cycle is ended.
John Woychuk is a Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional. I invite you to contact me to book an appointment.