Depression and Procrastination

Estimated reading time: 29 minute(s)

Depression describes a negative emotional state characterized by a range of emotions, including discontent, unhappiness, extreme sadness, and pessimism. It is an essential symptom of various mental health conditions and can present as a disorder, such as major depressive disorder. Among the multiple issues depression can lead to, procrastination is among the most common ones. Procrastination includes postponing actions or decisions unnecessarily without any valid reason, leading to short-term advantages but long-term disadvantages. [1] For instance, depression may deprive a person of energy and force them to postpone an impending task until the deadline despite having a solid intent to start earlier.

The association between depression and procrastination is not straightforward, but understanding it is crucial to avoid the serious implications.

Is Procrastination a Sign of Depression? The Connection

Depression can cause individuals to procrastinate through the following mechanisms:

  • Making them exhausted or tired
  • Reducing their self-esteem
  • Decreasing their motivation
  • Making it difficult for them to concentrate
  • Making them worry more, leading to a state of overwhelm
  • Increasing the tendency to ruminate

Additionally, procrastination also makes people feel depressed and may even exacerbate their underlying depression, such as by making them feel guilty over their ability to act on time. [1] This may push such people into a depression-procrastination cycle where depression causes a person to procrastinate, and this procrastination fuels their depression in return.

Read Also About Depression and Procrastination

While the depression-procrastination relationship exists, the association may vary in terms of how and when it occurs. This means that not all depressed individuals are likely to procrastinate, and even those who do so may not always do it because of their depression. People can procrastinate for many reasons, and not everyone who does it is necessarily depressed.

Key Characteristics of Depressed Procrastinators

Depressed procrastinators describe people who procrastinate to a notable degree primarily due to their underlying depression. For them, procrastination comes from a lack of motivation, reduced interest in daily activities, poor concentration, and fatigue. Additionally, many depressed procrastinators also experience other associated issues, such as pessimism, irrational beliefs, neuroticism, and learned helplessness. Similarly, they also have low resilience factors, like self-esteem, mindfulness, self-efficacy, and self-compassion.

In some cases, procrastination in depressed people comes from additional causes beyond their depressive disorder, such as perfectionism and anxiety. Note that some of these causes may be associated with depression, can co-exist, and even be exacerbated by it. However, remember that even depressed procrastinators may have other causes of procrastination unrelated to depression, for example, abstract goals. Such people also have many traits that make them less vulnerable to reasons that commonly cause procrastination in others. For instance, temptation may not be a likely factor for procrastination for such people.

Chronic Procrastination and Depression: How to Handle the Situation?

Depression management involves typically seeking help from a licensed professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. These professionals can guide you on a proper course of treatment involving medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Seeking professional help can not only help control depression symptoms but also the complications they can lead to, including procrastination.

In addition to getting professional therapy, experts recommend following various anti-procrastination techniques, such as the following:

Breaking work into small, more manageable tasks.

For example, if you have a considerable project to follow that feels overwhelming, such as writing a research paper, consider breaking it down into a series of smaller steps. Some steps include creating an outline, narrowing down relevant resources, and then proceeding to writing the introduction.

Start with a small step.

For example, if your task is to exercise while battling depression, begin with two minutes and allow yourself to take a break to reduce pressure.

Identify your fears and address them.

For example, if fear of others giving negative feedback or disappointing behaviors stops you from doing something, remind yourself that their feedback does not matter.

Have a contingency plan.

Identify the potential distractions that may tempt you toward procrastination and devise a scheme to deal with them beforehand.

Switch between different tasks.

For instance, if you are stuck somewhere and cannot move further, consider picking up another task until you are ready to return to the first one.

Schedule work according to productivity cycles.

Find out the times when you are the most productive during the day. For example, if you can easily concentrate on your tasks in the morning, try doing them during this time window as much as possible.

Improve the social support network.

Find a role model to rely on and imitate, or choose an authority figure who can hold you accountable when you procrastinate and deviate from your goal. These people can also motivate you to make progress while minimizing your contact with all triggers that make you depressed.

Improve the work environment.

Working in an environment with many irritating factors, such as background noise or inappropriate temperature, can easily make a person lazy and push them toward procrastination. Make the environment more appropriate by taking suitable measures, such as wearing noise-cancellation headphones.

Consider outsourcing.

Sometimes, depression may make you delay things that hold prime importance in life. To ensure that such tasks do not stay paused for longer, consider outsourcing them or asking for extra help to beat procrastination. For instance, if depression and procrastination are making it difficult for you to do laundry, prepare meals, or go grocery shopping, ask for help from a loved one or friend.

Get enough rest.

If you are working on a task requiring a high level of concentration, ensure you take enough breaks to avoid burnout. However, be mindful that these breaks should be small but effective enough to retain productivity while avoiding slipping back into procrastination.

Try mood-shifting activities.

Consider participating in mood-shifting activities, such as exercise, music, or watching funny videos to improve your mood before engaging in a task where you are likely to procrastinate.

Develop self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy can strengthen your belief in your ability to perform and take actions needed to achieve your goals. There are multiple ways to achieve self-efficacy, such as identifying measures to bring you closer to your goals and how to execute them successfully.

Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past.

For instance, if you are finally starting a task you have postponed for a long time, avoid thinking about how you shouldn’t have delayed it. Instead, focus on what is essential in the present and move on.

Be compassionate to yourself.

The following three components of self-compassion are essential for beating depression and procrastination:

  • Self-kindness: Being friendly and kind to yourself
  • Mindfulness: Accepting your feelings and emotions in a non-judgmental way
  • Common Humanity: Acknowledging that everyone faces challenges in life

Reward your progress

When you find yourself coming out of procrastination and progressing, treat yourself to a pleasant treat.

As you apply the techniques mentioned above, you may eventually realize why you procrastinate, how and when, and the best ways to fight it. It can also help find out how your underlying depression is triggering procrastination along with other contributing factors, such as perfectionism and anxiety. While these techniques can be highly effective, it is imperative to treat the underlying cause, such as depression, for long-term benefits.

Depression and Procrastination: Final Thoughts

Depression is a common mood disorder that can easily rob a person of their clarity and motivation, making them susceptible to procrastination. Procrastination, in turn, triggers stress and feelings of guilt, ultimately feeding the cycle of depression. This vicious cycle becomes challenging to break, but with professional help and tips, it is possible to get out. The most important thing to remember is to be mindful of mental health and take care of it. Dismissing the feelings of chronic depression and procrastination. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or move forward. Change can be overwhelming or seem unattainable, but not impossible.


Is procrastination a type of avoidance behavior in depressed people?

Experts believe procrastination to be an avoidance strategy that involves dealing with stress by avoiding, ignoring, minimizing, or denying. This avoidance strategy helps people feel temporarily relieved from any pressures or stress. It is a helpful coping strategy if a person uses it briefly. However, habitual avoidance behavior may not offer the same benefits. Chronic procrastination can be a problematic behavior for everyone but is more destructive for people fighting depression. It can affect a person’s career, relationships, education, personal goals, health, and finances.

Does procrastination lead to depression?

Procrastination can potentially lead to depression, but most experts believe vice versa to occur more commonly. In general, there is widespread confusion regarding which problem precedes the other. Studies suggest that procrastination is consistently associated with higher levels of fatigue, stress, reduced life satisfaction, and other symptoms. However, remember that depression is not the sole driver that can trigger procrastination. The following also share a link with procrastination in general:

  • Fear of failure
  • Dislike of a task
  • Low task amplitude
  • Fear or evaluation or critique
  • Length of the effort

How does procrastination affect mental health?

Studies have strongly suggested a link between procrastination and various mental health disorders, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, along with reduced life satisfaction. It may also lead to general physical health problems, which also indirectly affect mental health.


1 Qiao Z, Wu Y, Xie Y, Qiu X, Chen L, Yang J, Pan H, Gu S, Yang X, Hu X, Wei P. The chain mediating roles of anxiety and depression in the relationship between the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and procrastination in adolescents: a longitudinal study. BMC Public Health. 2023 Nov 17;23(1):2277.

2Johansson F, Rozental A, Edlund K, Côté P, Sundberg T, Onell C, Rudman A, Skillgate E. Associations between procrastination and subsequent health outcomes among university students in Sweden. JAMA Network Open. 2023 Jan 3;6(1):e2249346-.

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