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Successful Aging: Why has the pandemic caused me to procrastinate?

Q. I have become a professional procrastinator. Since the virus and being self-quarantined, there is no urgency in my life; no one expects anything from me and I have nowhere to go. As a successful semi-retired businesswoman, my life was full and busy doing things for my business, interacting with customers and seeing my grandchildren. I miss the rides to the city, my grandchildren’s baseball games and the summer plans taking them to the Hollywood Bowl. My book group no longer meets; I started three books and haven’t finished any of them. I just can’t get anything done and it is so unlike me. Any suggestions? N.N.

Dear N.N.

Your life and so many others have been abruptly cut off with no playbook on how to manage the series of sudden losses. Let’s start by trying to understand procrastination.

It’s been around a long time. The ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle developed a word for it: akrasia. It is a state of acting against your better judgment. The more formal definition is the act of delaying or postponing a set of tasks.

Darren Tong, co-editor of a publication called Alpha Efficiency, specializing in technology, productivity and business, identifies four types of procrastination.

Anxious procrastination: This applies to folks who do not manage time well and schedule more tasks than they can achieve.  Not meeting the expectations causes anxiety and stress. Some deal with this by procrastinating.

Fun procrastination: This procrastinator would rather be doing anything else than the task at hand. With so many fun things to do, they cannot entertain starting a boring task or project.

Plenty of time procrastination: These procrastinators find it difficult to start a project when they know the deadline is far away. This type of procrastination is frequently found among students.

Perfectionist procrastination: These folks strive for the best and often are self-critical. The fear of being less than perfect can be paralyzing and so overwhelming they never can get started.

Some or none of these may apply to you. There’s another dimension to procrastination; that is depression. Depression is a de-motivator and can result from a combination of circumstances and situations that feel overwhelming.

Consider reviewing this checklist suggested by the National Institute on Aging:

  • Do you feel persistently sad, anxious, or have an “empty” mood?

  • Are you feeling hopeless, guilty, worthless or helpless?

  • Are you irritable or restless?

  • Have you lost interest in activities that once were pleasurable?

  • Do you find yourself having less energy and are fatigued?

  • Do you move or talk more slowly?

  • Are you having difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions?

  • Is sleeping difficult as well as waking up early or oversleeping?

  • Are you eating more or less than usual, without planning to lose or gain weight?

  • Have thoughts of death or suicide crossed your mind? Have you made suicide attempts?

  • Do you have stomach aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not east with treatment?

  • Do you cry frequently”

According to the National Institute on Aging, if you have several of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, you may have depression.

New York Times columnist David Brooks (May 5, 2020) has given us a perspective on why we may feel so undone. He refers to the pandemic as the “First Invasion of America,” “a menace that has upended the daily lives of every American… and rocked our ancient sense of security.” He continues, “The whole version of American creed was based on an assumption of existential security.” That seems to be gone, at least for now. So, there is good reason to feel upset or even depressed.

Yet there is something that can be done. Here’s a simple “getting started” tip from retired Navy Seals Admiral William McRaven in his address to the 2014 graduating class of the University of Texas. It’s about making your bed. He said, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day… and it will reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.” He suggested that if you can do the little things, you can do the big things.

To address the procrastination problem, consider some of the following suggestions; speak with a healthcare professional such as a psychologist, social worker or marriage and family therapist. Ask your internist for a recommendation. Check with your local hospital for support groups and also consider meditation, yoga and tai chi. Stay connected with family and friends as much as possible. Consider having an outdoor “bring your own lunch” gathering at your home where people bring masks and distance from each other. Decide to make two phone calls a day and use Zoom, the popular videoconferencing tool.  However, if one is depressed these healthy steps may be difficult to accomplish. That’s why a starting point might be to address possible depression and of course, make your bed.

Thank you, N.N., for your good question. There is help and hope for change. Be safe and well.


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