Procrastination and The Nervous System
April 12, 2023
procrastination - staceyinal

Written By Stacey Inal  MA, MBA,
Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Women’s Life Coach

Procrastination vs. The Nervous System – The Ultimate Showdown

Hey there, my favorite fellow procrastinators. Are you reading this article instead of doing the tasks you should be doing right now? Don’t worry, it is okay, and you are not alone. Trust me on this. We have all been there – there is an important deadline or something you need to complete and instead of completing it yet you feel overwhelmed by emotions of self-doubt, anxiety, and negative voices saying you can’t do this. Sometimes it feels like our brains hit the snooze button on life and we sailed off to procrastination island. Have you ever wondered why we as humans do procrastinate? Why do we prefer zoning out with tv shows, social media, or books?  Well, get ready to dive into the fascinating world or procrastination and the how our internal nervous system assists the problem. And don’t worry because this article is procrastination-approved so feel free to keep reading instead of doing that thing you were avoiding.

Okay, let’s be real. We all procrastinate sometimes. Whether it’s putting off doing the laundry, avoiding that work project, or delaying a difficult conversation with our partner, we’ve all been guilty of procrastination at some point in our lives. In fact, Tim Urban, has a Ted Talk where he shares his belief that we are all procrastinators and if it were not for deadlines, things would not get done.  The question here is, have you ever stopped to think about why you procrastinate? As it turns out, your nervous system might be to blame.

When we procrastinate, our nervous system kicks into gear, triggering the freeze, flight, fawn, or faint response. This response is a survival mechanism that has evolved to help us deal with threatening or stressful situations. Unfortunately, our nervous system can’t tell the difference between a life-threatening situation and a non-threatening one, like a deadline for a project. So, when we feel stressed or overwhelmed, our nervous system goes into overdrive, making us feel lazy, beating ourselves up, and causing us to procrastinate even more.

Let’s take a closer look at how the different responses of the nervous system relate to procrastination:

  1. Freeze: When we freeze, we feel stuck and unable to take action. This can lead to procrastination because we feel paralyzed by our fear of failure or our anxiety about the task at hand. You may find yourself not wanting to leave your spot or punishing yourself for not completing something.
  2. Flight: When we feel the flight response, we want to escape the situation that is causing us stress. This can lead to procrastination because we try to avoid the task by doing something else instead, like watching TV or scrolling through social media. Sometimes this can be seen as “zoning out”.
  3. Fawn: When we fawn, we try to please others to avoid conflict or criticism. This can lead to procrastination because we may be afraid of what others will think if we don’t complete the task perfectly. We end up feeling resentful and angry.
  4. Faint: When we feel faint, we may want to shut down and avoid the situation altogether. This can lead to procrastination because we feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with the task at hand. Often, we see individuals give up all together on the task at hand.

So, what can you do if you find yourself procrastinating because of your nervous system? Here are a few tips to help you overcome procrastination and quiet your inner critic:

  1. Recognize your procrastination triggers: Pay attention to the situations that cause you to procrastinate. Are you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed? By identifying your triggers, you can start to take steps to avoid or manage them. Take it to the next level and try journaling about your triggers and see if you can find a pattern. There are apps to help you also.
  2. Break the task down into smaller steps: Sometimes, the task at hand can feel overwhelming. By breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps, you can make it feel less daunting and more achievable. Consider using a timer or alarm to help you stay on task.
  3. Use positive self-talk: Instead of beating yourself up for procrastinating, try using positive self-talk to motivate yourself. Tell yourself that you can do it and that you’re capable of completing the task. When you catch yourself being negative, take a deep breath and get grounded. Allow yourself to feel the emotions and then re-direct that into a positive statement like, “I’ve got this” or “I’m going to give this five or ten minute of my dedicated attention”.
  4. Take breaks often: If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a break. This is critical to allowing your nervous system to regulate. Especially at the start when you are going to be anxious and feeling out of your comfort zone. Take yourself for a walk, do some exercise or gentle movements, and if you can try meditating for a few minutes (there are lots of great meditations and apps nowadays on many topics). Even just stepping out of the room you are in can break up the negative energy you are sitting in.  Taking a break can help you reset and come back to the task with a clearer mind.


Procrastination is not always what it appears on the surface – it is often in fact a survival mechanism that has evolved over centuries. The next time you realize you are procrastinating, check in with yourself and ask why? See if you can root it out.  Remember, you must embrace your inner survivalist and recognize that your brain is trying to protect you from perceived threats. If you truly want to overcome procrastination, the key tactic is to remember that you must work with your nervous system and not against it. Whether is is breaking down the task into smaller bite size piece, using positive self-talk, or even taking a break to recharge, there are many strategies you can use to quiet that inner negative critic and get things done. The next time you feel like procrastinating, take a deep breath, channel your inner bad ass self, and know that you have got this.

Recent Posts

Join My Newsletter

Subscribe to get my newsletter with updates and opportunities to work together.