Procrastination is linked to poor mental and physical health

summary: Procrastination is associated with increased anxiety, stress, pain, unhealthy lifestyles, and delays in seeking help for general health problems.

Source: Conversation

College students have a lot of freedom but not a lot of organization. This can be detrimental to habitual procrastinators. Studies have shown that at least half of college students procrastinate to a level that is potentially detrimental to their education.

But this may not be the only negative consequence of putting things off until later. Studies have found a link between procrastination and poor health. It is associated with higher levels of stress, unhealthy lifestyles, and delays in seeing a doctor about health problems.

However, these studies – by the nature of their design – cannot tell us about the direction of the relationship. Does procrastination lead to poor physical and mental health because, for example, people put off starting a new exercise regimen or seeing a doctor about a health problem? Or vice versa? Does poor physical health, for example, lead people to procrastinate because they don’t have the energy to do the job right now?

To try to solve this conundrum, we conducted a longitudinal study — that is, a study that followed people for a period of time, taking measurements at different points in the study. We recruited 3,525 students from eight universities in and around Stockholm and asked them to complete questionnaires every three months for one year.

Our study has been published in JAMA Network is open, aims to investigate whether students who procrastinate are more likely to have poor mental and physical health. Of the 3,525 students we recruited, 2,587 answered a follow-up questionnaire nine months later, during which several health outcomes were measured.

To understand how procrastination relates to later health outcomes, students with a greater propensity to procrastinate (as scored on a procrastination scale) at the start of the study were compared with students with a lower propensity to procrastinate. The results showed that higher levels of procrastination were associated with somewhat higher symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress after nine months.

Students with higher levels of procrastination were more likely to report crippling pain in the shoulders or arms (or both), worse sleep quality, more feelings of loneliness and more financial hardship. These associations remained even when we considered other factors that could influence association, such as age, gender, parental education level, and previous physical and psychological diagnoses.

Although there is no specific health outcome strongly associated with procrastination, the findings suggest that procrastination may be important for a wide range of health outcomes, including mental health problems, crippling pain and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Does procrastination lead to poor physical and mental health because, for example, people put off starting a new exercise regimen or seeing a doctor about a health problem? Or vice versa? The image is in the public domain

As mentioned earlier, in previous studies, participants were only assessed one at a time, making it difficult to know which of the conditions came first: procrastination or ill health. By having students answer questionnaires at several points in time, we can confirm that there are high levels of procrastination before measuring their correctness.

But it is still possible that other factors that were not accounted for in our analysis could explain the association between procrastination and subsequent poor health outcomes. Our results are not proof of cause and effect, but they do suggest them more strongly than previous ‘cross-sectional’ studies.

It can be cured

There is good news for habitual procrastinators. Clinical trials (the gold standard for medical research) have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in reducing procrastination.

Therapy helps the person overcome procrastination by breaking down long-term goals into short-term goals, managing distractions (such as turning off cell phones), and focusing on a task despite feeling negative emotions.

This takes some effort, so it’s not something anyone can do while trying to meet a set deadline. But even small changes can have a big impact. You can try it yourself. Why not start the day by leaving your mobile phone in another room when you need to stay focused on a task.

About this stall and mental health research news

author: Eva Skilgate, Alexander Rosenthal, and Fred Johansson
Source: Conversation
Contact: Eva Skelgate, Alexander Rosenthal, and Fred Johansson – The Conversation
picture: The image is in the public domain

Original search: open access.
“Association between procrastination and later health outcomes among university students in Sweden,” by Fred Johansson et al. JAMA Network is open


Associations between procrastination and later health outcomes among university students in Sweden


Procrastination is common among college students and is supposed to lead to harmful health outcomes. Previous cross-sectional research suggests that procrastination is associated with mental and physical health outcomes, but longitudinal evidence is currently scarce.


See also

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To assess the relationship between procrastination and later health outcomes among university students in Sweden.

Design, preparation and participants

This cohort study was based on the Sustainable University Life Study, conducted between 19 August 2019 and 15 December 2021, in which university students recruited from 8 universities in the greater Stockholm area and Örebro were followed up at 5 time points over the course of one year. . The current study used data on 3,525 students from 3 time points to assess whether procrastination was associated with worse health outcomes after 9 months.


Self-reported procrastination, measured using 5 items of the Swedish version of the Pure Procrastination Scale rated on a Likert scale from 1 (“Very rarely or not for me”) to 5 (“Very often or always for me”) and summarized to give a total Procrastination score range from 5 to 25.

Main findings and measures

Sixteen self-reported health outcomes were assessed at 9-month follow-up. These included mental health problems (symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress), disabling pain (neck and/or upper back, lower back, upper extremities, and lower extremities), and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (poor sleep quality, physical inactivity, tobacco use, cannabis use, alcohol use, skipping breakfast), psychosocial health factors (loneliness and economic hardship), and general health.


The study included 3525 participants (2229 women [63%]; Means [SD] Age 24.8 [6.2] years), with a follow-up rate of 73% (n = 2587) after 9 months. The mean (SD) procrastination score at baseline was 12.9 (5.4). A 1 SD increase in procrastination was associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms (β, 0.13; 95% CI, 0.09–0.17), anxiety (β, 0.08; 95% CI, 0.04–0.12), and stress (β, 0.11; 95% CI, 0.08–0.15), with disabling pain in the upper extremities (hazard ratio [RR], 1.27; 95% CI, 1.14–1.42), poor sleep quality (RR, 1.09, 95% CI, 1.05–1.14), physical inactivity (RR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1.04–1.11), loneliness (RR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1.02–1.12), and economic hardship (RR, 1.15, 95% CI, 1.02–1.30) at a 9-month follow-up, after controlling for a large group of potential confounders.

Conclusions and relevance

This cohort study of Swedish university students suggests that procrastination is associated with later mental health problems, disabling pain, unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, and worse psychosocial health factors. Given that procrastination is common among college students, these findings may be of significance for advancing understanding of student health.

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