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Auntie SparkNotes: I Can't Stop Procrastinating

Auntie SparkNotes: I Can't Stop Procrastinating

Dear Auntie:
I've fallen into this horrible cycle of avoiding everything that seems stressful or difficult and I can't stop. Almost all of my schoolwork that appears challenging results in extreme stress, and then I procrastinate to avoid the stress, which works as long as I don't think about what I'm avoiding. But then it gets to the point where I just can't put it off anymore, and the stress is infinitely worse. And I panic. And then I just don't do it. It seems easier at the time but when what I've done catches up to me I panic again... and then avoid it again.

I've failed 2 courses because of this now and I'm pretty sure I'm going to fail another course this semester. That makes me so stressed to think about I can barely function until I manage to mentally change topics. Writing this is taking way longer than it should because I have to keep calming myself down. I'm ruining my GPA and my chances of graduating on time; I feel like I'm throwing away my education. But I can't get out of this spiral and it's just getting worse and worse.
I don't know what to do about this; I don't even know if there's anything I can do other than to just STOP. But I can't. And if I can't stop, I'm going to fall apart.
I'm writing this because it's a way of not avoiding the problem. Maybe if I can actually send this it will be a start...of something. Maybe. I just really need some advice right now because I am at a total loss as to what to do and I don't think I can do this on my own.

Hey, Sparkler! Deep breaths, okay? And give yourself some credit for having done the hard part: you were brave enough to shine a bright light on your problems, if only for a second, and admit that they were there. For that, you get all of the awards.

And to begin with, here's something to think about: procrastination isn't really about laziness, but about fear. Procrastinators often feel intense stress and anxiety about failing to meet their own (or somebody else's) incredibly high expectations, which leads them to put off their tasks until it becomes a question not of doing the thing well, but of doing the thing at all.

Which, for some people, is perfectly fine. The imminent arrival of a deadline can be a powerful motivating force, as long as you work fast and well under pressure. But for other people, the threat of failure only adds to their anxiety, until the failure becomes a reality, and the putting-off of tasks becomes a vicious cycle of compulsive self-sabotage.

And you, darling, are in the latter category.

The good thing is, you seem to be more than halfway to realizing this—and to understanding that there's something more going on here than needing to "just stop." You've gone as far as admitting that you're not in control. All you have to do now is share that information with someone who doesn't live exclusively in your computer, and who can help you help yourself.

Most importantly, this means taking advantage of the free mental health services you can get on campus, talking to a counselor, and getting yourself screened for things like depression, anxiety, and ADD. Make an appointment, okay? As in, stop reading, pick up the phone, and make the call. Now. We'll wait.

And once you've done that, you can get started on the second-most-important part right this minute: a little serious soul-searching. The fact that you can't bring yourself to tackle challenging coursework—coursework you presumably chose yourself—says something pretty powerful about where your head's at. And if you haven't always been like this, then you need to ask yourself what changed. Are your courses, and course of study, truly what you want? Do you feel passionate about the path you're on? Or is there something you wish you were doing instead—making your overwhelming stress and anxiety the byproduct of your having been pressured in a direction that just isn't right for you?

Think about these things. Try to remember if there's ever been a time when you didn't shy away from a challenge—or maybe even a time when you relished taking one on. Try to imagine what you'd be doing if there were no pressure to get good grades, or to graduate on time, or to leverage every opportunity to its absolute fullest potential, and if instead your only priority was happiness. Try to envision yourself in a place where trying isn't terrifying, and then ask yourself what changes you might make to get there. Maybe it's changing your major. Maybe it's dropping a class. Maybe it's taking a break from school entirely and giving yourself a week, a month, a semester to regroup. With a professional to guide you, you'll figure it out. And as soon as you make this the first challenge you don't put off til tomorrow, you'll be well on your way.

Do you have procrastination problems, or do you bloom under pressure? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

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Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, procrastination, perfectionists

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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