Procrastination is linked to poor mental and physical health

Resume: Procrastination is linked to increased anxiety, stress, pain, unhealthy lifestyles, and delays in seeking help for general health problems.

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College students have a lot of freedom but little structure. This can be bad for habitual procrastinators. Studies have shown that at least half of college students procrastinate to a level that is potentially harmful to their education.

But this may not be the only negative result of putting things off to a later date. Studies have found a link between procrastination and poor health. It is associated with higher stress levels, less healthy lifestyles, and delays in seeing a doctor for health problems.

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

To try to solve this puzzle, we carried out a longitudinal study, that is, a study that followed people over a period of time, taking measurements at various 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 studypublished in JAMA Open Network, aimed to investigate whether students who procrastinate are at increased risk of poor mental and physical health. Of the 3,525 students we recruited, 2,587 responded to the follow-up questionnaire nine months later, where various health outcomes were measured.

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

Students with higher levels of procrastination were also more likely to report disabling pain in the shoulders or arms (or both), poorer sleep quality, more loneliness, and more financial hardship. These associations held even when we took into account other factors that might affect the association, such as age, gender, parental education level, and previous physical and psychiatric diagnoses.

Although no specific health outcome was strongly associated with procrastination, the results suggest that procrastination may be important for a wide range of health outcomes, including mental health problems, disabling pain, and unhealthy lifestyle.

This shows a man obsessed with a bulletin board.
Does procrastination cause poor physical and mental health because people, for example, put off starting a new exercise regimen or seeing a doctor for a health problem? Or is it the other way around? The image is in the public domain.

As mentioned above, in previous studies, participants were only assessed at one point in time, making it difficult to know which condition arose first: procrastination or poor health. By having the students answer questionnaires at various times, we could be sure that there were high levels of procrastination before measuring their health.

But it is still possible that other factors not accounted for in our analysis may explain the associations between procrastination and poorer health outcomes later. Our results are not proof of cause and effect, but they suggest it more strongly than previous ‘cross-sectional’ studies.

can be treated

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

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

This requires some effort, so it’s not something a person can do while trying to meet a specific deadline. But even small changes can have a big effect. You can try it yourself. Why not start today by leaving your mobile phone in another room when you need to focus on a task?

About this research news on procrastination and mental health

Author: Eva Skillgate, Alejandro RozentalY fred johansson
Font: The conversation
Contact: Eva Skillgate, Alexander Rozental and Fred Johansson – The Conversation
Picture: The image is in the public domain.

original research: Open access.
Associations between procrastination and subsequent health outcomes among university students in Sweden.” by Fred Johansson et al. JAMA Open Network


Associations between procrastination and subsequent health outcomes among university students in Sweden.


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


See also

This shows a woman putting in contact lenses.

To assess the association between procrastination and subsequent health outcomes among university students in Sweden.

Design, setting and participants

This cohort study was based on the Sustainable University Life study, conducted between August 19, 2019 and December 15, 2021, in which university students recruited from 8 universities in the greater Stockholm area and Örebro were followed in 5 time points for 1 year. . The present study used data from 3,525 students from 3 time points to assess whether procrastination was associated with worse health outcomes 9 months later.


Self-reported procrastination, measured using 5 items from 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 summed to give a total procrastination score ranging from 5 to 25.

Main results and measures

Sixteen self-reported health outcomes were assessed at the 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), unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (poor sleep quality, inactivity physical health, tobacco use, cannabis use, alcohol use and omission of breakfast), psychosocial health factors (loneliness and economic difficulties) and general health.


The study included 3,525 participants (2,229 women [63%]; mean [SD] age, 24.8 [6.2] years), with a follow-up rate of 73% (n = 2587) 9 months later. The mean (SD) procrastination score at baseline was 12.9 (5.4). A 1 SD increase in procrastination was associated with higher mean levels of symptoms of depression (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), and having 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), sedentary lifestyle (RR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1 .04-1.11), loneliness (RR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1.02-1.12), and financial hardship (RR, 1.15, 95% CI, 1.02-1.30 ) at 9-month follow-up, after controlling for a large set 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. Considering that procrastination is prevalent among college students, these findings may be important in furthering the understanding of student health.

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