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Understanding Procrastination with ADHD: The S.T.R.E.S.S Analysis for Procrastination

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

Are you struggling with procrastination? Do you want to learn more about yourself and your barriers to completing tasks? Using the S.T.R.E.S.S analysis tool may help you combat the procrastination monsters in your brain.

The S.T.R.E.S.S Analysis is used by many people to help identify where your procrastination may be coming from. Once you can identify what the barrier to the task completion is, you can strategize on how to overcome and bypass it.

“I used to be called lazy because I was procrastinating starting and completing my assignments. But after using the S.T.R.E.S.S analysis tool, I'm better able to understand why I'm stalling and jump into action."

What is The S.T.R.E.S.S Analysis?

Procrastination is a frustrating paralysis many of us struggle with. It feels like a giant monster standing in front of a doorway you desperately know you need to enter. No matter how hard you try to muster up the strength to push through the monster, you feel your legs and arms become heavy and cement to the ground. The idea of even facing the monster becomes overwhelming and, at times, too much to handle. As we avoid dealing with the barrier, we begin to feel intense emotions of sadness, embarrassment, shame, guilt, and even physical discomfort. For anyone, this can be consuming and confusing at the same time. Factor in that there may also be external pressures, expectations, and variables that remind us of our feelings of failures because we are procrastinating. It's a recipe for burnout and avoidant tendencies.

The S.T.R.E.S.S Analysis is an acronym standing for the 5 main reasons why we may be procrastinating in the first place; Steps, Thinking, Research, Emotion/trauma, Sensory issues, and Self-care. In order to strategize on how to overcome task completion barriers, we must first understand what category of procrastination you may be falling into. Some barriers may fall into one or multiple categories.

S- Steps: You don't know the first step of how to begin the task. You may be thinking about working on an assignment and instead of jumping into action on the first step, pulling out your laptop, you're thinking about the results from your data that you have to incorporate in the 4th paragraph. Think about the steps in a simpler way. In order to put on my pants, I don't think about zipping them up as my first step. My first step is walking to the closet and getting the pants. One leg at a time, we complete the task and before we know it, our pants are on, zipped, and we're out the door. The same method applies to projects at work, doing your dishes, or cooking a meal. When you find yourself contemplating or procrastinating a task, ask yourself, am I thinking about the first step in beginning this task or am I jumping too far ahead? If your answer is that you believe you have the first step and you're still feeling resistant to begin, it may not be that 'steps' are to blame. Move on to the next category in the analysis to see if it applies.

T- Thinking: A negative thinking pattern about the task might be stopping you from wanting to begin. Are you thinking "this is going to take me forever", "I don't even know why I was assigned this task, it's not my job", "I'm going to do so poorly"? That negative thought pattern may be the culprit as to why you're struggling to begin. When your brain starts to cycle through negative thoughts, it drains your brain of dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for helping us feel focused, motivated, and satisfied. All of the good feelings we need to be creative and excited, especially when completing tasks. Working with a therapist to challenge your negative thought patterns can be a helpful tool to manage this variable. If that's not possible, journaling can help with reframing the thoughts. Ask yourself, how can I think of this in a more positive way? Are the thoughts I'm thinking factual or rooted in assumption? Do I know for a fact that I will fail at this task?

R- Research: Do you have any ambiguity towards the task? In order to start our "To-Do List", we might want to establish whether or not we have all the information to complete it in the first place. Can you conduct research in order to find out information we need to remove the barriers to beginning? Asking your boss for clarification, re-reading the syllabus, or comparing brainstorm ideas with a friend are all ways to conduct research for information that might be missing.

E- Emotions/Trauma: Tasks similar to this one may be emotionally triggering or traumatic. The thought of speaking in public might be paralyzing for you, not because the job you're at is toxic or forceful. But ever since you were laughed at in elementary school for stumbling over your words while presenting, you don't feel particularly excited doing anything related to speaking in front of an audience. Creating presentations, going to work meetings, being assigned to a collaboration group, or even ordering from a take-out window might be tied to this negative and emotional experience. Thinking about completing the task, since associated with a negative experience, has already drained dopamine and in turn caused a stall of motivation and excitement. Try to incorporate positive reinforcement before and after the daunting task. Playing music while you psych yourself up to start creating the presentation and then going to get your nails done may be an equation that works for you. Choose things that make you feel good and boost dopamine production before and after the emotionally triggering task.

S- Sensory Issues: The tasks might be overtly triggering for your senses. Some people diagnosed with ADHD may experience sensory issues when coming into contact with particular stimuli. You may be procrastinating because you feel particularly triggered or uncomfortable with the things you are touching, smelling, tasting, seeing, or hearing. When we experience sensory issues it typically means we have overdeveloped senses, assuming you're presenting with ADHD. Some examples of sensory issues include loud noises causing distraction, clothes being too itchy to wear, scents being overwhelming or more noticeable, and florescent lighting being too harsh. It's important to be patient and kind with your sensory issues as accommodations may be required to help overcome the tasks. Trading off vacuuming with doing the dishes, with your roommate, since the loud noise affects you may be a strategy to implement. Advocating for accommodations at work such as a desk lamp instead of overhead florescent lighting could be helpful. As above, using reinforcing activities can also be helpful to implement before and after the job you are having sensory issues with.

S- Self-Care: Your body and mind may not have the rest or stimulation it needs to function.

Have you been taking care of yourself? Do you need a break? Have you socialized with friends lately? Self-care is essential to proper functioning of our mind and body. In the same way a plant needs water, sunlight, and healthy soil to survive, humans require a more complex *obviously* recipe of essentials to flourish. These may include alone time, socialization with friends, proper nutrition, exercise, water intake, sleep, rest, and the list goes on. If you feel you've been neglecting these areas of your life, then perhaps this is a cause of your barrier to completing the job. Can you take some time to identify what areas you have been neglecting when it comes to your self-care? Once you've established the areas of improvement, invest time into satisfying those needs then strategize on starting the task. Start with a 15 minute self-care break and note if after your break you feel especially ready to start working. If not, continue to try new self-care hobbies for 15 or so minutes, until you find one that provides you with enough dopamine to feel productive and motivated.

Next time you find yourself procrastinating, try to implement the S.T.R.E.S.S analysis to identify where your resistance or barriers to completing a task may be coming from. Identification can then be transitioned into creating a plan of action which then, hopefully, turns into task completion.

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