A Brain Breakthrough
Psychologists have recently coined a term for a startling new behavior in adult psychology: ‘revenge procrastination.’
If you can relate to the scenario below, you may struggle with revenge procrastination too!
Emma is a single mom of two and a full-time teacher. She wakes up early each morning to get ready, take her kids to daycare, and teach at her local high school. As soon as her taxing workday is over, she picks up her kids, helps them with their homework, cooks them dinner, and puts them to bed. She spends the next few hours planning her lessons for the following day at school. It’s late by the time her planning is finished, but she hasn’t had any time to relax. Instead of going to bed and getting the hours of sleep she needs to be well-rested, she deliberately chooses to stay awake and watch YouTube videos on her phone. By the time she lays down to sleep, it’s two in the morning. Her alarm sounds at six and she repeats the process all over again.
In this story, revenge procrastination is seen in Emma’s decision to watch YouTube videos instead of going to bed at a responsible time. She procrastinates the rest that she desperately needs to feel like she’s had time in the day for herself.
Revenge procrastination is trading out essential sleep for essential leisure, thus ‘taking revenge’ on the forces that steal our time from us. Like work. Like parenthood. Like relationships. Like sleep. Like so many things that demand everything from us on the regular.
Revenge Procrastination and the Body
In theory, revenge procrastination has a biological purpose. For someone like Emma who jumps from one form of work to another without sufficient breaks, it makes sense that she would seek time to detach from her stress before allowing herself to sleep. A body high on adrenaline, norepinephrine, and/ or cortisol— the three major stress-inducing hormones— will have a difficult time sleeping restfully, if at all.
However, Emma could do better to avoid the no-win scenario of revenge procrastination by being more aware of her body and its cues. In a calm setting, it could take anywhere from ninety seconds to an hour for stress hormones to leave the body. Rather than mindlessly burning away precious sleep time in blue light, she could choose to engage in quiet activities focused on deliberate relaxation instead of stimulation. Slow stretching, deep breathing, reading a physical book, listening to a guided meditation or ASMR video, and journaling are great examples of before-bed activities that keep you aware of your stress levels and sleepiness, and therefore, help you go to bed as soon as you are no longer under the influence of stress hormones.
Another way to combat revenge procrastination is by developing proper compartmentalization techniques. Compartmentalization is not repression, but actively choosing to put a boundary on stressors and coming back to them when it is appropriate to do so. For instance, Emma could be better served by choosing to lesson plan during her lunch break, in between classes, and when she’s waiting for her children to come out of daycare rather than by bringing her lesson plans home. That way, her body will know to stop releasing stress hormones as soon as she walks through her front door. Her work stress now resides in the “compartment” of “outside the home.”
For people who work at home, having an office, desk, or designated workspace away from relaxation spaces is just as effective for healthy compartmentalization. Working and relaxing in the same spaces— such as typing a lesson plan on a laptop while laying on the couch— will signal the body to produce stress hormones continuously and sabotage any potential for true rest.
Why is it important to fight revenge procrastination?
The most obvious reason to prioritize putting an end to a revenge procrastination habit is that it can cause sleep deprivation. Individuals who are sleep deprived live impaired lives. Not only are the sleep-deprived less able to make decisions, react quickly, manage their emotions, and function effectively, but studies show that insufficient sleep can lead to heart problems, metabolic disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, weak immunity, and premature death. It can even lessen the effectiveness of immunizations.
Yes, that includes the COVID-19 vaccine.
Additionally, revenge procrastination is not restricted to bedtime. Other important daily functions, such as eating and bathing, can be purposefully put off for much-needed free time for the overstressed and overworked. All of these things—sleeping properly, eating well, and maintaining good hygiene— are essential to maintaining a healthy body and a healthy mind.
It’s all too easy to indulge in procrastination that handicaps us long-term. Unfortunately, no other form of procrastination may be as harmful as revenge procrastination, whose defining factor is the deliberate delay of sleep and other vital processes in favor of leisure time. It’s important to seek balance, but not at the expense of biological needs.
Are you a revenge procrastinator? Do you have any tips on how to beat it? Comment down below!
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