Procrastination: The chicken and egg syndrome

I decided to write this article to share something that I have experienced, and I’m sure I am by no means alone in this frustrating, destructive cycle.

During this last year, I have noticed subtle changes happening to me, both psychologically and physically. Initially, I found a slither of comfort being confined to my home with my family. I’d even go as far as saying I liked it for a while. Especially on sunny and warm days. I am fortunate to own a garden, I recognise this is a commodity but, for many, unfortunately, it is not. Being able to escape outside and potter around my garden was a huge boost for my mental well-being and, for that, I am very grateful.

When we were eventually able to get back to some normality, ironically, I found I quickly wanted to return to the safety of my home. This is what I now acknowledge as the start of what I have decided to call my 'chicken and egg syndrome'.

I have never suffered any type of agoraphobia before but, here I was, feeling some of the very real and frightening aspects of agoraphobia. Usually, I like being out in the hustle and bustle of the city but now I can find it difficult being in crowded places.

I loved socialising and eating out with friends and, yet, I declined the last invitation I received. This was before Christmas 2020 (when it was still allowed). I love my friendship group and, yet, I let fear grip me in its restrictive vice.

I hid behind my safety blanket of home and told myself I was keeping my family safe.

The cycle of negative thinking

During my life, negative thinking used to hold me back; I would procrastinate through fear. It brought destruction and unhappiness for many years. Not feeling ‘good enough’ often feeling insecure about pretty much every aspect of my life.

I would talk myself out of trying to better myself. I would tell myself there’s no point in even trying because I won’t succeed. I was self-sabotaging constantly.

A combination of my own therapy and self-help during this last decade has finally allowed me to overcome this destructive cycle. It has been a work in progress to rid myself of the shackles of negative thinking. For several years, I have been able to view things more objectively and to live in the here and now; my thinking patterns have become more optimistic than negative.

So, it felt like a sucker punch - why now? Why was this destructive thinking back? After a lot of reflection, I feel the underlying fear of my own mortality is key (I will come back to this later). The whole world has been dragged into a completely new way of living, with the emphasis on staying safe and keeping our distance.

Hugging and human contact are, for now, still restricted. I appreciate many people live alone and my heart goes out to all of those people struggling with loneliness.

My fear of dying started four years ago when I found out I had heart problems. Heart problems have long been a problem on both sides of my family; and yet I bumbled my way through life never giving it a thought that I might fall victim to this historical problem.

Woman looking at night sky

My heart problem isn’t terrible, I have Left Bundle Branch Block (LBBB) and arrhythmia. I can get tired quickly and sometimes my arrhythmic heart beats extremely erratically. When this happens, I can panic (one chicken and egg scenario). The more I panic, the more my erratic heart beats and, yet, if it didn’t react erratically I wouldn’t panic…

This theory applies to other aspects of my life, like exercising, for instance. I can feel very tired so I don’t want to exercise and, yet, when I get on my treadmill for 20 minutes for a fast walk, I feel better mentally, and physically energised. Moreover, it actually helps my heart condition. Exercise is great for LBBB.

Alas, the chicken and egg theory becomes my conundrum once again. To feel fitter, I need to do exercise. Tricky, though, when I feel tired a lot of the time.

I have made many mistakes in my life. I have worked on my ‘own stuff’ in depth. I’ve accepted life events, I’ve learnt the power of forgiveness (more so my own forgiveness) and learning to let go of anger and hurt. I've learnt the art of self-compassion (most of the time!).

As a therapist, I studied for seven years and, alongside all of the training, I have learnt to overcome many issues and hang-ups I used to have. One, though, is still a work in progress. Ageing - I don’t like it!

I am not ashamed to say death scares me. Getting older worries me. I find new lines, wrinkles and grey hairs far too often for my liking and things ache in places that I didn’t even know I had until they started hurting!

I feel that this is polarised through social media; perfection and body image is subversively thrust in front of us constantly. Online clothing retailers display perfectly shaped models to show off their clothes and, in my opinion, there is no chance of ever looking like the person who is advertising ‘that dress’, as most of us are not a size zero, nor do we have legs that go on for days.

These perfect images are digitally enhanced and tweaked to perfection. I feel huge pressure to look good; I’m never happy with my self-image. It feeds into my own insecurities, and this way of thinking can cause lasting damage to our self-esteem and body image.

For a lot of women, it’s a never-ending regime, whether it’s applying lotions and potions, or enduring a gruelling fitness regime, or you may have enhancement treatments at the salon. Consequently, for many of us, stress, anxiety and depression are constantly simmering under the surface.

Woman expressing emotions

Thus, trying to keep this up just isn’t a viable option. Life is busy enough, whether it’s from work or looking after children or elderly parents, or just trying to keep on top of housework, life is busy...

So you may be asking yourself where I am going with this article? What I’m trying to convey is that, first of all, you are not alone. You can break the limiting effects of procrastination. Whatever came first (chicken and egg syndrome) doesn’t have to define you.

How to overcome fear 

This last year has been tricky, to say the least. I feel that many of us are suffering from a bit of chicken and egg syndrome. Whether it’s worrying about finances because you’ve been on furlough or perhaps you’ve sadly lost your job, the situation you find yourself in is not a result of any failure in any way. It’s a result of a global pandemic that has run rampant.

This, however, does not help, I'm just pointing out the obvious. But, hopefully what I say next will help…

Firstly, it’s important to remember time does not standstill. Everything passes - the good and bad. That’s why it’s important to practice mindfulness, being in the present, in the here and now.

What could you do today that could help you? Could you practice some self-compassion? Allow yourself to stop and relax. Take a day to pamper yourself, it doesn’t have to cost any money. Maybe read a bit of the new book you bought or maybe take a nice long bubble bath. The little things all add up in terms of self-worth.

Could you make a wall planner so that you have clearly marked time for yourself? This will help you to get a more balanced view of how you are managing your time, and hopefully provide some time to maybe do some exercise. Exercise is great for mental well-being as well as getting us in better shape.

Could you follow the three counselling rules?

  1. Take a chance
  2. Make a choice
  3. Make a change

If you always do what you do, then, unfortunately, you will always get what you get. Change comes from within. We as individuals have to want the change, then start to make it happen. Whether you recognise that you are stuck in an unhappy relationship or job, only you can create change. There is no point in feeling unhappy in your job and feeling trapped if you aren’t applying for new jobs.

Whether it’s procrastination or chicken and egg syndrome, whichever feeling came first can be overcome. No one has the power to make us feel - our feelings are our own. Equally, we can’t change others, just ourselves. Sometimes, it takes just a little extra determination to create positive change.

Go on try it, do something for yourself today, be kind to yourself. What do you want to change? The possibilities are limitless when you stop limiting yourself.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Runcorn, Cheshire, WA7

Written by Julie Howard BSc (Hons), FdSc, MBACP, Life’s Journey Counselling

Runcorn, Cheshire, WA7

I am a fully qualified Integrative Counsellor/psychotherapist. I offer interventions from a wide range of counselling models such as Person Centred, Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Transactional Analysis and Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

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