Task Approach

From time to time, we all have tasks on our plate that we just don’t want to do, and which might even stir up some fear or anxiety. Despite this, a healthy individual approaches the task head-on and finds a way to work through it, despite their negative feelings. When unresolved trauma is present, however, the nervous system becomes over-involved and, as a way of protecting oneself from these uncomfortable feelings, a person might find themselves procrastinating. Task-related fear and uncertainty can trigger two main responses: mobilization (fight-or-flight) or disengagement (shutdown). When an individual’s fight-or-flight system is activated, mobilization can take on one of two forms: mobilizing in and mobilizing out. Mobilizing in means fight-or-flight energy is used to over-engage in a task. This can appear as obsessively checking every detail. Mobilizing out means fight-or-flight energy is instead used in active avoidance of the task, causing a person to engage in busy-work activities, such as cleaning or organizing the night before a big exam as an excuse to avoid studying. Another possible response is disengagement. When this occurs, a person’s dorsal vagal nerve is activated, leading to a shutdown and a sense of collapse. Individuals who experience this might find themselves zoning out, taking a nap, or binge-watching Netflix when they have an important task to do. No matter how someone approaches anxiety-ridden tasks, compassion is important. While all of these forms of procrastination do have a negative impact, the behaviors are typically a subconscious attempt to protect oneself from overwhelming feelings. People will usually score higher on one response than the other, although in the case of complex trauma, any combination is possible.

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