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Question:

Hi.

I am 20 years old. My problem is that I am feeling really bad lately. I have always been an academic student until recently. Just this year I started doing very badly. It started off with me just being lazy at first but then it got worse. At the start I was feeling overwhelmed with work and just wanted an out (I was studying for my MCATs and there was a lot of stuff so, I felt overwhelmed). So I ended up watching shows on youtube and the “to do list” just kept getting longer and longer. Then I felt even more anxious but kept pushing work off and kept escaping back into watching shows.

It got to the point where I was not confident enough to write the test so I pushed the date further away with the intention of having more time to study. But then I would return to watching shows again.

It started with me being lazy again and then, as I became more anxious, I watched shows to escape until the last few weeks. Then I panicked. My elder sister helped me through by coming over to study with me every few days. It was only with her there that I was able to focus again, but it wasn’t easy to get me to focus. Every time she’d come to help I’d feel resistant inside. I’d feel like I did not want her to come and I did not want to start because it was too hard to focus. But once I focused I was okay. But as soon as she left my focus left and I’d return to watching shows.

I took the MCATs and did well in 3/4 of the sections. School started again but my behavior didn’t change. I kept postponing things with the thought that I have time to spare. Then, I was to anxious to start. I found it hard to start assignments or to start studying.

Once I began to study I really did put effort into it. I ended up doing things at the last minute. I would do them the night before or a few hours before the due date. It seemed like the only times I was able to get focused was when I was scared and knew that I had to hand something in.  Once I got focused I did put the effort into my work.

Now its been a year and I’m still doing the same thing. I always start with the intention of doing the work, find it hard to focus, end up pushing it to the last possible moment, then get scared enough to force myself to focus and begin.

I can focus though when my sister helps me and makes me work. My grades have dropped significantly but mainly due to tests than to assignments because I can’t focus on studying. Maybe I’ve lost the will to study. I would just like to have your opinion on this because I am feeling distressed and can’t really talk to anyone.

Any reply would be much appreciated. Thank you.

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Answer:

There was an “Off Broadway Show” many years ago called, “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.” It was based on Charles Schulz’s popular comic strip called, “Peanuts.” In one of the songs in the show, Charlie Brown return to school after the long summer vacation. The teacher gave them the proverbial, “What did you do this summer,” homework composition. Charlie, at the end of his wits about doing the assignment sings, “I work best under pressure and…if I wait ’till tomorrow, there be lots of pressure!!! Its one of my favorite quotes because of how it encapsulates the fears and anxieties many of us have about school or other responsibilities.

When you come right down to it, we are talking about Procrastination.

Some people procrastinate doing there Federal and State Taxes for the IRS. Others procrastinate fulfilling a responsibility at work. Others, like you and other students, procrastinate doing homework and studying for examinations.

Why the procrastination?

People put off until tomorrow what they can do today for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is that they find the assignment unpleasant and want to avoid it for as long as possible. But, why is it so unpleasant?

Most often, an assignment is unpleasant when it arouses enormous anxiety. After all, who really wants to study and write essays? However, it is usually the fact that someone fears that the work is above them, too difficult, too challenging.

It is necessary to stress the fact that the assignment and anticipated exam is not at all to difficult. However, the student has such low self esteem and lack of confidence, that they are convinced it is so. One of my recent articles deals with this issue. It deals with the fear of being unmasked. It is called, “Unmasking the Deceiver, Myself,” and can be found at this URL:

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=42124&cn=8

It is the brightest and most successful people who often struggle with this. Despite their abilities, they do not believe they are smart and are convinced they have fooled everyone.

What you are experiencing appears to have these characteristics. You are bright, do well in school, did well on most of the MCATs and are academically oriented. Now, you are filled with fear and foreboding and, much like Charlie Brown, put off until tomorrow what you need to finish today. The cost of that strategy, as you are well aware, is that your anxieties increase.

Generally speaking, the more the anxiety the more it is difficult to concentrate and focus.

If I am correct that this is what affecting you then your best approach would be to contact a psychologist who does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you are in College, as I believe you are, there is a counseling department on campus and that is part of the health center there. They can get you started in the right direction. Let me assure you that you are not alone in this and that you can get really good help. You are an intelligent and capable student who can become an MD if you really wish.

Best of Luck

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