Completion anxiety is a type of anxiety that people experience when they are close to finishing a project or task. It can be triggered by various factors, including a desire to complete the task well and on time, as well as worry about what will happen if it isn’t completed. There are many strategies that can help you manage this feeling.
What Is Completion Anxiety?
There are various reasons why someone might get anxious when coming close to completing a project or task. In some cases, it may be a natural stress response to the pressure of meeting deadlines or achieving high-quality work. However, for others, there’s a fine line between stress versus anxiety, and completion anxiety may be a sign of a larger anxiety disorder or mental health issue.
Completion anxiety is commonly mistaken for procrastination. People may put off completing tasks or projects, a form of avoidance behavior, to avoid the uncomfortable feelings associated with completion anxiety. However, completion anxiety is a distinct experience from procrastination, as it specifically relates to the feelings of anxiety that arise when approaching the end of a project or task. Completion anxiety can be experienced by people with various mental health conditions, including ADHD.
Signs of completion anxiety include:
- Completing the assignment but being scared to turn it in
- Scared to edit and review your work
- An artist may experience completion anxiety when approaching the final stages of a painting, fearing that they may “ruin” it or that it won’t meet their own or others’ standards
- A software developer may feel anxious about completing a coding project, worried about the potential for bugs or errors that could compromise the functionality of the final product
- An entrepreneur may feel anxious about launching a new product or service, worried about how it will be received by customers or investors and whether it will be successful
- You may find yourself putting off tasks or delaying the start of a project until the last minute
- Obsessing over every detail of a task, leading to a fear of making mistakes or producing subpar work
- You may avoid tasks altogether, either by distracting yourself with other activities or finding excuses to delay starting
- You may feel unmotivated or lack energy when it comes to starting or completing tasks
- You may be overly critical of yourself, leading to negative self-talk and feelings of low self-worth
Causes of Completion Anxiety
One possible explanation for completion anxiety is that it is related to anticipatory fear of what is to come once the task is completed or the work that will be needed to finish the task. This fear can take many forms, such as worrying about the quality of the finished product, fearing criticism or rejection from others, or feeling overwhelmed by the work that still needs to be done.
Underlying causes of completion anxiety might include:1
When someone has low self-esteem, they may doubt their abilities and may believe that they are not capable of completing a task or that their work will not be good enough. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and avoidance behavior, such as procrastination or not wanting to finish the task.
Completion anxiety can also worsen low self-esteem, as it can create a cycle of negative self-talk and self-criticism. When you struggle to complete tasks or meet goals, you may blame yourself for not being good enough, leading to feelings of low self-worth and decreased confidence. To break this cycle, it’s important to address both low self-esteem and completion anxiety.
Fear of Failure
When someone has a fear of failure, they may avoid completing a task or project because they are afraid of making mistakes or not meeting their own or others’ expectations.2 This fear can be so overwhelming that it leads to procrastination, avoidance behavior, and difficulty completing the task.
This can create a cycle of completion anxiety, where the fear of failure causes you to avoid or delay tasks, leading to increased anxiety about completing them. This cycle of fear and avoidance can be difficult to break, but it’s important to address both the fear of failure and completion anxiety to overcome it.
Completion anxiety can appear because someone is anxious about what will happen once the task is completed, especially for projects that individuals have invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into, such as a long-term research project, a personal creative project, or a work project that has been a major focus for a significant period of time. Anticipatory anxiety refers to the anxiety that you feel before an event or task, while completion anxiety is the anxiety you experience while trying to complete the task.
Anticipatory anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, such as nervousness, restlessness, or irritability. This anxiety can build up in anticipation of the task, making it difficult to focus or feel calm. Completion anxiety can cause similar symptoms, such as restlessness, irritability, or physical tension, and can make it challenging to complete the task at hand. Both anticipatory anxiety and completion anxiety can lead to procrastination and avoidance.
Individuals who have high standards for themselves and their work may experience completion anxiety due to the fear that their work won’t be perfect or meet their own or others’ expectations.
People who struggle with perfectionism and anxiety may find it difficult to start or finish tasks because of the fear of not meeting their own high standards. This can lead to procrastination or avoidance, as they may feel that they can’t start or finish a task until they are sure that it will meet their standards.
Executive Functioning Difficulties
Difficulties with executive functioning skills such as planning, organization, and time management can contribute to completion anxiety, as individuals may feel overwhelmed by the steps required to complete the task. When these processes are impaired, it can be challenging to initiate and complete tasks, leading to procrastination and avoidance. This can then create anxiety around completing the task, which is known as completion anxiety.
For example, individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle to plan and organize their work, making it difficult to break large tasks into smaller, more manageable parts. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and avoidant, which can then cause anxiety around completing the task.
Tasks or projects that are particularly large or complex may be overwhelming for some individuals, leading to anxiety and difficulty completing the task. For example, an individual with a lot of tasks to complete may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks, making it difficult to start or complete any of them. This can create a sense of paralysis, which can then cause anxiety around completing the tasks.
Trauma can also be a factor in completion anxiety. Trauma can impact the brain’s ability to regulate emotions, making it difficult to focus, manage stress, and complete tasks. Trauma can also cause feelings of helplessness, which can create anxiety and fear around completing tasks.
Individuals who have experienced trauma may find it difficult to start or complete tasks due to a sense of overwhelm or a feeling that they can’t handle the task. This can create a sense of avoidance and procrastination, which can then create anxiety around completing the task.
Attachment to the Project
Some individuals may experience completion anxiety when they have an attachment to the project. They may feel like they will no longer have anything to do when they finish it, or miss the enjoyment of working on the project once it’s finished.
Underlying Mental Health Conditions
Completion anxiety can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, or other mental health conditions.
Completion anxiety may be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition, such as:
- Bipolar Disorder: a main feature of Bipolar Disorder is depression, which is a mood disorder that can cause individuals to experience a lack of motivation and interest in activities they once enjoyed, leading to difficulty completing tasks or projects.
- ADHD: a neurodevelopmental disorder that can contribute to completion anxiety. People with ADHD may struggle with organization and time management, making it difficult to complete tasks and projects. They may also become easily distracted, leading to difficulty focusing on the task at hand.
- Avoidant Personality Disorder: a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of inadequacy, fear of rejection or criticism, and a reluctance to engage in social situations or activities that involve interpersonal contact. People with avoidant personality disorder may experience completion anxiety as a result of their fear of failure or rejection.
- Anxiety Disorders: characterized by excessive and persistent worry or fear that can interfere with daily functioning. People with anxiety disorders may experience anxiety related to completion and performance, leading to avoidance behavior and procrastination.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): a mental health condition that can cause individuals to experience intrusive thoughts or images that create anxiety and lead to compulsive behaviors or mental rituals. In some cases, completion anxiety may be related to OCD symptoms, such as perfectionism or the need to repeatedly check or re-do tasks.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. People with PTSD may experience avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding completing tasks or projects that remind them of the traumatic event.
8 Ways to Cope With Completion Anxiety
Completion anxiety, also known as fear of finishing, is a common problem that can affect productivity and lead to procrastination. However, there are several lifestyle changes, procrastination tips, and coping mechanisms that can help individuals overcome completion anxiety and increase their productivity.
Below are 8 lifestyle changes to help manage completion anxiety:3
- Identify the root cause: Identifying the root cause of completion anxiety is an important step in managing it. Some possible factors that can contribute to completion anxiety include perfectionism, trauma, overwhelm, lack of confidence, and fear of failure.
- Break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks: This can make a task feel less overwhelming and more achievable, reducing the anxiety associated with completing it. This tip can also help with procrastination by making tasks feel less daunting.
- Practice time management: Poor time management can lead to feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. Developing effective time management skills can help to reduce completion anxiety by providing structure and direction to the day.
- Set realistic goals and deadlines: It’s important to set goals and deadlines that are achievable and realistic, as this can reduce the pressure and anxiety associated with completing tasks. This tip can also help with procrastination by providing a clear target to work towards.
- Prioritize tasks: Prioritizing tasks can help to reduce anxiety and increase productivity by ensuring that the most important tasks are completed first. This tip can also help with procrastination by providing a clear sense of what needs to be done first.
- Practicing self-care: Taking care of oneself through regular exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep hygiene can reduce anxiety and increase motivation. Practicing self-care can also help with procrastination by promoting a healthier lifestyle and mindset.
- Use visualization techniques: Visualizing the completion of a task can help to reduce anxiety and increase motivation. This tip can also help with procrastination by providing a positive image of what the completed task will look like.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation for anxiety, can help to reduce anxiety and increase focus. This tip can also help with procrastination by promoting a sense of calm and focus.
When to Get Help for Completion Anxiety
If someone finds that self-help techniques are not helping them deal with completion anxiety or chronic procrastination, or if their anxiety symptoms are severe, it may be a sign that they need professional help. Seeking help from a licensed mental health professional can be beneficial in managing symptoms and developing strategies for coping with completion anxiety or chronic procrastination.
The severity of symptoms that would require someone to consider seeking professional help can vary from person to person. Generally, if symptoms are interfering with daily functioning, causing significant distress, or impacting one’s ability to fulfill responsibilities, seeking professional help is recommended. You can find a therapist using an online therapist directory that specializes in anxiety therapy, depression, PTSD, and ADHD. Medication may also be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, depending on the severity of symptoms and the individual’s specific needs. A licensed mental health professional can provide guidance and referrals for medication management, if needed.
If you are struggling with completion anxiety or chronic procrastination, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Many people experience anxiety when trying to complete tasks, and it can be a challenging cycle to break on your own. Seeking support from a licensed mental health professional who specializes in anxiety disorders, procrastination, or ADHD can be a significant step towards feeling better. A therapist can help you identify the root causes of your anxiety, develop strategies for managing symptoms, and work towards achieving your goals. Remember, you don’t have to face completion anxiety or chronic procrastination alone.