At CAPS we recognize that there are many nuanced external and internal factors that contribute to academic success. We acknowledge that one’s academic success can be impacted by intersecting identities, privilege, and marginalization, as well as systems of oppression and discrimination. We at CAPS are here to support you and help you navigate struggles you might have during your academic journey. You are not alone in struggling with academics.


Procrastination, or putting tasks off, is a common response to any task that brings up uncomfortable emotions. Understanding the psychology of procrastination can help you overcome it. Here are some common myths and facts about procrastination:



Procrastination is a time management issue.

Procrastination is most often a way to avoid uncomfortable emotions that get brought up around certain tasks. Who wouldn’t want to avoid a task that brings up emotions such as anxiety, inferiority, or uncertainty?


The tendency to avoid tasks that bring up difficult emotions is in our neurobiology.  The amygdala — the part of our brain that detects threats — perceives any task that brings up difficult feelings (i.e., anxiety) as an actual threat. Our brains are wired to “get rid” of the thing that is causing us discomfort. Thus, we start to procrastinate to “get rid” of the difficult emotions around a task. 


Once I start procrastinating on a task, I’m going to keep procrastinating until I do it at the last minute or not at all. 

Procrastination runs on a predictable cycle. [insert graphic below]


The Y access is measuring the intensity of our difficult emotions and the X access measuring time. The line on the graph shows the rise and fall of our difficult emotions, in this case anxiety, as we engage in procrastination. 


Let’s pretend you need to write a paper. First your anxiety is low and you have thoughts such as, “I got this! I’m going to work for ten hours today.” But then you sit down to work and your anxiety starts to rise. Maybe you have thoughts such as, “I’ll never get this done. I’m such a failure.” As you get more anxious, your brain wants to avoid that emotion, so you start engaging in procrastination behaviors, such as cleaning, scrolling social media, or streaming TV. 


When you engage in procrastination, your anxiety goes down temporarily. However, you still have that paper to write and now more time has passed. In addition, when you “got rid” of your anxiety by avoiding your paper, you strengthen the association between fear and your paper. Now, when you think about writing your paper now your brain will probably send out more intense fear signals. The cycle of procrastination often continues as you try to get rid of these uncomfortable feelings.


Luckily, there are many places where you can interrupt the cycle of procrastination.

I work better when I do things at the last minute.

Not all stress is bad. We often need some stress to help us focus, stay motivated, and get a task done. However, the intense cycle of procrastination can contribute to chronic stress, imposter syndrome, and self-doubt. Finding the right amount of stress to help you focus, but not avoid the task is key in overcoming procrastination.


To stop procrastination, I just need better self-control.

Guilt over procrastination and blaming ourselves is one of the key ingredients to keep the procrastination cycle going. When we feel guilty about procrastinating, we tend to continue procrastinate because guilt deepens our feelings of inferiority, hopelessness, and incompetence about a task with which we are already struggling. Remember, everyone procrastinates – it’s a natural response to tasks that bring up uncomfortable emotions – so try being gentle with yourself.

Tip 1: Instead of blaming yourself for procrastinating, try talking to yourself compassionately

Guilt and blaming ourselves for procrastinating is a key part that keeps the procrastination cycle going. Instead, try validating your feelings and talking to yourself like you would talk to a friend (i.e., “It’s ok to feel stressed. You have done assignments like this before. Start by doing one small task.”)

Tip 2: Try writing a “crappy rough draft”

Our fear of starting an assignment and getting it wrong often leads us to avoid the assignment. To get started on an assignment, keep the stakes low by writing a “crappy rough draft.” You might even try “stream of consciousness writing” where you write whatever comes up for you in the moment. For example, you might type, “I don’t know what I’m going to write this paper about, but the introduction will go here, and I guess I’m interested in writing about the neuroscience of procrastination…”

Remember, it is much easier to edit than to write something perfectly the first time.

Tip 3: Don’t wait for motivation

Motivation is just a feeling and feelings are a bit like the weather – they are unpredictable and come and go. Would you wait for a sunny day to leave your room in order to go to class? No, you strap on your rain boots, grab your umbrella, and get moving. It may not be fun walking in the rain, but once we start walking, we realize that getting a little wet isn’t so bad. Similarly, once you start studying (even when you don’t feel like it), you often start to feel motivated as you get the ball rolling. 

Tip 4: Schedule time to procrastinate

Try reframing your negative thoughts about procrastination by viewing it as self-care time. Try to schedule short, time-limited breaks where you allow yourself to engage in a procrastination activity. Doing this 1) reduces the guilt that perpetuates the cycle of procrastination and, 2) gives your mind a break from studying.

During your breaks, check in with yourself to see what you need at that moment. Are you feeling anxious and stressed about an assignment? Try doing something relaxing during your break such as deep breathing, taking a short walk outside, or calling a trusted friend. If you’re feeling unmotivated, bored, or tired, try splashing cold water on your face, doing a few jumping jacks, or taking a brisk walk. Try using these guides to schedule your time. [see attached study care plan and study agenda]

Procrastination Resources

For more resources to reduce procrastination and improve study habits visit these resources:

Office of Undergraduate Education: Academic Support

Impostor Syndrome

Picture this: you do all the work and you know your stuff, but when you’re finally in the room, you feel like you know nothing and you’re not supposed to be there. That’s impostor syndrome. Originally identified by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978, the “impostor phenomenon” was defined as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness.”

The study, which was based on the experiences of “highly-achieving women”, revealed that impostor syndrome usually emerges in competitive, merit-based spaces where individuals are judged based on their relative performance. Though the effects of it may feel real, the concept has been found to be based on feeling, not fact.

In other words, impostor syndrome is the experience of feeling inadequate, doubting one’s ability and worthiness of existing in a space, and persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It is not reality.

The experience of impostor syndrome may be known for how it affects women, but recent studies show how much it impacts marginalized students in particular. Impostor syndrome, in the traditional sense, can send the message that it’s a student's fault for feeling incapable or uncomfortable, when in reality, there are many other systemic factors at play.

Imposter syndrome took a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologized it, especially for women. — Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey of the Harvard Business Review

Experiences of discrimination and oppression come together to cultivate impostor syndrome in students, simply because the treatment of students from marginalized backgrounds, most specifically race, often leave students feeling inherently inferior in spite of their accomplishments. It’s been found that the effects of impostor syndrome are stronger predictors of mental illness than stress related to one’s minority status.

Watch this TED Talk on confronting and overcoming impostor syndrome.

Reframe your experience. You can start by acknowledging that your experiences of doubt and uncertainty may not be about your own lack of confidence and abilities, but instead, a reflection of your environment and society. Using language like: “I’m experiencing feelings of ‘impostor syndrome’ because of narratives associated with my identities,” or, “My environment or lived experiences have shaped my view of myself.” Externalizing the source of these concerns can help you to gain clarity of your situation and minimize the effects of blame or shame.

Talk to mentors. Finding trusted people to confide in and who will provide honest feedback can be a great defense against impostor syndrome. Their added perspective, advice, and affirmation can help create an uplifting environment to be grounded in. It can be difficult to believe positive things about yourself, so it can be helpful to practice accepting it from others you trust and respect. Campus Life offices (eg: RACE, LGBT Life, Center for Women, OSRL) often provide community and mentorship for those who are looking for support in spaces of shared and affirming identities.

Pay attention to your strengths. What we focus on grows. Impostor syndrome is a form of unhelpful thinking that tells you what you can’t do, what you haven’t done, and who you’re not. It can be helpful to take time to meditate on and remind yourself of what you have done, what you can do, and who you are. Try writing down your biggest accomplishments and best qualities, and review them as frequently as you need. If you’re having a hard time doing this on your own, seeking professional support may be helpful.

Realize no one is perfect. Impostor syndrome also convinces you that every mistake or shortcoming means that you are a failure. In reality, making mistakes is normal and a healthy way to grow and learn. No one is perfect, and perfectionism can be an inhibitor to your success. The age of social media has made it easy to compare yourself and your life to a “filtered” image of someone else’s. Be aware that everyone has their struggles, flaws, and mishaps, even when they’re not sharing it with others.

Impostor syndrome may not be easy to address, but it’s possible to take the first steps to care for your mental wellness and co-create the needed experiences to foster your academic success. 

Helpful Articles:

Test Anxiety

Jitters before a test are a common experience. In fact, having some stress before a test can help us perform better. Test anxiety, on the other hand, is the extreme physical, emotional, and cognitive reactions associated with taking a test that significantly impacts your functioning or performance. Test anxiety can involve the following reactions:

Physical reactions

  • Sweating
  • Heart racing
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Muscle tension

Emotional Reactions

  • Stress
  • Worry
  • Overwhelm
  • Fear
  • Numbness

Cognitive Reactions

  • Mind going “blank”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing thoughts
  • Comparing self to others
  • Negative perceptions of yourself or your abilities

Before the Exam

  • Prepare for the exam: Test anxiety increases when you do not feel prepared for your exam. Unfortunately, sometimes we avoid studying to get rid of test anxiety, which can lead to procrastination [link to procrastination resources] and contribute to us feeling unprepared. Instead, look at the amount of material being covered on the exam and study in small chunks well before the exam.
  • Improve your study skills: How to take a test as well as memorization are learnable skills that can be enhanced over time. Visit the Office of Undergraduate Education or your graduate school department for more tools to improve your study skills.
  • Engage in self-care and breaks: Taking time to care for ourselves by eating nutritious meals and having good sleep habits [link to sleep hygiene resources] can give us the energy we need to study. When you feel like you are no longer being productive in your studying, do a self-check-in and honor your needs by taking a short and rejuvenating break.
  • Know your test anxiety triggers: Does being in a large lecture hall overwhelm you? Or does watching the clock on timed tests make your thoughts race? Once you identify your test anxiety triggers, it is important to expose yourself to them while you study. Studying in an environment that mimics your test environment as much as possible will help you get used to those triggers and feel less stressed on the day of the exam.
  • Get your questions answered: So often we hesitate to ask our peers or professors questions about class content because we fear that the professor/peers will think we are not smart or will realize how far behind we are in the class. However, there is a strong likelihood that if you are confused, so are others in your class. Get your questions answered by asking peers, going to your professor's office hours, or talking to you TA.

Immediately Before the Exam

  • Get a good night’s sleep: Sleep improves our concentration and memory. Being rested for the exam will help you perform better on the test and feel less anxious.
  • Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can produce similar physical reactions to anxiety, which can increase our overall feelings of anxiety. Try to reduce caffeine use before your exam.
  • Do something relaxing: Choose something relaxing to do before the exam such as deep breathing, meditation, taking a walk, or sitting in a comfortable place.

During the Exam

  • Arrive early: Rushing to get an exam can leave us feeling frazzled. Arrive early and pick a seat with little distractions.
  • Start with what you know: When you first look at the exam, find a question you know to start working on. This can help you relax your jitters and build your confidence.
  • Stretch: If you notice your muscles tightening, take a few minutes to stretch your shoulders, neck, back, and any other part of your body that is holding tension.
  • Take a few deep breaths: Taking deep breaths into our diaphragm can trick our body and brain into thinking that it is calm. Try taking a long breath in for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, and releasing the breath for a count of four.

After the Exam

  • Adopt a growth mindset: When you get your test back, ask yourself: What did I learn from this test? What would I change about how I studied for the test? How can I make these changes as I study for future exams?

For more information visit the following resources:


Perfectionism may feel like a typical trait to have, especially since it’s usually normalized on college campuses as a part of being “ambitious” or “hard-working.” While perfectionism might seem harmless, it actually can have its negative/detrimental effects on the psyche. While taking pride in your work and striving for excellence can help you healthily reach your goals, perfectionism, often defined as the need to appear or be “perfect”, can impair your goal-reaching efforts and negatively affect your mental health.

Perfectionism might feel like a way to have a sense of control in situations that feel overwhelming or anxiety-provoking. Perfection often brings a sense of relief because it pushes you to “work harder” where you feel doubtful or inadequate. This may lead you to:

  • Review your work repeatedly
  • Work extra hours
  • Over-check for errors
  • Take on too much work and struggle to say no
  • Struggle to delegate tasks or ask for help
  • Become hyper-critical of yourself and/or others
  • Avoiding tasks or classes where you feel you cannot achieve perfection
  • Focus on the end product rather than the learning process
  • Struggle to feel really happy for yourself and others
  • Experience minor mistakes as major failures

Many of the actions in this list can lead to high stress, burnout, and even anxiety and depression. Perfectionism can drive us to overwork and neglect self-care as it convinces us that perfection is possible.

The truth about perfection is that it is not real. Some organizations such as #HalftheStory are dedicated to sharing the realities of life and how our mental health is often affected by “half-truths” presented on digital platforms. It highlights the normality of struggle, hard days, and challenges, which do not take away from your gifts and worthiness as a scholar and a human.

It can be helpful to use mindfulness to address concerns related to perfectionism:

  • Notice when your perfectionist habits are happening. What do you normally do? What normally “triggers” a need to engage in perfectionist habits?
  • Normalize your tendency to engage in perfectionist habits. Cultural norms and pressures tend to glorify perfectionism and reward burnout.
  • Remind yourself about the facade that perfectionism may offer: being “perfect” is not attainable, or necessary.
  • Engage in self-care. Try journaling, resting, spending time with friends, or doing something you love to rest your mind.
  • Reset with new intentions: focusing on doing your best, learning, growing, or centering any other values that are important to you often supports us in keeping anxiety at bay.


TED Talk: Our Dangerous Obsession with Perfectionism


Attention and Concentration

Do you ever sit down to study and your mind starts thinking about your unfinished “to-do list” or your upcoming weekend plans or the meaning of life? Pretty soon you are checking your email, scrolling through social media, or having a long internal dialogue before you remember, “I should be studying!” Our minds were made to wander. Unfortunately, this can be very inconvenient when we are trying to study. To improve your focus and concentration, try following these tips:

Tip 1: Try doing tasks that require the most alertness when you are most alert

Did you know that our alertness naturally varies throughout the day? As part of our circadian rhythm – the natural process that regulates our sleep and awake cycles – our alertness changes. Try tracking the time of day when your alertness is highest and schedule tasks that require the most concentration when you are most alert.  Remember, regular sleep [link to CAPS Sleep Resources] and awake times are an essential ingredient of memory, concentration, and alertness, so don’t forgo sleep for studying.

Tip 2: Give your mind permission to wander

Setting aside time each day to allow our minds to wander can spark creativity. In addition, allowing your mind to wander gives it energy to focus on tasks when the time comes. Try taking short study breaks by looking out the window and daydreaming or by taking a walk and just allowing your mind to chatter. You can also try scheduling time for your mind to wander when you are performing tasks that don’t matter too much. Guilt-free mind wandering can be rejuvenating.

Tip 3: Limit distractions and find the right study environment for you

External distractions can interrupt our workflow. To limit distractions, start by noticing what interrupts your focus. For example, try turning off notifications on your phone, limiting your access to apps, or signing out of your email. For some people, having background noise helps them focus, while for others background noise is distracting. Find the study environment that helps you focus the most.

Tip 4: Try mindfulness

Mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment without judging yourself, has been shown to improve attention.  Try starting your mindfulness practice by using an app [link to our apps page] or by attending our mindfulness drop-in group [if that is running list here]

Tip 5: Approach a task with curiosity

When something is new and interesting, our ability to stay engaged increases. Try to be intentionally curious about the task you are doing. Cultivating a sense of curiosity about something that you are studying is what learning is all about after all!

For more tips about how to improve your focus and concentration, click on the following links:

Contact and Hours of Operation

Address: 1462 Clifton Road, Suite 235, Atlanta, GA 30322
Phone: (404) 727-7450
Fax: (404) 727-2906
Crisis Consultation: Call (404) 727-7450, 8:30-5:00, Monday-Friday
Hours of Operation: 8:30-5:00, Monday-Friday

PLEASE NOTE: If Emory University is closed due to weather or other emergency, then CAPS is also closed. In such circumstances, students will be contacted to reschedule appointments once the university reopens.