When we speak of perfectionism, we do not speak of it in negative terms. Some people even brag about being a perfectionist. And granted, a perfectionist mindset can be useful in certain situations, such as the workplace or at school, it is not always a good thing.
Experts suggest a prominent connection between perfectionism and mental health disorders. In fact, oftentimes perfectionism and anxiety can go hand in hand. A study conducted in 2007 suggested that negative perfectionism can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety.
This article explores the relationship between panic disorder, anxiety, and perfectionism along with tips on how to deal with perfectionism.
What is Perfectionism?
As the name clearly suggests, perfectionism is the notion that perfection is achievable and constantly striving to achieve it through any and every means. Usually, when we speak or hear of perfectionism, we see it in a positive light. However, mental health experts believe unhealthy perfectionism can have adverse effects on a person’s mental well-being.
Perfectionism can affect people of all ages and cause disruptions in everyday life and routine activities due to the unreasonably high standards perfectionists tend to set for themselves. In mild cases of unhealthy perfectionism, it can lead to unhappiness, difficulty maintaining relationships, poor performance at work and school, along with depression, anxiety, stress, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and even self-harm.
Relationship Between Perfectionism and Anxiety
Researchers and mental health experts believe that while a perfectionist personality can present benefits in some situations, this kind of mindset can also be a cause of incurring various mental health disorders as well, anxiety disorders being on the top of the list. This relationship is highlighted among various studies conducted on subjects suffering from social anxiety and panic disorders. The researchers found that these people demonstrated signs of perfectionist traits such as their increased concerns over making errors, doubting the quality of their performance, and assuming others to be setting high standards for them.
Perfectionism can be roughly classified as self-oriented perfectionism or socially prescribed perfectionism. The former entails setting unbelievably high standards for self while the latter entails the society to be setting these standards for them. In both cases, fear of failure, questioning one’s abilities to meet said standards, dread of disappointing others or oneself, fear of rejection, and disapproval, and an intense desire to be perfect at everything can incur frustration and anger with oneself.
And since perfection does not exist, the frustration can produce unfortunate outcomes, causing low self-esteem, lack of confidence, social anxiety, and other anxiety-related disorders. To sum up the relationship between perfectionism and anxiety, it can be said that perfectionism acts both as a symptom of anxiety as well as a cause of it.
Signs of Unhealthy Perfectionism
There is a fine line that separates healthy and unhealthy perfectionism. Following are signs of unhealthy or extreme perfectionism that can cause hindrance in your everyday life:
- Mistakes are unacceptable to you.
- Putting a lot of time into a single, simple task.
- Failure takes a toll on your self-esteem.
- You obsess over making sure everything associated with you is nothing short of being perfect.
- Your main goal in every task is to achieve flawlessness.
- Even success doesn’t call for a celebration.
- You are never satisfied with yourself or your life.
- You loathe the idea of letting others help because no one can do it as well as you can.
- You have unbelievably high standards for yourself.
- You do not take criticism well and have an irrational fear of judgment.
- You always have a plan.
- You are too hard on yourself and extremely self-critical.
- You are insecure and constantly doubt your abilities.
- You feel compelled to live up to other’s expectations, no matter how unreasonable.
Tips on Overcoming Perfectionism Anxiety
It is human nature to wish to achieve better, and more. That’s what perfectionists focus on as well. But what distinguishes toxic perfectionists from high-achievers and successful people is the force that motivates each. While successful people are usually motivated by their morals, values, passions, and aspirations, perfectionists are often driven by fear, doubt, and dread of failure.
Fortunately, perfectionism isn’t an irremediable illness. More often than not, it can be conquered through lifestyle changes at home. However, sometimes therapy and professional intervention might become necessary. Here are some tips on how to deal with perfectionism through minor adjustments to your routine and mindset:
Quit Being Excessively Critical of Yourself
Most people either resort to self-criticism as a means of self-awareness or as a defense mechanism to shield themselves from outside criticism. Granted, being moderately self-critical can often prove to be healthy and allow room for improvements, but excessive criticism can often be disastrous in the long run.
Various studies on the effects of excessive, unhealthy internalized criticism suggest that it is among one of the main causes of developing a number of mental health and mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm, eating disorders, feelings of doubt, fear of failure and judgment, guilt, and shame. Overly self-critical people tend to only focus on their flaws, completely forgetting to be grateful for the good things in life. So, the first step towards overcoming perfectionism disorder is to quit being overly self-critical and allow yourself room to breathe.
Embrace Your Imperfections
Imperfections are human. They are a part of the human experience and a part of life. To deliberately neglect them as abominable flaws is the loser’s way of hiding from new experiences and learning opportunities. It might sound like a paradox but failure and mistakes allow you to learn more than success and avoiding mistakes does. Since we live in a world where mistakes are unavoidable, embracing your imperfections as part of you and your experience is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Perfectionists, in their resolve of anticipating fanciful and perfect circumstances, ignore reality and the positive experiences that their mistakes can provide them with. To learn how to overcome perfectionism anxiety, you need to first learn to embrace your imperfections and flaws and let them shape you into a better, much-experienced version of you by contemplating in a positive light how your mistakes can make you into a competent person.
Experiment With Art Therapy
Since perfectionists are usually rigid and stringent in their routines, rules, plans, and ideas, and avoid probing into unfamiliar realms in fear of failure and making mistakes, doubting the security of the strange world outside their comfort zone, creativity, and imagination within their comfort bubble comes to a halt. Art therapists believe art therapy can be the perfect remedy to combat perfectionism procrastination and paralysis.
Art therapy challenges the very foundation of perfectionism. Art does not follow rules and is therefore subjective. No matter what you do, art cannot be made perfect. There is no such thing as that. Art therapy is not an art class so it does not require participants to be ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ at it. Initially, exploring new techniques like these can be daunting and you may feel like everything you know is being challenged, but eventually, it can help you overcome perfectionism.
Learn to Accept Criticism
Perfectionists tend to shy away from receiving criticism. They dislike being judged and being told that their work could have been better. This can be threatening to them and their idea that whatever they do has to be perfect. Having someone tell them that it isn’t and could use improvements can add to their self-esteem and confidence issues. Therefore, they avoid and even fear criticism altogether.
Broadly, criticism can be classified as destructive criticism and constructive criticism. While talking about criticism, we criticized the idea of excessive self-criticism earlier. Here, we promote the idea of accepting and welcoming constructive criticism from fellows, family, and sometimes even strangers. Instead of taking it as a jab at your abilities, take it as advice that can help you grow and do better.
Get Professional Help
In cases of severe, chronic perfectionism disorders when mere lifestyle changes aren’t showing any improvements, resorting to professional help becomes necessary. Therapists and mental health experts who are specifically trained in dealing with clients with severe perfectionism issues can help you cope with it through adequate means.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, CBT, is usually the recognized method of helping clients deal with both, perfectionism and anxiety related to it. It works by altering destructive thought processes; such as restructuring a perfectionist’s thought by emphasizing that failure is nothing to be ashamed of or that meeting with mistakes on your way doesn’t mean they’re there to stop you, but there to guide you all the way through.
Perfectionism shares a connection with several mental health disorders, mainly depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and can be a source of constant distress in daily life. Luckily, overcoming perfectionism and learning how to deal with perfectionism is achievable through minor lifestyle alterations and help from friends and family. However, in severe cases, seeking professional help for perfectionism and anxiety is quite possibly the best thing to do.
Mooditude features Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the gold standard of talk therapy, combined with goals, routines, guided journaling, mood tracking, and clinically-developed courses into a comprehensive solution.