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Perfectionism and Anxiety: an Imperfect Situation

Updated on July 9, 2016
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies and LGBT advocacy.

A Lack of Understanding

I can only go by my own situation, so here goes.

I have anxiety, and there are some days when that sucks the very life right out of me. It would be amazing if there was a point in my life where all I heard in my brain was white noise, but I'm forever going over my own personal task list, over and over again, adding and editing and working through possible outcomes as I go about the adventure that is my day.

I have gotten a lot better at managing my anxiety - medication does indeed help, and it has calmed me greatly - but compounding my anxiety is the perfectionism that rears its ugly head sometimes. I am far from a perfect person - ask anyone who knows me - but when it comes to my job, learning new things, and when I decide something needs to be done, I want it done the right way the first time - or, at the very least, what I perceive as the right way, which will very definitely run contrary to how so many of you might see as the "right way."

I see things a certain way in my head, and if the process as I see it isn't working out, I'm not exactly "max flex" about it. In fact, I tend to think the end of the world might very well be coming, and then I have that to fuel my anxiety.

I know other people simply think of it as a need to be mellow or chill; telling someone with anxiety that they need to relax, or that they are just too wound up, is kind of like trying to give a cat a bath. We know it's needed, but we can't just go with it. Our bodies are so physiologically worked up with that anxiety kicks in, that unless we have healthy coping strategies deeply ingrained within us, in the same way our own heartbeats are deeply ingrained, simply "chilling out" will only cause a good many of us to simply become irritated and anxious - and that's a lousy combination.

The Facts

Perfectionism, simply put, is the refusal to accept anything that falls short of perfection.

According to Psychology Today, perfectionism, anxiety and depression exist in something of a triad, and an inability to meet the perfect standards you have set up for yourself only leads to terrible self-talk that essentially boils down to beating yourself up. As you beat yourself up over your perceived inability to do anything right, you start to sink, until eventually, you are convinced that you are potentially one of the worst of the worst.

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Big Project - Be Prepared - Captain Overthink is on his and her way!

When you're anxious and you have perfectionistic tendencies, you tend to overthink. "Did my supervisor/boss want Option A or B? Maybe I should discuss Option C, but in purple because the scatter plot diagram looks more believable."

It's almost a guarantee that anyone with anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies will look at any given project that they may have a few hundred times before they even get started, and as they progress through it, they might be plagued with more self-doubt and worry than a regular person might under the same conditions.

Overthinking any task is probably the biggest issue that anyone with anxiety will be facing on any given day, and the possibilities are endless when one considers the level of stress that can be generated as a result of one single work day or project.

Anxiety and Depression

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The Bottom Line

I'm slowly learning that there's a hell of a lot that I don't have in my control, and when I try to move on and have everything absolutely perfect, it actually tends to blow up, somehow, and I've had to learn a range of coping mechanisms in order to deal with my anxiety in a healthful way.

Have I learned from this? Absolutely.

Did I like that learning process? Not always.

But I'm a flawed, feeling human. I don't have to like the lessons I learn, but learn them I absolutely have to.

That's life, right?

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