We all like things to go ‘perfectly’, but the relentless pursuit
of perfection may be counterproductive and unhealthy. New research shows
that perfectionism and stress can lead to high rates of burnout. A 20-year
analysis of dozens of studies of perfectionism shows that despite their
intolerance for failure, people with perfectionistic concerns eventually
become physically and emotionally exhausted, unmotivated, and inefficient
- in sports, school, and work.
“If you are a perfectionist, you need to find outlets for relieving
tension and otherwise manage stress; if you don’t find a release,
your body will negatively react,” Dr. Morse says. “One of
the prime areas affected by stress is the cardiovascular system. Over
the long term, ‘type A’ personalities are prime candidates
for chronic chest pain, high blood pressure, and heart attack.”
Stress can end up impacting almost every part of your body.
“Some people find that that they get sick more frequently when they
are stressed out, as constant stress tends to compromise the immune system,”
Dr. Morse says. “If you have chronic stomach problems like acid
reflux or ulcers, stress often worsens the symptoms. And you probably
know from personal experience that stress causes you to tense your muscles,
leading to soreness in the neck, shoulder, and lower back.”
Behavioral problems can develop as well. Perfectionists may exhibit obsessive-compulsive
disorders, and, in severe cases may have panic attacks when imperfection
looms. Constant stress can also present significant drawbacks to your
mental well-being. “The difficulties of dealing with stress are
only compounded if you are depressed,” Dr. Morse notes.
The perfectionists most at risk for burnout are those who think of success
in terms of black and white: Complete triumph versus utter defeat. Dr.
Morse recommends a little introspection as the first step in figuring
out if your perfectionism is a problem.
“Are you preoccupied with the fear of failure? Are you quick to find
faults in other people’s performance, and do you become defensive
when people criticize you in return? Do you find it impossible to let
your mistakes go, even if there’s nothing you can do about them?
These inabilities to handle setbacks—in themselves and in others--are
often found in people who won’t turn off their quest for perfection
even when they realize the quest is harmful, because they think that perfection
is what it takes to be successful.”
Dr. Morse emphasizes that your doctor is your partner in keeping the body
and mind healthy. “If you buy into the saying, ‘failure is
not an option,’ you may be setting yourself up for a lifetime of
unmet expectations and stress-related health problems,” he says.
“Stress does not have to lead to burnout, so long as you maintain
a strong sense of personal accomplishment while you work to achieve your
goals. It’s important to have regular checkups to monitor the effects
of stress on your health. Ask your doctor for suggestions on stress-management
techniques and advice on whether seeing a therapist or counselor might
help you move from striving to thriving.”
Could you use some help managing your perfectionism? Share a comment below.
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