Perfectionism and Anxiety Go Hand-In-Hand

Written by: Dr Joseph Kekulawala
(Psychiatrist)
Last updated date : March 30, 2022

On the face of it, to most perfection is it may seem to be a good thing. Aren’t we all taught from childhood to strive to be the best we can be? If we draw the prettiest picture in school, are the quickest to finish a race, or get a prize in science, we win the applause of friends and the adoration of our family. However, for psychologists and counsellors, striving to be the best or perfectionism isn’t as rosy as it sounds. Sometimes, underneath our perfectionism is a deep fear for making mistakes, worries about failure and thoughts about not being good enough. In this article, we are going to explore the link between perfectionism and anxiety.

Most of us know the link between perfectionism and another well known mental health issue, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, we speak less about the connection between perfectionism and anxiety. How are perfectionism and anxiety connected? Do you need one to have the other? Finally, what are some of the long-term consequences of having both perfectionism and anxiety? We hope to answer some of those questions in this article. We also have a six-week course on perfectionism which you can find on our courses page at Epsychonline.

Chapter 1:
Let’s Define Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a broad personality style characterised by an individual’s wish to be flawless and perfect. It is driven by their self-critical mindset and subconsciousness. Perfectionism is associated with compulsive behaviours, lofty goals, and a sense of self, closely intertwined with being productive and accomplishing more.

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Chapter 2:
Perfectionism and Anxiety, Plus Other Mental Health Consequences

Researchers are looking into the role of perfectionism in numerous mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and personality disorders. As you can imagine having perfectionistic tendencies can lead to poor ways of coping with stress. For instance, Think of someone who is a perfectionist at work. If the manager gives them extra work, put them under stress, they may struggle to cope because they have such high standards for themselves. This may lead to them feeling sad, not sleeping, and worrying excessively, leading to depression or anxiety.

Let’s think about some other situations where perfectionism can lead to anxiety. Perfectionism can show up anywhere. Wanting to excel can come up at work, school, sports, public speaking, appearance, cleanliness and a host of other areas. For whatever reason, if perfectionists expectations or standards are not met. It will lead to frustration, sadness, shame or feelings of unworthiness. There is a sense of all or nothing when it comes to perfectionism. As you can imagine, this intern can lead to anxiety and depression.

Of concern is a link between perfectionism and suicide. As we discussed, perfectionists tend to be self-critical. They often have high expectations of themselves. If they are unable to succeed, they carry deep shame and dissatisfaction. Researchers are looking into the link between perfectionism and suicide.

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Chapter 3:
Perfectionism and Anxiety, Which Comes First?

The exact relationship between perfectionism and anxiety is a challenge to break down. As we are learning, there is quite some overlap between perfection and anxiety. Perfectionists tend to set themselves extreme standards, which they then work hard to achieve. Perfectionism and extreme or black and white thinking are linked. For a perfectionist, that is only victory or failure, with very little middle ground. As a result, perfectionists stress or worry immensely about how they are performing, leading to anxiety. In these situations, perfectionism is leading to or causing anxiety.

On the other hand, anxiety is associated with repetitive worry, uncertainty and stress. It is not uncommon for someone who is anxious to focus on one particular aspect of their lives, such as cooking or their work. To manage or reduce their anxiety, they may adopt some perfectionistic beliefs or where is operating. In fact, research shows people diagnosed with anxiety tend to display more perfectionistic traits.

When it comes to perfectionism and anxiety, it’s hard to tell which came first. If you are someone who experiences both perfectionism and anxiety, think back to your teenage or even younger years. If you or someone you knew were to describe you back then, would they have felt you were more a perfectionist or more an anxious young person?

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Chapter 4:
Perfectionism and Anxiety, Can They Work against Each Other?

One of the underlying fears that drive perfectionism is worries about being worthless and others judgement. As you can imagine, this can lead to considerable anxiety and stress. Sometimes periods of increased anxiety can lead to struggles with decision-making, trouble choosing. This leads to no decision being made or no action being taken. The anxiety causes paralysis of sorts, which for a perfectionist, someone striving to improve or get better, is a nightmare. This is an extreme scenario. Here perfectionism and anxiety get caught and intertwined into a vicious cycle.

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Chapter 5:
Managing Perfectionism and Anxiety

People who struggle with both perfectionism and anxiety are vulnerable to stress, depression and OCD. As we are learning, perfectionism and anxiety, especially when they get out of hand, can be extremely difficult to live with. Fortunately, there are several strategies to manage perfectionism. Psychologists use many different approaches to help people understand, break down, and challenge The underlying perfectionistic thoughts and mindset.

Let’s take cognitive behavioural therapy as an example. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is probably the most commonly used psychotherapy mode. It helps people understand the links The core beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. CBT can be used to breakdown on helpful thinking styles, constructively challenge them and replace some of those and helpful perfectionistic thoughts with more balanced and helpful ones. Psychologists use behavioural experiments and other techniques to move people with perfectionistic mindsets into more healthy ways of managing their lives.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is another treatment that psychologists use when helping people manage that perfectionism.

Here, at Epsychonline, we have a psychologist written course on perfectionism that uses both CBT and ERP techniques.

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Chapter 6:
Long-Term Consequences

Perfectionism is a risk factor for many mental health conditions, excessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, depression and suicide. In addition, perfectionism is associated with over working and high degrees of stress. Perfectionism is also associated with black and white, all on nothing thinking. There are also certain negative core beliefs that go hand-in-hand with perfectionism. It is not a stretch to say that perfectionism on its own or in combination with a mental health condition can lead to burnout at work, personal dissatisfaction, conflicts at home, conflicts with colleagues, challenges meeting in managing societal expectations and personal responsibilities. For instance, someone with perfectionism and anxiety may struggle to get their financial affairs in order to submit the annual tax return or high for a personal loan with the bank. Why? Because they are worried, overthink their finances, and want to have the financial records perfect before submitting their tax return or applying for a bank loan. We hope this article has been helpful to you, linking perfectionism and anxiety. Perfectionism and anxiety are conditions for which there are practical psychological approaches to managing.  At Epsychonline, We have courses on perfectionism and anxiety. Please take a moment to visit our course pages. You might find the material that helpful to you. Learn about the links between Perfectionism and Anxiety, why they occur together? Which comes first? How they can be better managed? Psychiatrist written articles.