Teen Advice Blog: Tips to help you cope with Perfectionism & Anxiety
What is Perfectionism, and how does it benefit us?
Perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear perfect. A perfectionistic person will typically set very high, even impossible, standards for themselves – and become self-critical if these standards are not reached.
Common perfectionistic traits include:
- Spending an excessive amount of time completing, editing or redoing work
- Finding it difficult to begin work – or struggling with procrastination
- Being highly critical of yourself, and sometimes others
- May struggle to focus on anything but the goal or outcome
- Feeling pushed by a fear of achieving anything less than perfect
To explore more traits, listen to the podcast ‘Am I a perfectionist?’ on our Teen App.
Sometimes perfectionistic traits can benefit us. They may help us:
- stay motivated
- be organised
- stay focused and on task
- achieve our goals
Many young people believe that the better they perform in school, the more successful or comfortable they will be in life. This thinking makes sense, especially when they are rewarded with praise and good grades. However the problem arises when constantly striving to be perfect backfires, and interferes with our ability live a happy and healthy life.
When does Perfectionism become a problem?
The first thing to understand that Perfectionism is fueled by (and fuels) anxiety. When we simply strive to achieve a goal, we can usually feel motivated to learn and focus on the steps required. However, when we strive for perfection we can become paralysed by our fear of falling short of expectations. This fear leads to higher anxiety, which fuels further perfectionism as we try to avoid feeling like a failure or being negatively perceived by others.
Perfectionism has been linked to the following negative impacts:
- High levels of avoidance
- Increase in anxiety
- Low mood
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling easily overwhelmed
- & experiencing really strong emotional reactions to mistakes
Common signs that Perfectionism has become a problem include:
- Struggling to complete assignments or homework
- Procrastinating & frequently leaving things until the last minute
- Resisting help or methods that ‘break down’ tasks into smaller steps
- Avoiding trying new activities
- Struggling to enjoy or celebrate the activities that they do engage in
To listen to more from our Psychology team on these tricky experiences, open our podcast ‘Why do I procrastinate? (5 mins)’ in the School Section on your Teen App.
How to overcome being a Perfectionist:
Build your understanding
The first step in overcoming Perfectionism is to build your understanding about how it affects you and why you might find it difficult to let go of as a way of coping with anxiety. In the ‘School Section’ and ‘What keeps us stuck’ Section on our Teen App you can find more advice in the podcasts:
- How our way of thinking can cause Anxiety (12 mins)
- How stress and anxiety affect behaviour (15 mins)
- How to tackle Perfectionism (5 mins)
- How to stop Procrastinating (5 mins)
- Cycle of avoidance in Panic(8 mins)
- Why avoidance of things that make us anxious keeps anxiety going (4 mins)
Manage expectations, and use strategies to ‘break down’ tasks
Learning how to break down tasks or activities into more manageable ‘chunks’ can help you reduce anxiety, avoidance and feelings of overwhelm. This is particularly helpful when you feel paralysed by a procrastination-anxiety loop, or find yourself spending excessive amounts of time preparing/editing work.
The following podcasts and meditations are some of our most listened to tools to help you take a more step by step approach:
- I have no motivation for homework – what do I do? (10 mins)
- Coping Tool: Urge Surfing (4 mins)
- Meditation: Calming the mind for Homework (7 mins)
Engage in positive self-talk
Perfectionists tend to fall into the trap of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. For example, I’m a success or a failure. I’m the best friend, or not worth hanging out with. I’m able to complete something exactly how I imagined in my head, or there’s no point in even trying or finishing it.
Learning how to overcome perfectionism starts with being gentler with ourselves. Positive selftalk is a way to practice this ‘thinking flexibly’. For example:
‘I didn’t get the grade I wanted, and that’s ok’
‘Mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow’
‘I choose to enjoy the process, not just focus on the outcome’
‘I don’t have to do things perfectly’
The following are some of our most popular tools to help you practice this type of self-talk:
- Podcast: Why self praise and complimenting yourself is important (4 mins)
- Podcast: How anxiety affects thinking and how to challenge it (10 mins)
- Podcast: How to break free from anxious thinking (11 mins)
- Podcast: Using self-talk to build confidence (9 mins)
- Meditation: For when you are beating yourself up (7 mins)
- Meditation: Forgiving yourself for mistakes (7 mins)
- Meditation: Self-doubt (5 mins)
- Meditation: Treating yourself like a friend(9 mins)