On the surface, perfectionism doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad trait. In fact, many perfectionists are hard workers, determined, and strive to always improve. Perfectionism does have its downfalls and for people struggling with high functioning anxiety (HFA), it can seem like a whole new monster.
Perfectionism and anxiety don’t mix well and cango hand in hand. The combination can be destructive and feel difficult to overcome. It’s important to recognize what high functioning anxiety and perfectionism can do to your mental health and take steps to help overcome the debilitating nature of being an anxious overachiever.
You might tell yourself that you’re just a go getter and your perfectionism motivates you to do your absolute best. Maybe you even see perfectionism as your secret weapon for why you’re successful.
Those who live with HFA tend to be overachievers, leaders, type A personalities, and, more often than not, perfectionists. Many of us with high functioning anxiety use coping mechanisms as a means to avoid what we’re actually feeling. These coping mechanisms lead to perfectionism.
eople living with HFA have busy work lives and personal lives so they don’t have to deal with their underlying thoughts of worry, stress, anger, sadness, and self doubt. That’s what makes them high functioning, rather than low functioning like more traditional anxiety where coping often means shutting down and avoidance tactics.
If you live with high functioning anxiety, you are probably familiar with the feeling of constantly hustling and other common high functioning anxiety symptoms. You may take on too many projects at work or have a fear of telling people no. Above all, you want to make sure that you don’t let others down and as a result, often put your own needs on the backburner.
This leads to excessive amounts of stress and worry related to meeting the high standards you set for yourself, which are often well above what people actually expect of you. You may use perfectionism as a way to leave little room for error and perfectionism actually prevents you from being happy.
This yearning for flawlessness might be your way of making sure that only good results can be achieved from your work. You’ve thought of every little detail and maybe you’ve even prepared back up plans in case something does go wrong. But even still, you find yourself often obsessing about these tiny details late at night and feel deep anxiety when things don’t go as planned.
People with anxiety use perfectionism as a defense mechanism. Others may feel you have high standards, when in reality you struggle with not feeling good enough or adequate enough. Perfectionism quickly becomes a means of self protection—but actually has more negative consequences than positive ones.
For people with anxiety disorders, perfectionism can cause you to put unrealistic expectations on yourself and cause an increase in feelings of self doubt and dissatisfaction. Perfectionism can cause you to feel anxious and start spiraling into your negative, harmful thoughts that exacerbate your anxiety.
There’s only two options: become perfect or learn how to overcome perfectionism. (And if you’re truly honest with yourself no one can really be perfect, no matter how hard you try.)
Because perfectionistic tendencies tend to fuel our anxiety, we need to tackle them both and get to the root cause.
For those of us with HFA, using common techniques such as avoiding certain situations and people, or saying no may not make you feel like you’re really dealing with your anxiety. Truth is, avoidance techniques that can work for other kinds of anxiety don’t usually work for those of us with high functioning anxiety. There are a few ways I’ve found as an anxiety coach that actually help you cope and overcome your HFA and perfectionism.
When our friends or family are struggling, one of the first things we may do is check in with them, ask them how they’re feeling, and acknowledge what they’re going through. We listen and we offer kindness. So why don’t we do that for ourselves during periods of anxiousness?
Check in with yourself throughout the day and ask yourself “how are you really doing?” And wait to hear the answer.
When we start to acknowledge how we are feeling and treat ourselves with kindness (even if the feeling is negative) it allows us to take better control of it. Part of perfectionism is fueled by negative thoughts and things we tell ourselves, which I call a Monger. When you can help recognize and quiet the negative monger chatting away in your head, you start to set realistic goals and expectations when something has to get done.
Part of the struggle with perfectionism is that we are constantly facing self doubt and an overwhelming sense that we aren’t good enough. We often wonder how people will perceive us in certain situations.
When we feel thoughts about how others will see us, it’s helpful to actually strive for being perfectly imperfect. The more we welcome the idea that we can be great and have flaws, the less pressure we put on ourselves.
Think about how you would react to a friend’s negative self talk. You would probably encourage them and remind them that it’s okay to not be absolutely perfect at everything. Having those same dialogues with yourself can help remind you that imperfectness is okay.
Those of us who are perfectionists express it in various ways. Do you over analyze every situation? Do you take over on group projects because you fear that someone will mess up? Are you a workaholic? Do you procrastinate? Do you overplan?
The truth is, perfectionism is expressed in many different ways and tends to be individualistic. When you recognize the perfectionist traits that you have, you are able to address the problem head on.
Identifying how your perfectionism manifests itself in your actions can help you develop a plan for dealing with your anxiety related to perfectionism, take steps to prevent yourself from spiraling out, and make your perfectionism more easy to manage.
Time and time again, my anxiety coaching clients tell me they see perfectionism as a secret weapon or badge of honor that makes them who they are. Without being a perfectionist, they wouldn’t be themselves.
We can’t admit to others that we’re struggling with the anxiety that perfectionism causes, because perfectionism won’t let us admit we have a problem.
If that statement resonates with you but at the same time you feel the crushing weight of always having to be perfect, you may benefit from talking with someone who can help.
I offer coaching programs designed specifically for this problem! Living with HFA can feel overwhelming and doing it alone can be challenging.
I’ve designed my coaching program to make it easier to talk through your feelings and guide you through coping and how to treat your high functioning anxiety. If you’re ready to start making a change in your life, I’m here to help.