Chronic emotional stress represents one of the major contributors to various physical health problems and even chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. We can lead otherwise healthy lives, but if we fail to incorporate effective ways to prevent or reduce chronic stress, we may be overlooking a major health risk.
There are definitely certain people, with particular character traits and personality types, who are more prone to the negative effects of stress. One of the confounding things about stress is that stress levels are typically not related to the actual stressor (i.e., the problem or adverse event) but to the way we process and cope with the stressor. For example, getting fired or laid off from a job can cause one individual to fall into a depressive state while another person may become angry, upset, or worried for a few days and then move on. Our reactions to life events tend to dictate whether stress will be transient or chronic.
Are perfectionists particularly prone to stress?
It is well known that people with perfectionist personality traits have a greater tendency to experience the effects of chronic stress. This often occurs by means of burn out. Burn out is a popular term used a lot in relation to career and work life and occurs when an individual is overworked, stressed, and often frustrated with their job or profession. Individuals who burn out also tend to lack a sense of meaning and purpose in what they do and develop a sort of indifference towards their work.
Burn out occurs most often among perfectionists because the perfectionistic personality is characterized by setting high standards for achievement. In order to meet these high standards, perfectionists will work, often tirelessly towards a task and may become very self-critical about their own performance, adopting an it’s- never-good-enough approach to much of what they do. Since these behaviors represent a large part of the individual’s personality, perfectionists will tend to function in this way all the time in everything that they do. This is where chronic stress develops because perfectionists exert much time, energy, and effort into tasks and activities, but have difficulty deriving satisfaction from their work and determining when their work is done (i.e., knowing when to stop, move on, and be satisfied with the final product of their efforts).
Perfectionists Guide to Stress Management
1. Awareness & Admitting to a Problem: Effective stress management for perfectionists is like a form of “recovery” from perfectionistic tendencies. The primary issue lies in firstly, the perfectionistic becoming aware of and admitting to being a perfectionist in the first place. Many perfectionists are closeted for many years, or even much of their lives, because they lack awareness that their behavior is unhealthy and detrimental to their emotional and even physical health. This lack of awareness is what prevents the perfectionist from enacting strategies to reduce their stress and improve quality of life.
2. Working on Self-Esteem: Once awareness about perfectionism and its detriments has set in, the perfectionist often wonders what they will do to reduce these tendencies because perfectionism is so deeply engrained in their personality and way of life. Oftentimes, it is a good idea for perfectionists to examine their self-esteem, since oftentimes at their core, perfectionists can have feelings of worthlessness and a sense of never feeling good enough, hence their overcompensation by trying to do things perfectly all the time. There are many ways to work on self-esteem, but one great way is to participate in activities that you are not good at. Perfectionists are used to high performance and aiming for flawless results, which is why allowing yourself to do something that you are not good at forces you to become comfortable with (and maybe enjoy) the feeling of the unknown and allowing yourself to fail at something (for once). This activity can be a new hobby or any adventure you have never tried before. The purpose is to enjoy the activity and avoid any self-criticism or judgment.
3. Setting Boundaries: Increasing self-esteem takes time. It is a process of growth and acquiring greater self-awareness. As the perfectionist works on their self-esteem, they will realize that they need to set boundaries on themselves so that they can learn to complete a task without becoming obsessive about details or self-critical about results. Boundaries involve understanding that when completing a task, success does not mean perfection and in fact, aiming for perfection can even hinder success in the long run. Through setting boundaries and new standards for task completion, the perfectionist will learn to tailor their actions and behaviors towards a more realistic and stress free approach to their life.