THE BLOG

Why Being a Perfectionist Is Bad for Your Health

19/04/2016 11:45

There is a quiet epidemic sweeping our generation - perfectionism.

The pressure to be perfect and 'always on' is overwhelming. Whether the aim is to be the perfect boss, employee, partner, sibling or have the perfect life, home, children, body - there is a never ending stream of "perfectionism" with which our generation is struggling to keep up with.

Whilst the traits of perfectionists are often applauded and even encouraged. Prem Fry, a psychology professor at Trinity Western University in Canada, says that 'Perfectionism is a virtue to be extolled definitely, but beyond a certain threshold, it backfires and becomes an impediment'.

So what are the implications of perfectionism on your health?

You have a higher risk of burn out

Perfectionists are incredibly detailed focussed and eager to please and they find it hard to say no to things. That combined with a crippling fear of failure and need to be in control, they'll often find it hard to relinquish responsibility for anything, whether that's in their personal or professional lives.

As a result perfectionists are far more prone to burnout than non-perfectionists.

You're more likely to catch viruses

When the body is under stress our nervous system prepares for fight or flight. This increases your heart rate, blood pressure, dilates the airways and coronary arteries and increases your metabolic rate. But this response is designed to be over quickly so our bodies can recover and rest, says Stephen Palmer, a visiting professor of psychology at Middlesex University. 'If the stress response is prolonged, the body is always in threat mode, which means the immune, digestive, cardio- vascular and other systems suffer,' he says.

When the body is under prolonged stress it leads to exhaustion and when you're depleted you're at a much higher risk of illness, especially when exposed to viruses, as the immune system is severely compromised.

You're more likely to suffer insomnia

Perfectionists have incredibly high standards and can agonise over even small instances where they haven't reached their own target. A study into this area found that those with chronic insomnia were more likely to report doubts about action, frequent parental criticism, and concern over mistakes.

A continued lack of quality sleep impacts on many areas of health and cognitive functions and makes you more prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

There is an increased risk of mental health disorders such as Anorexia

The traits of perfectionists are well documented and include things like all or nothing thinking, being a "control freak", a crippling fear of failure and often unattainable high standards for both themselves and those around them. This is the perfect breeding ground for the development of mental health problems such as eating disorders and research has identified perfectionism as a key maintenance mechanism that may help account for the persistence of severe eating disorders (Fairburn, Cooper, & Shafran, 2003).

It's time we, as a generation, redefined perfectionism. Rather than strive for perfection - strive for progress, for growth and for the opportunity to learn. Your health will thank you for it in the long run.

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