PERFECTLY EXHAUSTED...the downsides of those high standards

“Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” ― Rebecca Wells

You want to do well. You have been told that you are made for great success. You were the top of your class at school. You did really well at university. You were always one of the best liked in your friendship circles. That and you somehow manage to look great all of the time too. So you continue aiming high in your life…you continue striving for perfection. Working harder at work (so you can earn the money and have the success someone with your abilities deserves), working harder at the gym (so you can maintain that great physique) and working harder to please those around you (so that you can remain well liked by your family, colleagues and friends). Yet these wonderful high standards of yours are slowly getting you to a place where you are feeling stressed all of the time – stretched, with no time on your hands; anxious because you might not live up to your own expectations; and exhausted because you are sacrificing sleep just to get everything done. Being PERFECT is EXHAUSTING. When did these high standards suddenly start taking over your thoughts, making you feel bad about yourself and ruining your life one by one?

We admire people who have high standards. We admire those who strive for perfection. Yet for those who have high standards and are high achievers, their perfectionism can very easily have a negative impact on their mental health. Perfectionism involves the pursuit of high standards despite the negative consequences arising as a result of this (including things like exhaustion, negative feelings and low self-esteem). These high standards could relate to any area of someone's life, including their professional life (wanting to always deliver the perfect report), their appearance (wanting to always look good or maintain a certain weight), social situations (wanting to be liked by everyone) or home life (wanting to always have a spotless house).

Whilst having high standards in and of itself is not a bad thing – if someone is feeling really bad about themselves because they are not living up to their high standards, or are becoming incredibly self-critical as a result of these standards – then perfectionism can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bulimia and anorexia. In fact underlying many issues around food is a form of perfectionism which involves an individual having extremely high standards of themselves when it comes to their weight and physical appearance (as well as sometimes other areas of their life e.g. professional/having a spotless house etc.).

You can gauge if your high standards have morphed into a form of unhelpful perfectionism by asking yourself questions such as:

- Am I pursuing high standards in one area of my life at the expense of other parts of my life? Unhelpful perfectionism often involves a focus on one or two areas of life at the expense of the other parts e.g. is my pursuit of the perfect weight meaning that I am spending ages in the gym/worrying about what I eat and engaging less with my personal and professional life or eg. are my professional goals stopping me from pursuing my hobbies and taking care of my health?

- Am I seeing negative consequences (including negative thoughts and feelings) arising from the pursuit of these standards? e.g. Do I feel anxious about everything that I have to do a lot of the time or do I feel exhausted because I am sacrificing sleep in order to achieve my goals?