The Health Risks of Perfectionism

I was listening to a podcast recently about perfectionism. The host was sharing something interesting about people who exhibit this quality – they don’t think they have an issue with perfectionism because they don’t do anything perfectly.

I had just caught myself having that exact thought. “Well, I can’t be a perfectionist, because everything around me isn’t perfect.”

Hearing that put it all into perspective. I’ve wrestled with my own high standards throughout my life. In fact, in my teens and 20’s I was the typical Type A personality – great grades, hard on myself, and developed an eating disorder.

Needless to say, I know all about perfectionism and the harsh inner critic that causes me to set extremely high standards for myself and feel like there’s no other way but to meet them.

Just in case you’re wondering if you fit into this definition (keep in mind there are shades of perfectionism, so you don’t have to fit one perfectly) here are three common types of perfectionism that people exhibit:

Self-oriented perfectionism- is where individuals hold unrealistic expectations of themselves, attach irrational importance to being perfect and have hard self-evaluations.

Other-oriented perfectionism – is where individuals expect those around them to be perfect and are highly critical of others who fail to meet their expectations.

Socially prescribed perfectionism- occurs when individuals believe that others judge them harshly for their social context and that they need to be perfect for others in order to secure approval.

For those of us who live with high standards and high expectations of ourselves it can be difficult to discern if these are rooted in perfectionism, or just the way we like things.

Perfectionism can be a recipe for chronic stress, anxiety and is even linked to depression. It can be hard to tell whether your self-evaluations and expectations are toxic if you’ve lived with them all your life. But toxic perfectionism leaves clues. Knowing the warning signs of toxic perfectionism can help you decipher when it’s time to make a change.

Health Risks of Perfectionism

The mind and body are intimately connected. Therefore the mental stress you experience about whether your body, your home, your family, or your life lives up to the standards you have for yourself directly impacts your health.

Regardless of what area your perfectionist tendencies show up, the stress they create causes health problems that show up in similar patterns. They include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease (or increased risk)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High risk for bipolar disorder
  • Risk of suicide

Occasionally, if your perfectionism is body-oriented (wanting to look a certain way to gain approval from others or yourself) the health risks can increase and include things like:

  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia)
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Malnutrition
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Increased risk of autoimmune conditions

No matter how you add it up, the health risks just aren’t worth the potential gain of satisfying your inner critic (especially when that critic is never fully satisfied). What’s more, it’s hard to enjoy your life and all of the amazing things in it if you’re constantly living under the rule of a harsh inner critic.

If you’re dealing with some form of perfectionism and want to explore what it would be like to loosen the reigns, book your Breakthrough Call with me. We’ll talk it through and get you some clarity on your situation and how best to move forward.

Tools to Help Resolve Perfectionism

There is no quick fix for a mindset that took years to create. I also want to be upfront and say that perfectionism isn’t all bad. Having standards for your life and striving to reach goals can be a healthy part of your overall well being.

The key is to strike a fine balance that allows your health to flourish and enables you to be your best self, as opposed to putting a damper on your mental health or your body.

Here are some tools that have helped me on my journey through perfectionism recovery (which is ongoing) and are a great place to start.

  1. Yoga and mindfulness – there are so many ways that yoga benefits the mind and body, but did you know it can help you overcome toxic perfectionism? The practice of yoga brings you into the present moment. It helps you to stop thinking about the future, stop comparing yourself and let go of worrying about whether or not you measure up.

    Mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation will help you be aware of your thoughts as they come up so you can question them and choose whether or not to believe them and continue down the path. Just don’t get caught up in whether or not you’re doing the poses perfectly. Yoga is about being in the moment. So when you show up on your mat to practice, you’ve already won.
  2. Talk to someone – a coach or therapist can be a great outlet for sharing your perfectionist thoughts and inclinations. It’s very cathartic to out your perfectionist thoughts by sharing them out loud to someone. When you hear yourself say out loud the things that your inner critic tells you, you’re more likely to question the thoughts instead of believing them. Sometimes saying the words out loud is all it takes to discredit that inner voice and choose a new thought that’s more in line with your health and wellbeing.
  3. Loosen up on expectations – when you realize there are effects of perfectionist thinking on your health it’s motivating to make a change. Bringing your expectations to a reasonable level will help you not to put so much pressure on yourself. Self-compassion is an attitude of understanding toward yourself and your circumstances. When you practice self-compassion you’ll be able to acknowledge and accept where you’re at in the moment, even if you’re working toward change.

If you’ve read this far, it’s probably because you can relate to these perfectionist tendencies. My Eats & Asana coaching mentorship supports women who are perfectionists about their bodies, their eating habits and their schedules to find a healthy way of eating and living so they can thrive (guilt-free!). If you’re curious to know what the program can do for you, book your  Breakthrough Call so we can talk more.

Selina Rose
A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).
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Author: Selina Rose

A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).