Stress Relief for Perfectionists

If you have a habit of trying to make everything in your life perfect, and controlling all the results of your projects and relationships, you probably have a stress level that is off the chart, and you might not even realize how harmful that stress is because you are so used to pushing yourself past the pain threshold.

You may have been cramming your work schedule so you could take some time off for a holiday or special occasion, but then – to be sure the holiday turns out perfect, of course – you end up taking care of all the shopping and preparation yourself, overloading your calendar with things that you feel you absolutely must take care of or else disaster will ensue, and cutting into your sleep time to get everything done. It does not occur to you to cut the list short. Instead, you cheat yourself out of relaxation time, you eat each meal in a hurry and you race around getting it all done. And then, inevitably, you feel so stressed that you can barely enjoy the end results no matter how wonderful they are.

The problem with the disease of perfectionism (and it is indeed a dis-ease) is that you don’t get any time off from it. Your mind simply won’t allow you to do that, because if you slack off (what other people call relaxing), then you punish yourself with guilt feelings, shame and blame.

Wherever did you get the idea that you must constantly be busy in order to prove your worth to the world? I know from experience that perfectionism generally has roots in childhood when you were striving hard to gain approval and admiration from parents and other caregivers or teachers. You got the notion that by being perfect, then you would finally get the love you sought, but instead, you got trapped in a lifelong habit of being unable to do “average” work in any area of your life.

Perfectionism is a hard taskmaster, and does not allow you any wriggle-room for less than stellar performance in work, play, hobbies, homemaking and relationships. You may be stressed to the max, but you won’t even admit that, because that would be an admission that things aren’t as wonderful and, well, perfect, as the facade you have so carefully structured in your life.

At first glance, it might seem that being a perfectionist means you are someone who takes pride in doing a good job. But when it goes deeper and darker, the habit of perfectionism means you are unforgiving when you make an inevitable mistake. You are your own worst critic, and you cannot take pleasure in the simple joys and accomplishments of your life. Nothing measures up as being worthy of acclaim, and so you flog yourself mentally and keep pushing toward that ideal and impossible perfectionism.

To offset perfectionism and get your life on a healthier path, start by taking some time to notice your emotional needs. If you make yourself half-crazy trying to be sure all the details are taken care of for the rest of the family, you’ll end up resenting the effort you’ve made if they aren’t suitably appreciative. Learn to cut back on doing too much for everyone. Let others help out, and stop being responsible for tasks that can be delegated to others.

If you’re the mom who always bakes, and you just don’t have the energy to do it for every dinner or every special occasion, then don’t! Buy a cake at the grocery store and present it with your usual flair. Bite your tongue: no excuses and apologizing are necessary. Avoid launching into a long involved reason why you were too tired to bake and fall all over yourself saying, “I’m sorry” — this adds to your stress and adds to an uncomfortable feeling in the whole party. In addition, that attitude perpetuates the idea that not baking the cake from scratch means you are imperfect and unlovable.

If you’re the dad who always barbecues for neighborhood parties, using your famous homemade sauce, but you were busy all week with extra hours at work, then go ahead and buy the bottled sauce. Remind yourself that you can always make your specialty some other time. Maybe it becomes an annual event that you enjoy doing, instead of a painful obligation that your old perfectionism has made you feel was necessary.

The point is, so often we get caught up in thinking the tradition of what we make each year has to remain the same. But when your lifestyle has changed due to economic shifts, and you’re working longer hours with less leisure time available to you, don’t stress over what should be a relaxing weekend.

You perfectionists out there, give yourself permission to use mixes, bottled sauces, and store-bought baked goods. Make a new tradition… make it all about spending time together with people you care about and love.

Ease up on your stress load, and you’ll be happier for it.

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