The term “perfectionist” doesn’t necessarily have a bad connotation. After all, a perfectionist might be driven, productive, detail-focused, and achieve the goals they want in life. People likely admire them. But under the surface, perfectionism can take a toll on a person’s mental health. Over time, a perfectionist will most likely develop anxiety and vice versa—a person with anxiety could become a perfectionist.
Anxiety and perfectionism fuel each other. Together, they behave cyclically. Anxiousness motivates you to achieve perfection in every task, and this striving for perfection creates anxiety about falling short. When perfectionism becomes detrimental to your life and mental health, anxiety is likely a culprit.
Perfection can manifest itself in a few ways. To determine whether your anxiety is fueling your perfectionism, take a look at the root causes and desires of your perfectionism.
Worrying about future outcomes
A hallmark of both anxiety and perfectionism is that they are not concerned with the present. They are both a preoccupation with future events. Got a major report deadline at work coming up? You’ll be anxious about that rather than the meal you’re currently eating.
You might also be worrying about how to go about accomplishing the report. Perhaps you get stressed and overwhelmed by the idea of getting something big done. Neither of these focuses on the present moment. Consider how much your quest for perfectionism is relying on looking toward the future.
Feelings of inadequacy
Being a perfectionist comes with setting your own high standards. Most likely these standards aren’t set by others—rather, it’s possible they’re your anxious response. You don’t want to leave any room for error for fear that others will criticize you. You might also worry about letting others down.
While on the outside you might seem well put together and confident, if your anxiety is fueling your perfectionism then you’re feeling inner turmoil. You’re constantly worried that you’re not measuring up to expectations. But who is even setting these expectations? It’s important to take a step back and interrogate where this unhealthy desire for approval coming from.
Fears of failure
If you feel completely paralyzed in the face of an important deadline because you’re worried about failing at the task, anxiety is the cause. It might seem counterintuitive, but perfectionists can sometimes be incapable of finishing what they start. The fear of possible failure is so great that it can stop you from achieving your goals.
This kind of avoidance is actually an anxious coping mechanism; it’s a way of stifling real feelings and vulnerabilities. When anxiety is fueling your perfectionism, the thought of making a mistake might seem earth-shattering. This type of all-or-none thinking should be dealt with in therapy.
How to cope and move forward
Practice mindfulness. Center yourself in the present moment to steer yourself away from purely outcome-oriented thinking. Both perfectionism and anxiety can and will take a toll on your mental health. Developing positive coping mechanisms, such as being mindful in the present moment, practicing meditation, and focusing on sensory details, will help get you out of an anxious spiral.
It’s okay to admit imperfection. Allow room for it! Recognize when you need help and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Treating your anxiety disorder and getting at the root of your perfectionism can be done with the right tools and professionals guiding you along the way. Learning healthy coping skills for your anxiety will help you live a happier, more fulfilling life.