The Connection Between Perfectionism & Anxiety


Perfectionism is often viewed as a positive trait—something that drives individuals to strive for the best in every aspect of their lives. Whether it be at work, school, or personal relationships, a perfectionist seemingly never settles for mediocrity. Unfortunately, there is more to the pursuit of perfection than meets the eye. Perfectionism can foster anxiety, overthinking, and a myriad of other mental health struggles.

In this blog series, I am going to explore the depths of perfectionism, the causes behind it, and the connection between perfectionism and anxiety, as well as share ways to challenge and overcome it.

Defining Perfectionism: The Obsession with Flawlessness

Perfectionism, in its simplest form, is the pursuit of flawlessness and setting excessively high standards, often paired with an overwhelming fear of failure. Individuals who struggle with perfectionism may constantly push themselves to attain excellence, measure their worth by their successes, and feel compelled to maintain meticulous control over every aspect of their lives. A fundamental aspect of perfectionism lies in the belief that any mistake is a catastrophe that must be avoided at all costs, ultimately hindering one’s ability to lead a fulfilling life. However, it does not need to be so extreme to still cause problems. Maybe for you it might cause time management issues (as you keep going over the same piece of work trying to perfect it) leaving you less time to relax and unwind. It can cause sleep dysfunction (as you toss and turn overthinking what you have done, or not done), physical stress, and the effects of that can have on your body. Lastly, perfectionism undermines your piece of mind as you constantly second guess yourself and how others might perceive you or the things that you have done.

Understanding the Root Causes of Perfectionism

To effectively address perfectionism, we must first understand its origin. Several factors contribute to the development of this mindset:

1. Genetics: Research has found that personality traits like perfectionism may have genetic components, which means it can run in families.

2. Upbringing: Children who grow up with parents who set high expectations or harshly criticize their perceived weaknesses may internalize perfectionism as a coping mechanism to gain approval.

3. Society and culture: The pressures of social media, workplace expectations, and the pursuit of the “ideal” life can contribute to an environment where perfectionism thrives.

4. Personal experiences: A history of failure or trauma can lead some individuals to adopt perfectionism as a means of shielding themselves from further disappointment or pain.

The Link Between Perfectionism and Anxiety

Perfectionists are often highly sensitive to their environments and their own perceived imperfections. The constant striving for perfection creates a breeding ground for anxiety, as the fear of failure and the need for control increases with every task. This often results in persistent worrying, overthinking, and an inability to relax, all hallmarks of anxiety disorders.

Perfectionism and anxiety share a bidirectional relationship, where each can feed off the other, creating a repetitive cycle of distress. This connection can lead to chronic stress and can negatively impact an individual’s mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Strategies to Challenge Perfectionism and Reduce Anxiety

If you recognize that anxiety and perfectionism are weighing you down, here are four strategies to help bring balance to your life:

1. Embrace Imperfection

One of the most daunting yet empowering steps towards managing perfectionism is accepting the inevitability of imperfections. Accepting that no one, yourself included, is infallible, can help you begin to separate your self-worth from your accomplishments. Practice letting go of the need for complete control and be open to mistakes – they often lead to personal growth and development. I would never suggest that you just jump in and stop worrying about perfection. We will investigate underlying causes and set small manageable goals.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Setting realistic goals and expectations is crucial for decoupling perfectionism and anxiety. Challenge yourself to reevaluate the standards you hold for various aspects of your life and differentiate between striving for excellence and unattainable perfection. Adjust your expectations as necessary to allow for a more balanced approach to achievement.

3. Foster Compassion Towards Yourself

Perfectionists tend to be their harshest critics, with an impractical zero-tolerance policy for mistakes. By practicing self-compassion, you can begin to shift your inner dialogue towards one of understanding, patience, and acceptance. Remind yourself that everyone makes errors and that they do not define your worth. I expect that you are much more forgiving of other people’s mistakes than you are of your own.

4. Seek Help When Needed

Professional help, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can provide valuable guidance and tailored coping strategies to challenge perfectionist thought patterns and reduce anxiety. I can help you identify your triggers, understand your self-talk and develop effective techniques to combat anxiety and treat yourself with kindness.

Finding Balance and Embracing the Process

In a world that frequently glorifies the pursuit of perfection, it’s essential to recognize the significant impact perfectionism can have on mental health and quality of life. By understanding the connection between perfectionism and anxiety, we can begin to challenge this unattainable mindset and take steps towards a more balanced approach to life.

Keep in mind that the journey towards embracing imperfection, fostering self-compassion, and reducing anxiety will likely be filled with successes and setbacks. Though challenging the perfectionist grip may seem like a daunting task, the process can ultimately lead to a healthier outlook on life. By acknowledging the importance of balance, giving yourself grace in times of imperfection, and seeking help when needed, you can begin to break free from the chains of perfectionism and with that embrace a less anxiety-fueled life. I have many blog posts about anxiety and perfectionism and a free downloadable booklet on how to overcome anxiety and worrying. Visit my anxiety treatment page to read more about my services expert anxiety therapy!

Dr. Sarah Allen

If you have any questions, or would like to set up an appointment to work with me and learn how to reduce anxiety, please contact me at 847 791-7722 or on the form below.

If you would like to read more about me and my areas of specialty,  please visit Dr. Sarah Allen Bio. Dr. Allen’s professional license only allows her to work with clients who live in IL & FL & the UK and unfortunately does not allow her to give personalized advice via email to people who are not her clients. 

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