11 Unexpected Differences Between Anxiety And Perfectionism

Ad failed to load

While both can leave you feeling stressed out and on edge, sometimes it is hard to distinguish signs of an anxiety disorder from perfectionism. "Perfectionism is distinct from anxiety in that, for some perfectionists, having high or specific expectations for oneself, one's environment, or for others may generally work out OK and not cause tremendous stress or difficulty for that individual," clinical psychologist Lisa Stines Doane, PhD, tells Bustle.

In that way, perfectionism can be a good thing, as it can help you get things done, while meeting a high standard. But if your symptoms are due to anxiety, that sense of relief — the one you feel after ticking off everything on your to-do list, and getting sh*t done — never seems to come. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder aren't so easy to turn off, and they can even hold you back in life.

It is, however, possible for perfectionism to be a sign of anxiety. "The major factors that distinguish perfectionism from an anxiety disorder include the level of distress that is caused when things don't live up to those expectations, the amount of time spent thinking about or working towards the target of [your] perfectionism, and whether it's impairing to [your] work, family relationships, or social life," says Doane. If you believe your perfectionism may be contributing to anxiety, speaking with a therapist or a loved one can help alleviate some of your symptoms. But if you're having trouble distinguishing the two, here are a few ways experts say it's possible to tell the difference between perfectionism and anxiety.

Ad failed to load

1You'd Rather Not Complete Tasks Unless They Can Be "Perfect"

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

If your stress is due to perfectionism as opposed to anxiety, you may catch yourself bailing on tasks before they're complete — or failing to start them at all — because you believe it's better to give up than to turn in less-than-perfect work.

"[You] might have a specific vision for how well [your] work needs to be completed, but because [you] can become so afraid it might not meet standards or perhaps [you] won't be able to finish it in a certain way, [you] avoid the task entirely — which can of course have negative consequences," Doane says.

This tendency is a token sign of perfectionism, but the side effects can be quite anxiety-inducing, and may contribute to an anxiety disorder. But the good news is, you can do something about it. "Pay attention to and then challenge the inner monologue that’s keeping you stuck, such as 'I can’t do this' or 'It’s overwhelming,'" says Doane. "Instead be ready to change that to something like 'I feel overwhelmed but I know I'll get this done... just start with 15 minutes.'" This trick can "unstick" your brain, and help you move past your anxiety and get things done.

2You Truly Believe You Can Control Your Environment

Hannah Burton/Bustle

While anxiety can cause you to feel like your life is spinning out of control, perfectionism can give you the false belief that you have more control over your environment than you actually do. And that's all thanks to where "perfectionism" occurs in the brain.

"Perfectionism boils down to a reaction driven out by the brainstem (sub-cortical region of the brain) that says to us we can control everything in our environment," psychologist Dr. Julia Harper tells Bustle. "The belief that we can actually control everything makes us attempt to make everything perfect, so that we can attempt to have the life we believe we want."

Do you struggle with letting things go, or accepting that life is out of your control? If so, it may be due to perfectionism.

3You May Get Angry When Things Don't Go As Planned

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Stemming from that need for control, take note if you get seriously upset when things don't go as planned. As Harper says, perfectionists can achieve a certain sense of satisfaction when they have control, but can feel high levels of stress when things go awry. "They may begin to react in different ways and experience a wide variety of emotions, ranging from rage, to anger, to frustration, to sadness, to defeat, to many others," she says.

If that feeling tends to lessen once your goals are met, it's likely perfectionism. But if you feel frustrated all the time, it could be passing over into the realm of anxiety.

Ad failed to load

4You Feel Super Relieved When Things Do Go Your Way

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

On the flip side, if you're a perfectionist, you'll likely breathe a sigh of relief when your life goes as planned. But this is in stark contrast to someone who's suffering from anxiety, since anxiety sufferers rarely get that sense of relief.

"A person with an anxiety disorder, even when they have control, they never get any satisfaction," Harper says. "As soon as one of the things they are anxious about clears up, they move on to the next set of anxiety-producing stressors and then the next. They never experience any relief." If you're having difficulty finding satisfaction or moving past stressors, it can help to speak with a therapist or loved one about your symptoms.

5You Often Get Hung Up On The Details

Hannah Burton/Bustle

"If you have perfectionism, you probably get caught up in the small components of your work rather than the large picture," Kelsey Torgerson, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in stress and perfectionism, tells Bustle.

But take note if this focus seems to be getting out of hand. "Perfectionism exists on a continuum — and while a little is 'good,' too much perfectionism can be a symptom of a disorder," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web radio show, tells Bustle. "Obsessive compulsive disorder often has perfectionism as a symptom."

6You Feel Motivated By Your Stress

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

The desire to do get ahead can motivate a perfectionist to do well, and get things done. "Thinking about getting a task done, feeling that you need to do your best and give it your best shot, is a sign of perfectionism," says Klapow. "The energy and motivation to do your best can cause feelings of stress and can actually cause some anxiety. But if the need to get the job done allows you to actually get the job done, and you can forget about it afterward, then it is perfectionism."

Ad failed to load

7Your Self-Confidence Is Tied To Your Success

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Another possible sign of perfectionism, according to experts? When your self-confidence is tied in directly to your success. "People with perfectionism often spend their days wrapped up in how others view them for their accomplishments," Dr. Bryan Bruno, Medical Director at Mid City TMS, tells Bustle. "Their self-confidence is often determined by trying to successfully do everything all at once for the sake of receiving praise from others."

While this can lead to anxiety, it's often a motivating factor for perfectionists, and not one that leads to great distress.

8Your Self-Esteem Can Easily Take A Hit

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Because many perfectionists get their confidence from their successes, it makes sense that their self-esteem would be tied up in it, too. And this can, in many ways, increase anxiety. "Perfectionism contributes negatively to people’s self worth and self-esteem and increases symptoms of anxiety," clinical therapist Cara Maksimow, LCSW tells Bustle. "Clinically, anxiety is a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder. Perfectionism, from my experience, personally and professionally, presents in people similar to symptoms of an anxiety disorder."

Since they can go hand in hand, if you're experiencing distress, don't be afraid to speak to a therapist. Whether your perfectionistic ways can be tied to an anxiety disorder or not, seeking treatment can certainly help you to better cope.

9You Have Black And White Thinking

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Something that perfectionists and anxiety sufferers have in common is black and white thinking. And, it's also something that can lead perfectionists to anxiety. "This all or nothing perspective (that something is either completely good or completely bad) creates anxiety because it is untenable," psychotherapist Tanvi Patel, MA, LPC-S, NCC tells Bustle. "Reality often lives in the middle of extremes, which can feel like failure to a perfectionist, turning up the dial on anxiety."

Ad failed to load

10You Have An Intense Fear Of Failure

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Speaking of failure, perfectionists may have a difficult time coping with the idea. As certified counselor Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle, "Perfectionists typically blow any failures way out of proportion, even the small ones."

If you find failure to be motivating, that's great. If you don't, it could be creating a certain level of anxiety that can be considered chronic. Remember, it's all about your distress levels, and whether or not you're able to quickly recover.

11You Don't Allow Yourself Room For Mistakes

Ashley Batz/Bustle

If you can't move past even the most minor of mistakes, consider that a sign of perfectionism. "Perfectionism does not allow room for mistakes," Associate Professional Counselor Bianca Hughes, MA, APC tells Bustle. "Mistakes are opposite to perfection. Often this leads to a person being very critical towards themselves if they make a mistake. They believe mistakes equal rejection and so they be some consumed with the fear of rejection."

Which can, as you might guess, lead to anxiety. Perfectionism, when healthy and not a compulsion, can be motivating and lead you to success. But if it it's reaching levels that are hindering you, rather than helping you, that's when it could be a sign of anxiety.

Usually, anxiety disorders don't have perfectionism as a major symptom. But it's easy to see how the two can feed off each other. If you believe your perfectionism is causing more lasting anxiety, consult with a therapist or loved one to help find strategies to cope.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Bustle's Editors On K-Beauty + McDonald's

If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you're probably rejoicing over the fact that the week's more than halfway over. And if not, keep your chin up. I've got some insane Fashion Week and McDonald's news to hold you over. So, without further ado…
By Melissa Mills

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper