Being A Perfectionist Can Be Good For Your Health In These 3 Ways
Being a perfectionist — demanding constant high standards from yourself across all aspects of your life — can have pretty negative effects on your mental and physical health. Perfectionists tend to have higher rates of depression than the rest of the population, according to studies, and research has linked perfectionist tendencies to higher blood pressure and higher rates of chronic pain conditions. The reason? Perfectionists tend to have a trait called "self-criticism," meaning they berate themselves for failing their own standards and push far too hard to achieve their goals. But like most things in life, there isn't just one side to this particular coin. Being a perfectionist can actually be good for your health — provided it's managed properly.
"Perfectionism is looked at as a problem because of the overthinking, over-analyzing, over-planning, stressing, and worrying that come with it," psychotherapist Evayne Lawson of the Self + Love Center tells Bustle. But there are ways in which it can be helpful for mental and physical health, even if they seem rather unexpected. And the key to understanding the healthy potential of perfectionism comes from investigating it a little further. Millennials are very likely to be perfectionists, according to a study in 2018 — I've had a lot of therapy around unlearning my perfectionist tendencies — but if it's a part of your make-up, it could also be a force for good. Here are a few ways to use your perfectionism to your advantage, when it comes to health.
1. It Can Help You Adapt & Persevere
There are two kind of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive, and adaptive perfectionism is the one we think of as being productive. Business coach Caroline Castrillon tells Bustle, "This is the type of perfectionism that many artists and athletes have because it drives them to excel in their fields. It essentially focuses on the positive and helps you to do well. Adaptively perfectionistic individuals set high but realistic standards, and don't beat themselves up when these standards are not reached."
A 2013 study of adaptive perfectionists found that "adaptive perfectionism has been linked to various positive outcomes including: higher exam performance, life satisfaction, positive affect, endurance, extroversion, and conscientiousness". These perfectionist tendencies can help you survive changing circumstances, adapt to new situations, and be happier in life.
2. It Encourages Hitting Your Goals
Perfectionism can actually help you to maintain the kind of lifestyle you want, including when it comes to exercise, nutrition, and good self-care. Why? It's about achieving goals. Adaptive perfectionism is seen as positive, Lawson explains, "when it starts to look like organized goal accomplishments."
But it's not just about goals: perfectionism can also be an asset for organizing your time. "Perfectionism can come in handy when a person can choose to stay grounded and balanced, while being efficient at the same time. They know when to take breaks or time outs in their efficiency schedule to give back to themselves," Lawson tells Bustle. "This creates a self-care routine that allows them to balance out the mind, body, and spirit."
3. It Can Help You Avoid Stress — When Used Like This
It turns out that science points to a direct link between adaptive perfectionism and overall wellbeing. "Scientific evidence suggests that as long as the perfectionism stems from improving yourself versus being concerned about disappointing others, it can have a positive effect on your overall well-being," Castrillon tells Bustle. "This focus on self helps to prevent social anxieties so that mental resources are reserved. In short, perfectionism can positively affect work performance as well as quality of life. The key is a positive outlook and setting achievable goals."
And when perfectionism is tuned in a helpful way, it can actually keep people away from the dangers of working themselves too hard. "A research study on perfectionism and burnout actually revealed that as long as the behavior involves setting high standards and working toward those goals proactively, it can help to maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the effects of burnout," Castrillon explains.
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to use your perfectionist tendencies to make yourself feel better. Set goals that include good self-care habits, like eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising, and mindfully work towards those goals. What's more, practicing what researchers call self-compassion can help turn unhelpful perfectionist tendencies — like obsessing over little details, or self-criticism — into positive ones. Respond to failures or perceived setbacks with kindness towards yourself, and think more about your own goals than impressing others, and you'll be on the way to making your perfectionism a healthy tool, not a thorn in your side.