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Leaving Perfectionism Behind

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a HUGE perfectionist. I’ve always had high standards for myself, so in my mind, failing was not an option. I pushed myself to the limits in everything I did, and was very hard on myself when I didn’t meet my expectations. As one can imagine, this became a vicious cycle of self-defeat and anxiety to be the best at everything.

When I was in grade 10, I struggled with family issues that heightened my anxiety. My heightened anxiety slowly creeped its way into every aspect of my life. As a perfectionist, I found myself throwing all my energy into my school work. I did this in order to keep my academic performance up to my usual standards. But I was not under my usual conditions, and this is what I failed to realize. I found myself struggling with family relationships, my friendships, my social life, my sleeping patterns, and my eating patterns. I was exhausted all the time and had no interest in doing extracurricular activities that were usually a major part of my life. I was becoming less of myself, and I had no idea how to stop it. At this point, no matter how hard I tried, my school life became affected by my intense level of stress due to my anxiety around failing and feeling “less” than others.

Finally, one of my teachers started a conversation with me that changed my life. Knowing my usual self as being upbeat, high-energy, and talkative, she began to ask me how I was doing.This was a new experience for me, as no one had ever taken the time to check-in on me since my family issues had began. I was overcome with a feeling of relief, as someone had realized that I needed help and was willing to help me.

Although she asked a very simple question, “How are you doing?”, the impact she had on my life was significant. I opened up to her about my weaknesses (which as a perfectionist, I NEVER could have imagined doing) and she related to me with her own similar experiences. Just knowing that someone else had experienced similar feelings was enough to comfort me and assure me that I was going to be okay. 

We talked more often, and she shared tools with me that helped me relax and de-stress. One of the most pivotal moments we shared was when we discussed how your mental health influences your life in all aspects, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. She explained that, “If you’re not okay up here [motioning to her head], you won’t be okay out here [motioning to the classroom].” In saying this, she taught me that I need to focus on my mental health, or I won’t be able to succeed in life, whether that’s in school, my job, or my relationships. To this very day, this is a statement that I reflect on and remind myself when struggling to maintain a healthy mental space.

As a perfectionist (or not), I can’t stress how important it is to find the ways that you relax and create a healthy mental space. One of the ways I found helpful was to schedule relaxation time. Although this sounds counterproductive, scheduling relaxation time forces you to relax. Even if I’m not finished studying, or cleaning, or doing whatever I had planned to do in a given day, I still stop and do something for myself. Whether that’s dancing, baking, exercising, or even watching TV, I find something to do that is for my enjoyment.

Another tip I learned was using meditation apps. I know what you’re thinking, “I hate meditation, I can’t meditate, etc.” I was skeptical when beginning to use meditation apps myself, but I found them extremely helpful. Even though I would be tired when I was going to bed, my mind would race with stressful and anxious thoughts from my day, and I would lie awake for hours not being able to relax and drift off to sleep. Just listening to the sounds and the speaker helped my racing mind to relax at night by creating a healthy distraction for my mind, allowing it to relax and slowly shut down. This helped all aspects of my wellness, as I was able to mentally relax and physically recharge for the next day so I could ace my tests, form healthy relationships, and start doing extracurricular activities again.

For anyone who is struggling with being a perfectionist, I know how you feel. You are NOT alone. I understand and can validate how you feel about how being a perfectionist can influence your life in demanding ways. Being a perfectionist can drive your success, but it can also hinder your success.

For anyone who knows someone struggling with being a perfectionist, REACH OUT TO THEM. Even if they don’t open up to you right away, you are at least letting them know that someone if there for them, and that it is okay to not be perfect all the time. Hopefully, in time, the person who is struggling will come to realize that you’re there for them, even when they feel that they are at their worst.

My tips to anyone who is struggling in the same ways that I did would to do self-monitoring. Let me be the first to tell you, I am still a perfectionist. I still struggle with not being the best at everything I do. However, the difference is this; I am able to recognize, within myself, when I am becoming too preoccupied by chasing success. Look at your life and establish a healthy balance between work and play. Figure out what you love to do, and plan to do those things in your life. When you feel that you’re losing the ability to do the things that make you happy, aim to schedule fun activities in your life until you have re-established your healthy balance. 

It took me a long time to get to the place I am in today in regards to my mental health, but I urge you to commit yourself to finding your healthy mental health balance. It won’t be easy, but the more you commit, the easier it will be to maintain your healthy balance.