How perfectionism increases stress and affects your health

Today stress is on the rise.  The pace of our life is phenomenal. We have to work harder,  faster, more efficient and longer hours.  Job security seems more and more like a thing from the past.  Technology gives us vast amounts of information.  This in many ways is a wonderful thing to share.   But still, if you are more or less perfectionist all these good things may seem as overwhelming and can intensify the feeling that you don’t know everything. Our expectations have increased along with the range of choices available to us.  SO much has changed in the last decades.  People are now more mobile, families are spread far and wide, communities are differently structured through online opportunities, etc.

As stress evolves we will need to learn how to deal with it, to avoid getting burned out in several areas of our life.

What is stress and how to recognize it?

As by definition: “Stress is the response by  the mind and body  to pressure we feel we can’t cope with”

If you go through different definitions you will find that they all state that the point is on the perception of the demands we face and the way we think we can handle or not able to handle them.  Perception can be seen as a reality or how we interpret life problems. It is more for how we as individuals react to situations based on our beliefs and attitudes.

When we experience stress our body switches to defense and survival mode. And the basic instinct of fear takes over.  Our blood supply is redirected to the heart and major muscles, heart rate increases, etc.  And once the danger has passed away everything goes back to normal.

This behavior is normal.  There are no worries if it happens from time to time.  But still, we have to be worried if it happens often and stays uncontrolled.  The state of hyper-stimulation creates the so-called “chronic stress”, where our body needs longer time to return to normal. That often leads to different physical and mental problems. In order to slow us down, our body simulates illness.  That is proven by research conducted by the Australian Medical Association in 2016. Researchers discovered that 78% of all visitors by the family or state doctors are caused not by illness but are somehow stress related. Stress affects our ability to enjoy life, our work, our family and our relationships.  

But you need to understand that stress affects each of us differently. It depends on our personality, experience,  background, etc. how we will face and handle stress.  Still, stress can be identified for all people by two groups of symptoms – physical, behavioral and mental. Reading a lot of these group  of symptoms, I was able to  build my  own list  of symptoms to help  me recognize the stress when I experience it:

Physical Symptoms Mental Symptoms Behavioral  Symptoms
01. Breathless 02. Nausea 03.Tense on shoulders or neck 04. Vague aches and pain 05. Skin irritation 06. Susceptibility  to allergy 07. Frequent cold or other infections 08.Rapid weight loss or gain 09. Changes in physiological cycles 10. Instant tiredness   01. Mood swings 02. Increased worrying 03. Lack of enthusiasm 04. Feeling like angriness, guilt, cynism 05. The sustainable feeling of helplessness 06. Loss of confidence 07. Lack of self-esteem 08. Lack  of concentration at activities 09. Nervous and anxious behavior 10. Withdrawal into  daydreams 01. Poor work results 02. Increased smoking and drinking 03. Loss of sex drive 04. Poor time management 05. Withdrawal  of relationships 06. Long hours working 07. Lack  of tools for relaxation 08. Overeating or loss of appetite 09. Neglect of self-appearance

Don’t worry we all have these symptoms.  They just appear in a different way to every one of us.  Recognizing them is the first step to build an adequate reaction on stress,  helping you to return to balance. Because the key to dealing successfully with stress is to catch it as early as you can. As soon as you catch the symptoms the more adequately you will be able to react and prevent further damages to you and others and take back the control over your life.

How stress affects performance?

There is a simple quote that is saying: “Work smarter,  not harder”. Often we disagree with it,  thinking that if we work longer, harder and faster our performance will get better. It is the logical step, but there is just one problem. This principle is thought for machines, and people are not machines. When we reach a certain point, our body starts telling us that we need to  “slow down”.  If we don’t listen then comes the next step when our body demands it from us with a sign that says “stop it is dangerous”, but if we don’t listen again then the next step causes us mental and health problems. In the performance process of every person, there are 3 major points

Poor performance –  where we underperform

Peak performance –  where we are motivated and achieve higher results

Intended performance – where we push  ourselves  to stay  motivated, but we need more energy  to  sustain the level of achievement

 There is no way to sustain peak performance for a long period of time.  When you reach the point of peak performance you will need to reduce for a moment,  take a break and relax. If you don’t do that when you move to a dangerous path that can cause you more damage than good.

Perfectionism and its connection to  Worry  and Anxiety

Worry is often seen as a normal part of life. It is like a natural response to the environment. But still, it can become a problem when it interferes with normal human functioning. There are many reasons you can be worry,  depending on the kind of perfectionist you are. When we worry it is usually about the future.  This includes lots of speculation,  fortune telling, etc. One of the perfectionist greatest fears is not meeting their own high standards,  and worry comes here as second nature to this person. When this happens, the perfectionist runs back to an event in the past where something not OK has happened and sticks to this event. He tortures himself what he/she  “should” have done or said.

If we can’t put past events behind us. Then they will affect our future, causing pointless emotional pain and lack f engagement in our daily lives.  This can also affect our will to start new things, by keeping us “safe” from making mistakes.

As an effect of worry often we can see different emotional and behavioral signs such as panic attacks,  strong feelings of shame, overcompensation leading to more stress and resistance to change.

How strong will these effects show in our lives, depend only on the level of perfectionism, every one of us feels? As high as it is,  the higher the level of tress is and symptoms are showing much clearer. 

The only way to deal  with  stress is to  deeply  explore the level  of perfectionism we put in our life activities in and outside work and try  managing them so, that  their effect over our behavior is kept on lower level, allowing us to  leave our lives in a balanced way and finish our work  activities with  more positives.


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