New Year resolutions can feed anxiety for perfectionists
Happy New Year! In an effort to make a clean start, many of us (40-45% of Americans) begin each new year with the time-honored tradition of creating at least one New Year’s resolution. If you are one of these ambitious folks, chances are you have begun other years with similar resolve. The most common New Year’s resolutions include:
- Lose weight
- Eat healthier
- Exercise more
- Save more
- Spend less
- Find a better job
- Quit a habit
- Read more
Committing to make a significant change for our own wellbeing is a very healthy marker of personal growth. At the same time, especially for perfectionists, insistence on creating and keeping New Year’s resolutions can feed anxiety. Resolutions are usually foundational changes, requiring significant lifestyle shifts in order to see the results we seek. But, if we’re having trouble making it to the gym once a week in December, how will we magically drum up the motivation, let alone the follow-through, to make it there five times per week in January? If we could simply “decide” we want to meet a certain goal, surely we wouldn’t wait until January to do it. If we have a whole list of goals, the amount of change required to meet them would be unreasonable, if not impossible. For perfectionists, nothing but absolute adherence will do, so creating significant lifestyle hurdles can be dangerous.
In psychology, perfectionism is identified as a personality trait characterized by a person’s refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. In their quest for perfection, perfectionists can be extremely self-critical, as well as hyper-sensitive to the criticism of others. Perfectionism can nurture a fierce drive and determination that can bring confidence and success. On the other hand, perfectionism can drive people to pursue unrealistic or unattainable goals that can become fodder for anxiety. There’s nothing at all wrong with trying your best, but when perfectionism becomes an obsession and it impacts your daily living or your health, it is a maladaptive trait rather than an strength which can lead to, or be a part of, an anxiety disorder.
Many people who struggle with anxiety will say they struggle with perfectionism. They work frantically, at times, working and reworking a task until it becomes very difficult to identify when the task is actually done or when to stop. Anxiety increases with each attempt to improve the task; only mental or physical exhaustion will stop the cycle. If this is true for you, you might think carefully before launching into your New Year’s resolutions. Goal-setting and striving to meet new goals can be an empowering process, but if you wrestle with perfectionism and anxiety, try approaching resolutions differently this year. Knowing that resolutions can be a trigger for perfectionism, rather than setting rigidly defined goals, make general goals with realistic, manageable paths to success.
If you struggle with perfectionism, if you’re stressed and anxious about your New Year’s resolutions, don’t let anxiety overwhelm you again. Consider talking with a mental health professional. There is no need to suffer. With help, you can turn this sometimes debilitating character trait into a powerful asset.