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Perfectionism and Panic Disorder

How Perfectionism Can Impact Panic and Anxiety

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Updated January 07, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Perfectionism can contribute to anxiety and other panic disorder symptoms.

Photo © Microsoft

Perfectionism may lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety. The following looks at how perfectionism is linked to fear, anxiety, and panic disorder.

What is Perfectionism?

In basic terms, perfectionism is the desire to be a perfect person. Perfectionism involves exceedingly high standards that one sets out to achieve, the desire to be accepted by others, and the need to succeed at all costs. Considered a personality trait, a “perfectionist” is a person who yearns to be flawless in all that she does.

There are both positive and negative consequences of perfectionism. On the encouraging side, perfectionism can be a motivating factor in achieving your goals, practicing self-improvement, giving tasks your best, and trying harder in future endeavors. People who use perfectionism in a positive way are often achievement focused and driven, which can help in reaching many aspirations in life.

Unfortunately, many people who strive for perfectionism often succumb to a downside of this trait: setting up standards that are extremely high and almost impossible to achieve. This ideal sets a person up for failure, disappointment, and negative self-evaluations. Perfectionists are often very self-critical, and may even scrutinize the performance of others when it doesn’t live up to their impractical standards.

Perfectionists are also excessively concerned with how others view them, evaluating their own self-worth by their accomplishments. Some people become so overwhelmed with such stress and demands of perfectionism that they're unable to start a task. Fear of failure can lead to procrastination or never following through on what one sets out to achieve.

Perfectionism and Panic Disorder

Many people struggle with the negative aspects of perfectionism, and people with anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, may be even more prone to issues of perfectionism. Having unrealistic expectations about the self can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety, dissatisfaction, and difficulty coping with symptoms.

Perfectionism is usually the result of trying to live up to an internal ideal, but it can also be motivated by fear, such as worrying about how others perceive you. For a person with panic disorder, this may translate into distress about your symptoms, which you may view as shortcomings by which others negatively evaluate you. These beliefs and self-doubts can contribute to avoidance behaviors, loneliness and isolation, and even depression.

Perfectionism is often associated with negative thinking. For example, you may jump to conclusions and assume that others won’t accept you if they knew about your condition. Perhaps thoughts of self-blame have you believing that it's your own fault that you cannot achieve extremely high standards you've set out for yourself. Negative thinking and perfectionism can deplete your self-worth and make you mistakenly feel unsuccessful.

How to Deal with Perfectionism and Anxiety

Perfectionism may be impacting your ability to manage your anxiety and other panic disorder symptoms. Through some practice and dedication, you may be able to let go of some of your perfectionism and the extra anxiety that often comes with it. Here are some tips to assist you in the process of coping with perfectionism and panic disorder:

Overcome your negative thoughts: Perfectionism is often fueled by habitual negative thoughts. You can get past this way of thinking through the assistance of a qualified professional or self-help techniques, such as writing exercises and positive affirmations. Quieting your negative thoughts about perfectionism can help you remain realistic about what you set out to accomplish.

Practice mindfulness: Increase your self-awareness through mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness can allow you to come to terms with your thoughts about perfectionism, making you more aware of your perfectionistic tendencies and allowing you to face these thoughts without reacting to them. Through the practice of mindfulness, you can learn to let go and release the stress associated with perfectionism.

Improve your self-esteem: Perfectionism often negatively impacts one’s self-esteem. If you evaluate your self-worth by how perfectly you perform various roles in your life, your self-esteem may plummet when goals and aspirations are not met. Instead of being self-critical, look for ways to boost your self-esteem, such as getting social support, practicing self-care, and assisting others in need.

Reduce your stress: Perfectionism can be a huge contributor to your personal stress. Feelings of stress can zap you of energy, potentially increasing your anxiety, and impacting your other panic symptoms. Release some of the stress associated with perfectionism and start feeling more relaxed now.

Sources:

Burns, D. D. (1999). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Avon Books: New York.

Burns, D.D. (2006). When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life. Broadway Books: New York.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell.

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