Why Perfectionism Breeds Anxiety, and How Treatment Can Break the Cycle

Whether you realize it or not, the connection between perfectionism and anxiety can have a negative impact on many areas of your life. By learning to understand this connection in a residential setting, you can resolve your underlying anxiety and make way for positivity in your life.

The word “perfectionism” is thrown around a lot in our society. We’ve all known that person in school or work that just had to make sure everything was the way they wanted down to a tee. They spent hours before the day of an assignment or work presentation tweaking minor details, only to eventually change them again later.

And this trait can be beneficial in certain environments. If you consider yourself a perfectionist, you have probably used this trait to help you excel in school, work, or some other part of your life. But what you likely don’t realize is how it can drag you down—pull back the curtain and you’ll see that your personal relationships and health are probably suffering.

This is because perfectionism and mental health problems like anxiety can be linked in a way that fuels a detrimental cycle that is difficult to break. You become used to your perfectionism, accepting it as an unchangeable personality trait and forget the potential that you have to move past it in order to a healthy, adaptive life. The most effective way to break this cycle is to seek comprehensive treatment for the underlying anxiety behind your perfectionism in a safe, distraction-free residential setting.

The Connection Between Perfectionism and Anxiety


Although the connection between perfectionism and anxiety is complex, it is one that many professionals in the field believe is important in the context of mental health. To put it simply, perfectionism is often a sign of underlying anxiety issues. But it doesn’t stop there—since people who are perfectionists often push themselves harder than others and hold themselves to higher standards, this trait itself can breed anxiety and make you feel as though you can’t live up to your own standards. This is reflected in the fact that many people with anxiety have a hard time determining when they are satisfied with their completed work.

Consider some of the most common symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):

  • Persistent worrying and tension
  • Restlessness
  • Unrealistic view of problems

There are others as well, such as trembling, muscle tension, and headaches, but the three above are the ones most obviously linked to perfectionism. And for those with GAD, perfectionism might feel natural—when you’re feeling overwhelmed by worries and restlessness on a regular basis, channeling this anxious energy into such behavior probably won’t raise any red flags. But while this might give you temporary relief, the important thing to remember is that it does nothing to address your underlying mental health challenges.

Resolving Underlying Anxiety


One of the most popular methods of addressing anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Using this treatment modality, you can learn to understand that much of your negative and nervous energy stems from the meanings that you unconsciously give to the events around you—not the events themselves. Through CBT, you will learn to unhinge yourself from these meanings and create new, positive ones.

For perfectionism is particular, the “What If” technique is a great example of a method of addressing negative beliefs. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Name a “What if” fear. Examples include asking yourself questions like, “What if I don’t get my presentation done on time?” “What if I don’t memorize every line?” “What if I don’t practice enough and am too nervous to perform?”
  • Ask yourself how likely these fears are to come true. Most of the time, the chances are low. But even if they do come true, what will happen? If you’re too nervous to perform, and people laugh at you, then what? You might feel embarrassed at first, but after talking to a friend or giving yourself time, chances are you’ll be able to move past your embarrassment and move on with your life.
  • Explore good “What ifs.” Try asking yourself positive questions to reorient your thinking and expectations. For instance, “What if I do great, and my presentation is well received?” “What if I get my presentation done with plenty of time to spare?” “What if I don’t need to memorize every line in order for things to go well?”

This technique is just one example of the ways that CBT and other insight-oriented therapies can help you understand and replace the negative thoughts and beliefs tied to your perfectionism and anxiety with more positive, realistic thinking and healthier coping methods.

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Make Way for Positivity Through Treatment


When you’re knee-deep in a vicious cycle of perfectionism and anxiety, it can be hard to think of anything outside of it. But with the help of a comprehensive residential treatment program, you’ll see that you can work toward overcoming your anxious thoughts and perfectionist tendencies by creating healthier thought processes. Using psychotherapy-based treatments like CBT and other methodologies in combination with medical treatment, you will be able to address all of the driving forces of your anxiety—perfectionism and beyond. Doing so within a residential treatment program is especially effective because it gives you a safe space to work through your anxiety away from the external factors that typically drive it. You will have the support and breathing room necessary to not only heal, but to learn how to cope with your anxiety and your perfectionism both now and in the future.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.