Letting Go of Perfect: Coping with Anxiety and Perfectionism

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The holidays are not a good time to be a perfectionist. Everyday busyness and stress get ramped up to frenzied levels, and there never seems to be enough time.

This year, I’d been putting more pressure on myself than usual, because I’m hosting Christmas Eve and Christmas for the very first time. As a recovering perfectionist, I started slipping back into my old ways. I just knew I had to produce a perfect, spotless, beautifully decorated house, and not one but two perfectly impressive and delicious holiday feasts.

Like most perfectionists, I struggle to be gentler and more forgiving with myself. I’ve been working at it for a while now, but it’s an ongoing process. I think it’s because perfectionism is more a personality trait than it is a bad habit – meaning you can’t exactly “break” yourself of it. Instead, you have to learn how to manage it so it doesn’t get in the way and make so miserable.

Freedom from Perfection

Anxiety and perfectionism go hand-in-hand, so there are a lot of people out there like me who must contend with both. We have a deep desire for an impossible level of control over our lives, and we tend to think in an all-or-nothing manner. When we do something, we perfectionists set unrealistically high standards for ourselves, and then often feel so overwhelmed that we avoid what it is we need to do in the first place. This is usually followed by guilt, as well as more anxiety, and the cycle perpetuates itself.

If your perfectionist tendencies are driving you especially crazy this holiday season, I have a challenge for you: Try settling for “good enough.”

Sure, the term “settling” sounds like a bit like a dirty word, but I’m serious. There are times when settling is actually better for you than putting every ounce of energy into something – especially when that something isn’t all that important in the first place.

I’ve accepted my own challenge. I’ll settle for hosting a nice Christmas, but not a perfect Christmas. With money and time in short supply, I haven’t had time to decorate as extravagantly as I usually do. Initially I felt guilty that the first time I have holiday guests in my own home, I’m putting in less effort to decorate than I have in years.

The guilt began to dissolve when I decided to settle for “good enough.” First, I took a look around and realized my place actually looks pretty festive even with only a few decorations. Then it dawned on me that the world isn’t going to end and my family isn’t going to disown me because I don’t have garland and lights and mistletoe strung in every last corner.

For the record, I’m also settling for less than perfect when it comes to the meals I cook. It’s been amazingly liberating! I’ve accepted the reality of the situation, and my limitations: I just don’t have the time, money or energy to be Martha Stewart this year. And that’s OK!

And really, who does have the time for perfectionism to make them miserable? We all have enough going on in our lives as it is.

Even though some might argue that perfectionism can lead to great results and positive outcomes, I believe that if it’s impacting you emotionally, it’s not worth it. Honestly, chances are that no one will notice if you decide to free yourself from impossibly high standards and settle for “good enough.” And even if they do, the relief from taking that pressure of yourself is still worth it in the end.

I hope that if you relate to this, you’ll accept my challenge to settle for good enough. If it helps, think of it as a gift you’re giving yourself — you deserve it.

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