By Christine Isaac, L.C.S.W., L.C.A.D.C
Feeling less than perfect these days?
You’re not alone.
Despite what the banana bread photos on social media might suggest, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for just about everybody.
Letting go of perfectionism, however, can help ease the stress and strain, not only now, but also in a post-pandemic life.
If you feel pressure to be perfect all the time and are struggling to cope, therapy may help.
Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health offers evidence-based treatment programs for children, adolescents and adults. These programs help address behavioral health issues, develop coping skills, and regain quality of life through intensive, multi-week outpatient programs. Inpatient treatment is also available for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
The Stress of Being Perfect
Having goals and setting expectations have always been important to providing structure and predictability to day-to-day life.
And for many, setting goals has helped them manage during the pandemic, whether they reorganized their house, learned how to play piano, started practicing yoga, or finally reading “War and Peace.”
But at the same time, a lot of other people have struggled with unrealistic expectations throughout the pandemic, leading them to feel inadequate, exhausted, and sometimes, imperfect.
Pandemic or no pandemic, always driving for perfection can lead to long-term stress that can have serious physical and mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Signs of Chronic Stress
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic stress can cause the following symptoms:
• Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness or frustration
• Changes in appetite, energy, desires and interests
• Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
• Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems and skin rashes
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Worsening of mental health conditions
• Increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances
If you are experiencing signs of chronic stress, seek help from your physician or a mental health professional.
Lower the Bar
Too often imperfection is viewed as something terrible, but in reality – as the saying goes – nothing is perfect. Learning to accept imperfection and to lower the bar on the expectations you have of yourself can help alleviate stress and improve your quality of life.
In other words, grant yourself permission to be less than perfect.
How? Start with these tips for self care:
• Remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can do under difficult circumstances. Remember that few people alive today have ever lived through a pandemic, and no one, including you, is going to navigate it perfectly.
• Connect with other people. While opening up and sharing your vulnerabilities may be new to you, recognizing that you are not alone can help you feel less isolated and reduce stress.
• Realize that what you see is not always reality. That colleague who always looks so put together in virtual meetings? They’re wearing yoga pants and slippers with that suit coat. That beautiful loaf of sourdough on social media? It took that person a dozen tries to get it right.
• Set boundaries. With the lines between work and home blurred these days, it’s important to try to set boundaries – physically and mentally. Create specific spaces for work and leave them behind at the end of the day. Evaluate your workload before taking on a new project. Sometimes saying “no” is necessary for self-preservation.
• Focus on your accomplishments. Didn’t get through all 10 items on your to-do list? Focus on the three things you did complete, and pick up where you left off the next day.
• Keep the lines of communication open. If you’re struggling to meet a deadline or are having trouble completing a project, talk to your manager about it before it becomes a problem. Communication goes a long way in managing and meeting expectations.
• Use positive affirmations. Your own internal dialogue has a lot to do with how you feel about yourself and the world around you. Positive affirmations like “I am capable” and “I am strong” repeated regularly can help boost your mental health.
• Practice gratitude. Research indicates that gratitude and giving thanks can have a positive effect on your mood and overall well-being. Adopt an attitude of gratitude by finding something to be thankful for each day.
• Give yourself a break. Take time for yourself each day to relax and recharge. Short breaks throughout the day can help clear your mind and allow you to focus better. Physical activity helps release stress-busting hormones and is good for your brain and body.
If you still find yourself overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Therapy can help you identify and manage triggers, lower overall stress, and equip you with the skills and tools you need to accept – and maybe even embrace – imperfection.
For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health, visit www.princetonhouse.org. Princeton House admissions clinicians can be reached at 888-437-1610.
Christine Isaac, L.C.S.W, L.C.A.D.C, is a licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. She is a community relations representative with Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health.