Vitality

Perfectionism Linked To Burnout: Being A Perfectionist Can Backfire At Work, School, And In Sports

Perfectionism
Perfectionism can be both a good and a bad thing; striving to be better can result in boosted self-esteem, but worrying about failing or disappointing others can have a negative impact on health. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

There’s a dark side to having a Type A personality and being a perfectionist, according to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. Researchers from a university in England examined the relationship between perfectionism and burnout, finding that people who try to be perfect at everything create stress and place pressure on their relationships and health — making them more likely to get burnt out at work or school.

There are some good things about a perfectionistic attitude, of course. The researchers refer to the good features of perfectionism as “perfectionistic strivings,” or the setting of high personal standards and goals — and working toward them proactively. Going after your goals instead of standing still will likely make people feel good about themselves, boosting their self-esteem and in turn, their self-care.

But there’s another side to perfectionism that can be more detrimental. In the study, the researchers refer to the negative aspects as “perfectionistic concerns,” or the fears of making mistakes, disappointing others, or simply failing and not living up to their expectations. Perfectionistic concerns can lead to severe stress, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

“Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring,” Andrew Hill, lead author of the study and an associate professor of sport psychology at York St. John University in England, said in the press release. “It also can interfere with relationships and make it difficult to cope with setbacks because every mistake is viewed as a disaster.”

The researchers examined 43 past studies that had been completed over the past two decades. They found that burnout from perfectionistic concerns was likely to occur in working people because they have less social support than people in school or sports. In addition, workplaces are less likely to offer praise, “grades,” or proof of achievement compared to academic settings. The lack of a sense of achievement, despite working really hard, can contribute to cynicism and burnout.

In short, have a perfectionistic attitude when making your goals (reach for the stars), but be kind to yourself when you’re on the long journey to reach them. Worrying and stress can have long-term, negative impacts on the mind and body — contributing to an increased risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety, aging, and even diabetes and obesity. Here are some tried-and-true ways to fight stress while you work a full-time job.

“People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail,” Hill said in the press release. “Creating environments where creativity, effort, and perseverance are valued also would help.”

Source: Hill A, Curran T. Multidimensional Perfectionism and Burnout: A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2015.

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