The Link Between Perfectionism and Anxiety in High Schools
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Hi my name is Carlyle Rollins. I decided to focus my catalyst conference on anxiety and perfectionism because I believe that I see the effects of both first hand every day. I go to a highly competitive private school where students feel the need to present themselves as perfect students 24/7 and always make high A grades. Because of this, many students end up feeling not good enough or like they are doing something wrong because they can’t live up to the image that their classmates are presenting. This causes high levels of anxiety and stress. Students are constantly worrying about grades which has an extreme negative impact on their wellbeing
I first came into contact with this issue during an interview with a local counselor. She introduced me to this issue and told me that a lot of her clients struggle with it. I did some self reflecting and discovered that myself as well as my classmates also struggle with perfectionism and anxiety. This issue is mildly talked about at my school, but students are too afraid to speak up out of fear of judgment. Students don’t want to be seen as the only one struggling. I chose this presentation because I want to decrease the stigma around anxiety and bring to light the effects of a perfectionist mindset and environment. My goal is to see not only my school but every school become a happier and more relaxed environment, to see not only my classmates but every student less stressed and anxious and be okay with not being perfect.
So first, a little background on anxiety and perfectionism to get us acquainted with them-
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a mental health disorder that involves feelings of excessive worry or fear that interfere with a persons daily life. Now I know that everyone feels some level of anxiety, but with anxiety disorders, that feeling is constant. The chart below will help differentiate between every day feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder.
What are the symptoms?
- Feelings of panic or dread
- Rapid heart rate and breathing
- Weakness and lethargy
- Difficulty focusing or thinking
- Digestive issues
Now, lets talk a little about perfectionism and how that plays into anxiety-
Perfectionism can be both a cause and a symptom of anxiety disorders. This may come as a shock to you as perfectionism is often a praised quality in our society, but it can be quite damaging. Perfectionism goes hand in hand with a belief that you can never be good enough, that mistakes are the result of personal flaws and that they must be perfect in order to be accepted and happy. This cycle of thinking can take the form of anxious behaviors and thinking.
“Often, procrastination, risk-aversion, frustration, exhaustion, and lack of focus interfere with the ability to complete tasks to your high standards. Ultimately, however, even the successful completion of tasks is not enough to quell the anxiety, which quickly finds a new target. For perfectionists, self-judgment is ever-present and anxiety is constantly looming as you anticipate the ways you can fall short.”
Perfectionism often causes two different types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder. In GAD it is a fear of failing that creates the anxiety, in Social Anxiety Disorder, it is the fear of being judged by others. This is why it is such a big issue in schools. Students are afraid they will be judged if they aren’t perfect at everything. This also creates issues because they are afraid to come forward with their anxiety disorder and seek treatment. The stigma around not being perfect is damaging to the recovery.
Perfectionist mindsets and environments fuels anxiety by creating high standards that you feel you may never achieve. These feelings are worsened when a whole community is affected. When the whole community arounds you puts up a façade of being perfect in order to fit in, everyone is struggling, but they aren’t doing so together. This detachment causes students to feel like they are the only ones going through these issues.
With this project I am hoping to educate and decrease the stigma around anxiety and not being perfect. My hope is to create a sense of community among students so they do not feel they are going through this alone. A sense of community will help them realize that they have people to talk to and options for treatment. Perfectionism and its relationship to anxiety needs to be talked about in the places where it has such a large affect, schools. The best way for me to catalyze change at my school is through a club called Active Minds which focuses on mental illnesses. This club provides the perfect platform to educate students about this issue and create a sense of community which I hope will decrease stigma.
I plan to host an informative meeting with the help of the Active Minds club where we will educate on this issue and brainstorm the most effective way to help the students at our school. I feel like this is the best way to originally decrease stigma and raise awareness. The next step will be working with administration to have an assembly or advisement meeting so i can spread this awareness to my whole school. I also plan on meeting with the administration to come up with more concrete plans to decrease the level of perfectionism and pressure felt at my school. I would like for there to be a creation of a safe space that students can go to talk on their own about issues they are having and discuss things with other students. I think this student interaction will decrease stigma around mental illness. I think a student safe space is important because I don’t think students feel as comfortable talking to faculty. I also plan on recording feedback from this presentation and using it to gain better insight on how many people feel like they are impacted by perfectionism and anxiety in schools.
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Hurley, Katie. “Teen Anxiety: How Perfectionism Fuels Anxiety in Teenagers.” PsyCom.
N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2018.
Kvarnstrom, Elisabet. “Why Perfectionism and Anxiety Disorders Go Hand-in-Hand.” Bridges to Recovery.
Bridges to Recovery, 27 Feb. 2018. Web. 13 Apr. 2018.