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The Link Between Perfectionism and Anxiety in High Schools

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.

BACKGROUND:

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


THE CHALLENGE:

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.


THE SOLUTION:

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?

  • Nervousness
  • Feelings of panic or dread
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Difficulty focusing or thinking
  • Insomnia
  • 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.”

-Elisabet Kvarnstrom

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.


WHAT’S NEXT?

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.

 

Do you feel a pressure to seem/be perfect at your school? (in terms of grades, social life, extracurriculars, sports, etc)

Yes
No
Created with Survey Maker


 

If yes to the above question, do you think this causes you anxiety that impacts your wellbeing?

Yes
No
N/A
Created with Survey Maker


SOURCES CITED:

“Anxiety.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Aug. 2017. Web. 18 Apr.

2018.

Hill, Thomas Curran Andrew. “The Hidden Epidemic of Perfectionism in Millennials.” CBS News. CBS

Interactive, 04 Jan. 2018. Web. 18 Apr. 2018.

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.

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COMMENTS: 11
  1. April 26, 2018 by Ava.Carter

    I go to a small private high school in California- which at times can be extremely competitive and cut-throat. I have witnessed first-hand how anxiety can weaken a student’s confidence and abilities. I’m really glad you chose to make this the main focus of your page because there needs to be more research done on this topic- things will only get worse if more is not done to support student health.

    • April 30, 2018 by Carlyle Rollins

      I agree! Private High Schools can be very competitive which is damaging to teenagers confidence. More research needs to be done and more needs to be done by the schools to prevent anxiety.

  2. April 27, 2018 by Alex Martha

    I go to a private school in Minnesota, and it has a reputation of getting its kids into good colleges. The stress kids are under in order to perform to the school’s expectations. I have seen what anxiety can do to a student. This had such an impact on my life that I also did my conference on it. I love how well organized and interactive it is. I feel like this is a very important issue that needs to be talked about more.

    • April 30, 2018 by Carlyle Rollins

      It impacts so many students and I think its so important to bring awareness to!

  3. April 28, 2018 by Sarah P

    Hi! I made a project very similar to this one but connected it more to one specific source of stress (the college process) which contributes to overall feelings of stress and anxiety. We even used one of the same infographics! I clicked on your project because the title was intriguing and I felt as though it would be relatable and it was. Nice use of two interactive elements! I think you chose an important topic that could go hand in hand with mine so I thought that was very interesting. We also used some similar approaches! Nice job!

    • April 30, 2018 by Carlyle Rollins

      The college process is definitely the biggest source of stress in high schoolers lives. Thank you!

  4. April 30, 2018 by Caroline.Herzfeld

    Hey! I also go to Westminster and think that this subject applies perfectly to our school. Everyone is somewhat of a perfectionist whether they realize it or not and everyone is constantly affecting their friends around them to slowly become more and more of a perfectionist. Of course, however, nobody can be perfect and therefore this causes so much anxiety at our school. I think that this was a such an interesting subject to focus on! Good job and your page is so ascetically pleasing as well!

    • April 30, 2018 by Carlyle Rollins

      I agree!! It is such a big issue at Westminster. Thank you!

  5. April 30, 2018 by leilani.ahina

    Great presentation Caroline! I love the mix of text and visual, which gets your message across effectively. There is so much practical information here and useful advice. Good luck integrating this with Active Minds! Such an important issue to address.

    • April 30, 2018 by Carlyle Rollins

      Thank you so much!

  6. May 01, 2018 by William.Finley

    I really like your project! in particular the use of images to help viewers visualize how anxiety and perfectionism might feel if they don’t experience it themselves. Also the polls were very powerful as 100% of people said that they feel the need to be perfect which effects their everyday life.

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