Perfectionism is a nasty monster. If you personally identify yourself as "Type A" or a perfectionist you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's that unreachable expectation that is placed on you by yourself or others . . . from my experience it's usually our own unrealistic vision of what we should be. It can manifest as that negative voice in your head constantly reminding you on how you fell short, or could have done better. The monster never takes a vacation and never misses an opportunity to be a jerk. Its presence never makes for a happy inner dialogue and we often just get used to the fact that it will always be there. The problem with this is, whether you are aware or not, this is most likely affecting your health. The worst part about having this problem is that, NEWS FLASH: you are NOT and will NEVER be PERFECT! So the fact that we are compromising our health for something that is unattainable is just plain silly.
Here are some common ways that I see my patients manifesting the perfectionism Monster:
1. Insomnia: My patients who I would consider perfectionists can have problems falling asleep. They tend to be overthinking different problems that happened during their day and possibly doing "playbacks" of what they could have done differently. I don't think I have to tell you why getting adequate and quality sleep will help with any health concern.
2. Neck and Shoulder tension: When patients complain of neck and upper trapezius tension and their traps feel like rocks, I can usually associate this with the stress that comes from being a perfectionist. When I ask about it, these people normally admit to holding their "stress in their shoulders." You are quite literally carrying a weight on your shoulders that you shouldn't be. It's too heavy, put it down!
3. Inability to relax: This kind of goes back to the insomnia thing, however, this can carry over during the day and also even into vacation. Sometimes these people will be off work and in a social setting and realizing that they are clenching their fists for no reason or holding their shoulders up to their ears. Your body is likely having a hard time switching to parasympathetic mode which is "rest and digest." You need to be able to be in this state to heal.
4. Frequent sighing and/or feeling of a lump in your throat: In Chinese Medicine we call these signs an indicator of Liver Qi Stagnation. Liver Qi stagnation can lead to all different types of dysfunctions in the body. We want our Liver Qi to move smoothly otherwise it can lead to things like hypertension or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
5. Holding your breath: Do you find yourself holding your breath? Breathing is necessary . . . When we hold our breath unintentionally it can be a sign of not being present which means you're too in your head.
These are just a few of the indicators of how being a perfectionist can manifest in your body. None of these things listed seem like the end of the world, but it's more about where these small things can lead, which should make you look at your own habits. At the end of the day being a perfectionist is like banging your head against a wall; you're only hurting yourself and you aren't getting anywhere.
If you want to know how to break the cycle stay tuned for my next blog . . . In the mean time reflect on how your perfectionism is manifesting in your own body. The first step is seeing that it's a problem.
-Jennifer Niemeyer L.Ac.