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Do you feel anxious meeting new people or going to a crowded place? Do you constantly worry about saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say at all? Or perhaps you put your energy into getting everything right with zero room for mistakes. Does any of these sound familiar?
Words like “perfectionism” and “social anxiety” are part of our daily vocabulary. Sometimes to describe people we know or even ourselves. But do we really know their meaning? And most importantly do we understand their impact on our lives and well-being?
What is Social Anxiety?
Most of us can recall an experience when we struggled with social anxiety. Maybe you are now remembering an awful oral presentation from your school years or a more recent experience at work.
While social anxiety can manifest in different ways, it is a natural and evolutionary response that impels us to seek approval from our social groups.
Social anxiety can be described as an intense fear of being negatively evaluated by others in social situations. In its most severe form, it becomes so overwhelming that takes over people’s lives, causing a lot of suffering. That is called social anxiety disorder.
What is Perfectionism?
When we think about perfectionism we tend to view it as something that does more good than harm. That “weakness” we answer in job interviews, that we actually see as a strength. The high achiever that doesn’t settle for less than perfect.
However, as we all know perfection is unattainable. So it is not difficult to imagine how that search for impossibly high standards can cause distress and anxiety. Perfectionists have an all-or-nothing mindset that is fueled by a crippling fear of making mistakes. As if what they do and what they achieve is inextricably linked to who they are and their self-worth.
According to the American Psychological Association, perfectionism is “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.”
Still, there are positive or adaptive forms of perfectionism, where people strive for the best but allow themselves to fail. On the opposite side, maladaptive perfectionism can trigger anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.
So, how are social anxiety and perfectionism connected?
The Link Between Social Anxiety and Perfectionism
Similar to perfectionists, people with social anxiety also set unrealistic standards for their social interactions. Moreover, excessive self-consciousness and fear of being judged can propel a cycle where social anxiety feeds perfectionist tendencies, which again will produce more anxiety about future situations.
At the same time, both social anxiety and perfectionism have as trademarks a high level of self-criticism. This leads them to harshly judge themselves and their abilities to handle social situations.
As a result, social interactions can become stressful, exhausting, and something people end up avoiding. In fact, when our focus is on the fear of being judged, our relations might end up not being authentic. Preventing us from showing who we really are.
Right now you might be wondering, what can I do to stop the social anxiety and perfectionism cycle?
How to Cope with Social Anxiety and Perfectionism
1. Try Out Different Social Opportunities
It might feel counter-intuitive to run toward your greatest fear when you just want to get comfy with the people you already know and love. Why should you leave your comfort zone when it feels so comfortable?
While our anxiety drives us to avoid situations that make us feel uneasy, by gradually exposing ourselves to new and uncomfortable situations we start to experience habituation. Much like with a weird smell that captures our attention, over time we grow used to it, and eventually, we can barely smell it anymore. This means the more social interactions you have, the more chances you get to conquer your anxiety.
2. Look Outside Yourself
When you feel all eyes are on you, ready to judge your every move, you tend to overfocus on yourself, your posture, your breathing, the tone of your voice, that word you mispronounced. However, this ends up playing against you, as you feel the anxiety rising to the point you just want out of there.
Instead, if you move your focus to the present and to what is happening you might realize that others also mispronounce words and are not necessarily paying attention to you. Most likely they too are focused on not making mistakes themselves. Try it out and see what we can discover, you might end up finding new ways to connect with people.
3. Lower Your Standards
Yes, we understand that saying to a perfectionist to lower their standards is similar to asking someone with anxiety to calm down. It might not seem very doable at first, but accepting that things don’t have to go exactly how you want them to, can help you adapt to change and learn in the process.
You can start by setting small goals to encourage yourself to think in more realistic and practical terms. Each time, getting further away from that all-or-nothing state of mind. Understanding your own preconceptions can help you identify the thoughts and internal dialogue that is fueling your anxiety and need changing.
4. Practice Imperfection
Practice makes perfect, right? Well, that actually means that if you want to learn how to do something well you have to do it many times. So, in this case, we can practice not aiming for perfection.
You can try activities that don’t have a specific goal, such as painting, dancing, playing a sport (emphasis on the playing), or learning something fun without the pressure to be good at it. By intentionally practicing being imperfect you show your nervous system that, despite feeling a little stressed at first, you can make mistakes and feel okay with them.
5. Seek Help
If you feel that your fears about social situations are taking up too much space in your life and relationships, it might be a good time to talk to a professional.
Therapy can help you identify the habits that keep feeding your anxiety and work out new healthy ways to cope. Working with a therapist, individually or in a group, will build your confidence to conquer all challenges that come your way.
Social Anxiety and Perfectionism Treatment in Baltimore, MD
Have you been struggling with social anxiety? Do you worry that your perfectionism makes it harder to make connections?
Our Baltimore therapists can help you slow down and tune into the thoughts and situations that are causing you anxiety. We also specialize in therapy for depression, EMDR, trauma therapy, couples counseling, and other life challenges. Reach out to us with any questions!