How Perfectionism Can Impact Panic and Anxiety

Student thinking in classroom
Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Perfectionism may lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety. The following looks at how perfectionism is linked to fear, anxiety, and panic disorder.

What Is Perfectionism?

In basic terms, perfectionism is the desire to be a perfect or flawless person in various aspects of one's internal or external life. Perfectionism involves exceedingly high standards that one sets out to achieve and a belief that being "perfect" should be strived for. It is thought to be an aspect of one's personality.

There are both positive and negative consequences of perfectionism. On the encouraging side, perfectionism can be a motivating factor in achieving your goals, practicing self-improvement, giving tasks your best, and trying harder in future endeavors. People who use perfectionism in a positive way are often achievement focused and driven, which can help in reaching many aspirations in life.​

Pros
  • Motivates you to give your best and achieve your goals

  • Encourages self-improvement

Cons
  • Sets you up for failure and procrastination

  • Causes negative self-evaluation

Unfortunately, many people who strive for perfectionism often succumb to a downside of this trait: setting up standards that are extremely high, rigid or impossible to achieve. This ideal sets a person up for failure, disappointment, and negative self-evaluations.

Perfectionists are often very self-critical, and may even scrutinize the performance of others when it doesn’t live up to their unrealistic standards. Perfectionists are also excessively concerned with how others view them, evaluating their own self-worth by unattainable accomplishments.

Some people become so overwhelmed with such stress and demands of perfectionism that they're unable to start a task. Fear of failure can lead to ​procrastination or never following through on what one sets out to achieve.

Perfectionism and Panic Disorder

Many people struggle with the negative aspects of perfectionism, and people with disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, may be even more prone to issues of perfectionism.

Having unrealistic expectations about the self can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety, dissatisfaction, and difficulty coping with symptoms.

Perfectionism is usually the result of trying to live up to an internal ideal, but it can also be motivated by fear, such as worrying about how others perceive you. For a person with panic disorder, this may translate into distress about your symptoms, which you may view as shortcomings by which others negatively evaluate you.

These beliefs and self-doubts can contribute to avoidance behaviors, loneliness and isolation, and even depression. Perfectionism is often associated with negative thinking. For example, you may jump to conclusions and assume that others won’t accept you if they knew about your condition.

Perhaps thoughts of self-blame have you believing that it's your own fault that you cannot achieve the standards you've set out for yourself. Negative thinking and perfectionism can deplete your self-worth and make you feel unsuccessful.

How to Cope

Perfectionism may be impacting your ability to manage your anxiety and other panic disorder symptoms. Through some practice and dedication, you may be able to let go of some of your perfectionism and the extra anxiety that often comes with it. Here are some tips to assist you in the process of coping with perfectionism and panic disorder.

Overcome Negative Thoughts

Perfectionism is often fueled by habitual negative thoughts. You can get past this way of thinking through the assistance of a psychotherapist who can help you come to recognize these patterns, understand where they come from, and help you challenge unrealistic ideals. In addition, there are some self-help strategies that can temper your perfectionism.

Practice Mindfulness

Increase your self-awareness through mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness can allow you to come to terms with your thoughts about perfectionism, making you more aware of your perfectionistic tendencies and allowing you to face these thoughts without reacting to them. Through the practice of mindfulness, you can learn to let go and release the stress associated with perfectionism.

Improve Self-Esteem

Perfectionism often negatively impacts one’s self-esteem. If you evaluate your self-worth by how perfectly you perform various roles in your life, your self-esteem may plummet when goals and aspirations are not met. Instead of being self-critical, look for ways to boost your self-esteem, such as getting ​social support, practicing ​self-care, and assisting others in need.

Reduce Stress

Perfectionism can be a huge contributor to your personal stress. Feelings of stress can zap you of energy, potentially increasing your anxiety, and impacting your other panic symptoms. Release some of the stress associated with perfectionism and start feeling more relaxed now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety or panic disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Burns, D. D. (1999). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Avon Books: New York.
  • Burns, D.D. (2006). When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life. Broadway Books: New York.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell.