Feeling Anxious? It could be perfectionism...

Feeling anxious, anyone? Right now, with everything going on, it’s no wonder we are experiencing higher levels of anxiety. Of course, we’re concerned with our health, safety, and well-being (and our loved ones), but there are lots of other reasons for this heightened level of anxiety that aren’t necessarily that obvious. One of the reasons for anxiety is perfectionism.  

You might wonder what perfectionism has to do with the pandemic.

When I found out that my employer said we needed to stay home for two weeks (minimum) during this pandemic, I had a lot of anxiety. Things like this don’t normally “freak me out” or worry me a lot. 

Of course, the current situation is like nothing we’ve ever experienced, so of course, it makes sense that I’m reacting differently. But, as I meditated and focused on these feelings, I understood that it was my perfectionism that was driving a lot of my anxiety.  

Dealing with perfectionism during this pandemic is…well…interesting. THANKFULLY, I have found some things that help me realize this and work through it! That’s the purpose of this post – to share what works for me. I am confident that it can help you too! And not just during times of uncertainty, like we are experiencing now.

why you need to stop saying I should


Some people might think, as a perfectionist, I would be working my ass off around the house getting all kinds of cleaning and organizing done, having all of my blogging tasks neatly listed, and checking off all the things on my list. But, in fact, being a perfectionist means the exact opposite. 

Instead, being a perfectionist actually makes things harder to accomplish, because I worry about making sure I’m doing the RIGHT THING – so that whatever I (eventually) do will be PERFECT. 

Now, to clarify – I’m not literally sitting here saying to myself – everything in my life needs to be perfect so I am going to figure out the exact best thing to do in order to ensure that everything I do is done without error. It’s not as straightforward as that.

What is going through my mind is:

  • What if I don’t get enough done? 
  • And, if I do get things done, will they be the right things or best things? 
  • And, will they be good enough? 

But my mind is saying, “This is a prime opportunity for me to be super productive. I should write several blog posts. I should clean up my yard for spring. I should declutter. I should finish my basement floor project. I should complete the various courses I have purchased. I should read a book or two.”

So….basically, my entire to do list (that, because of the social distancing thing, doesn’t involve being around people). Also, I’m still working for my employer – just at home. So, even though I’m home, in actuality, I really don’t have that much extra time.

When I think about all of these things, not only is it overwhelming, but even if I did try to do several things on my list, I would still struggle internally with:

I need more information in order to do this correctly (knowledge, a system, a plan, etc.).

I need to find other people who do these things better than I do, and learn from them. I’m sure there are articles to read, videos to watch, and free courses to take. 

I can’t start this project until I have ALL the right knowledge, ALL the right things, and ALL of the time I will need.

And, then, even if I do have all the knowledge, things, and time, I will second guess myself and rethink all of my decisions. The result will be zero things actually done. (But lot’s of new ideas to add to my list!)

THIS is perfectionism. It’s paralyzing. It can really suck! And, that’s why I have anxiety. 

Yeah, I know, it sounds a little OCD…. And, until recently, I didn’t even realize that I was doing these things or that these behaviors meant I was a perfectionist. 

stay calm by breathing

WHAT HELPS WITH MY PERFECTIONISM (and associated anxiety)

1. Quieting My Mind & Noticing My Thoughts

Being mindful, making time to quiet my mind, and bringing myself back to the present moment has allowed me to see these thoughts going on and recognize the feelings that come upon me as a result. The best way I’ve found to learn to do these things is through mindfulness meditation.

One of the biggest issues that people say they have with mindfulness meditation is that they can’t stop their thoughts. The good news is that you don’t have to stop your thoughts. The point of mindfulness meditation is to notice the thoughts and then return to an “anchor” which most times is your breath – just paying attention to your breathing – in and out. 

This “practice” gives you the ability to utilize helpful behaviors in your everyday life, when you’re not in meditation. These include:

  • Noticing – the racing, negative, or ruminating thoughts.
  • Bringing yourself back – to the present moment.
  • Continuing this process – over and over (because you can’t stop all thoughts, and you wouldn’t want to, obviously).

I’ve also learned that these thoughts aren’t ME. I am not my thoughts. My thoughts come and go, and I am still here. That took me a while to wrap my brain around. And, to be honest, I still wonder if I “get it” sometimes. 

Many guided meditations will ask the listener to watch their thoughts and notice that they float by like clouds or pop like bubbles. Visualizing thoughts like this shows us how our thoughts come and go. 

The thoughts come from our mind, but we can change them, ANY TIME. We have total control over that. For me, and many perfectionists, that can be a game changer.

So, when I am dwelling on whether or not I’m doing the right thing, or thinking, “I need to do more research in order to move forward,” I can:

  • Notice
  • Be present
  • Change my thoughts intentionally 

I can CHOOSE to stop these thought patterns that are keeping me stuck in perfectionist behaviors and just take action instead. For example, you are trying to decide whether to rearrange your living room furniture – for a change of pace – but want it to look like the setups you’ve seen in the magazines (i.e., perfect). 

So, you’re on Pinterest for days pinning ideas but can’t take action for fear of it not being the perfect setup. You end up wasting a lot of time NOT taking action, rather than if you had just rearranged and changed it around if you didn’t like it.

learning new things in midlife

2. Intentionally Taking Action

Done is better than perfect. Since I’ve been practicing mindfulness, I notice myself getting caught up in the pattern of perfectionism and stop myself before I spend hours on Pinterest or looking through magazines. I take action and rearrange the living room furniture. At least it’s DONE!

The action taken may not be perfect, but think about it – NOTHING is PERFECT. There is no such thing as PERFECT. Perfect for who? Perfect compared to what? Perfect as decided by society? As decided by a culture or a religion? 

What’s the worst that can happen? If I get stuck (paralyzed) because I am worried that my action won’t be “right,” another thing that helps is to consider the worst possible outcome. Most times, the worst possible outcome isn’t even that horrible. And, the likelihood of the worst possible outcome happening is usually very very low.

So, if it’s a typo on a blog post or email, the worst possible outcome is – well, someone will notice and…..forget a second later. If I try a new recipe and it turns out gross, the worst possible outcome is that we have to eat cereal or order pizza. If the paint color I selected for the bathroom is just ugly, I can live with it for now…and paint over it later.

If I submit a grant application at work and the request is rejected, the worst possible outcome is – I LEARN.

If I’m not failing, I’m not taking action. One of the reasons that perfectionists don’t take action is the fear of failure.Makings mistakes or “failing” are not bad things; they’re a way to learn. So, if I do make a decision that, in the end, doesn’t turn out how I would have liked or the outcome of something that I tried isn’t what I had hoped, it’s good to reflect on the reasons I got that particular outcome.

Life is all about learning and one of the most memorable ways of learning something is by messing up. — Wayne Dyer


The things that I talk about here (and on every one of the Midlife Pursuits posts) do NOT take a lot of effort. If you are a perfectionist, I encourage you to try some of the things I mentioned. These practices are proven to alleviate anxiety (among many other things we struggle with) and will totally help when you feel paralyzed by perfectionism.

So, first, download a meditation app. I use Insight Timer. In order to use it to notice your thoughts, just search “thoughts” on the app, and it will give you several various guided meditations to help with noticing the thoughts that keep you stuck in perfectionist behaviors. Take time daily (even just 5 minutes) for a mindfulness meditation. (And don’t ever worry if you miss a day/days.)

A couple reminders:

  • You may notice that you are critical of yourself, more than you previously thought. (Remember to be gentle with and kind to yourself.)
  • You may listen to one or more meditations that don’t really “do it for you.” Keep trying others. There are so many options and they are all very different.

Next, when it comes to your To Do list, consider what is most important to get done TODAY. Focus on just completing that ONE THING. Remember:

  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Think about the worst possible outcome.
  • Failure just means you’re DOING things! And doing things gives you more opportunities to learn! And, you get to check shit off of your list! (That’s the best!)

You Got This!

If you would like to keep track of daily mindfulness meditations and other habits, click here to get a free Habit Tracker (google spreadsheet).

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below, connect with me on Facebook, or send me an email anytime.


This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Anne

    Thanks for the great insight and actionable things to do. I’m a perfectionist too who just recently was able to wrap my head around the fact that I can still be a perfectionist even if everything I do is far from perfect.

    1. Lisa

      I used to think that too, Anne. I thought – I’m definitely not a perfectionist because I’m so NOT perfect! Thanks for leaving a comment and sharing with us!!

  2. Nipa

    I always thought that a perfectionist got things done no matter what the cost… but now that you have described it this way, I guess I’m a perfectionist! So often, I say “I’m not ready to do this yet” and then I realize that I really can’t prepare for something until I’ve experienced it. Thanks for the insights and tips! xo Nipa

    1. Lisa

      Glad to give you this perspective, Nipa! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Meredith

    I am a recovering perfectionist. “Done is better than perfect,” has become my mantra.

    I love, love, love this: “Failure just means you’re DOING things! And doing things gives you more opportunities to learn! And, you get to check shit off of your list! (That’s the best!)”

    Failure is so hard as a perfectionist. I never thought about it, though, as just me doing things and linking it to getting to check shit off my list! That is the the best because of course I have a long list. There’s always a list!

    1. Lisa

      YES! I am happy to hear from a recovering perfectionist! There IS ALWAYS a list, right?! And, for me, that list can just make my head spin. And that is exactly why Done is Better than Perfect! : )

  4. Teresa Isabel

    I like the advice to pick the top priority of the day and get it done!

  5. Heike Yates

    Lisa what a timely post and I love all your suggestions. Breathing and taking action is on top of my list without feeling overwhelmed. Yes, it’s true now that we are working from home it’s tough sometimes to draw the line.

    1. Lisa

      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment! : )

  6. Jane

    Nice post! This is something I can definitely relate to. Very well written and full of useful tips. Thank you!

    1. Lisa

      Thanks, Jane!

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