Girl with curly hair laying on her bed with her hands over her face surrounded by Polaroids.

Whether you’re comparing final grades or likes on Instagram, the pressure to be perfect can feel overwhelming. Of course we all want to do our best in school, at our jobs and in other areas of life. But how do we know if we’re walking the fine line between high standards and unrealistic expectations?

When perfectionism becomes unhealthy

Stress management resources

If you’re having trouble managing stress, consider trying SilverCloud. This free online program is self-guided and provides resources to help you overcome stress, anxiety and depression.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) also offers confidential counseling appointments and drop-in services over the summer. Learn how to make an appointment.

Our expectations can come from family, peers or even ourselves. It’s becoming more common for people to have high expectations of themselves. In fact, a recent study has shown that perfectionism is on the rise.

But the belief that you must succeed at everything you do is impractical and can cause more harm than good. Many people struggle with the pressures associated with perfectionism, unrealistic expectations and high achievement, which can include:

  • Struggling to acknowledge or celebrate your successes
  • Believing small mistakes will have catastrophic consequences
  • Constantly worrying about failing or seeing mistakes as failures
  • Worrying that people won’t like you or support you if you’re not perfect
  • Feeling unsatisfied with your life
  • Constantly feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious

If you experience any of the indicators listed above, you’re not alone. 

There are steps you can take to help reset your expectations and alleviate stress related to perfectionism. Here are some ideas to try out this summer:

1. Practice gratitude

Take time to celebrate your progress, milestones and victories, no matter how small. Practicing gratitude for the things you’ve accomplished so far can help you stay positive and keep things in perspective. It can also be a tool for re-framing failures and setbacks as learning opportunities, rather than sources of dread. Grab your own free CU-inspired gratitude journal to get started!

You may also find it helpful to make a list of your positive characteristics that have nothing to do with your performance. Many traits like generosity, humor and patience aren’t reflected in normal performance measures, so it can be good to remind yourself of these when you’re feeling down.

2. Refresh your feed — online and in real life

If you find yourself making unfair comparisons with others online or in real life, it may be time to refresh your feed.

For social media, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do the posts I see make me feel better or worse?
  • Am I comparing my life, body or success to others?
  • Are any of my social feeds negatively affecting my mental health?

Depending on your answers, you may want to make some changes. Consider muting or removing accounts that are negatively affecting you. Instead, opt to follow accounts that promote positivity, post funny memes or motivational content that inspires or comforts you.

In real life, you can ask yourself many of the same things:

  • Are the people in my life making me feel better or worse?
  • Am I comparing my life or success to others?
  • Are my relationships negatively affecting my mental health?

While it can be easier to modify your social life online, it’s important to be in tune with how your relationships may be affecting you. If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others in your social circle, it may be time to take a break or change your frame of mind.

Remind yourself that everyone has different struggles and there is no single measure of success. It can also be helpful to reach out to someone you trust about how you’re feeling, whether it’s a friend or family member.

3. Be kind to yourself

It can be easy to get caught up in negative thoughts when you’re striving for perfection. One way to combat this is to eliminate “should have” statements from your internal dialogue. For instance, instead of telling yourself “I should have done better in that online class”, tell yourself “I did my best with the time and resources I had”. Show yourself kindness, and acknowledge the effort you put towards different activities.

Self-care is another important way you can be kind to yourself. Not only can self-care activities improve your mood, but it can also help to reduce anxiety and stress. Find activities that make you happy or help you relax, and work them into your schedule. If you have a few minutes, practice a guided meditation or take a quick break to listen to your favorite song. If you have more time, consider coloring, taking a walk or catching up with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. While it may be hard to justify “me time”, these activities will help you feel better in the long run.

More Health & Wellness Articles