Earlier, we talked about the importance of rest and relaxation. One of the issues with perfectionism is that it doesn’t allow much time for either. Perfectionists often struggle to unwind and take time for themselves. Instead, their days tend to be planned out with work or achievement-related tasks. If you can relate to this, you may believe that “there’s no time for relaxation” or “I don’t need to relax”. However, as we mentioned earlier, the long term costs of this approach can be significant.
Do you often find yourself missing out on fun because you’ve got ‘more important’ things to do? Do you seem to have less ‘play time’ than most? You may think that being diligent and disciplined is the only way to get to your goals, however, a more balanced approach often works best. Below we discuss ways that will help you introduce relaxation and leisure into your schedule.
Taking slower and deeper breaths is a great way to calm your body and let go of tension. When you’re stressed, your breathing gets faster and shallower. You can test this out by placing one hand on your belly and another on your chest. Take a few fast breaths, followed by some slow, deep ones. As you do this, notice which hand moves more. Shallow breaths often come from the chest, whereas deeper breaths come from the belly.
To slow your breathing down, try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Your out-breath should be longer than your in-breath. After you breathe in, pause for a moment before exhaling. Slowing your breathing down can reduce physical arousal and slow the release of stress hormones in the body. There are different suggestions for how long the in- and out-breaths should be. For example, some suggest a count of 4-2-6 or 4-7-8 seconds for the ‘in-pause-out’ cycle. Play around and see what works for you.
Relax your muscles
Stress builds up and is often stored in the body as physical tension. A technique called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can help with this. Studies have shown that PMR can effectively decrease stress and anxiety. PMR involves deliberately tensing and relaxing different muscles in your body.
Here’s how you can practice:
Step 1: Find a quiet place with no distractions.
Step 2: Find a comfortable position. Ideally, on your back with body parts uncrossed.
Step 3: For each muscle group, gently tense the muscles for 5-10 seconds and then release for 5-10 seconds. Notice the sense of relaxation that follows. Work your way through the major muscle groups, including:
- Face (Frown, close your eyes tightly, scrunch your nose, clench your teeth)
- Shoulders (Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears)
- Arms (Make fists, tense your muscles as though you’re trying to lift something)
- Stomach (Clench stomach muscles by pulling them towards your spine)
- Legs (Point your toes, clench your thighs, squeeze your buttocks together).
The aim of tensing and releasing is that 1) you learn to recognise the difference between tension and relaxation, and 2) your muscles will become more relaxed than if you didn’t tense first. When people are chronically stressed, their muscles can be so tense that they have forgotten what a relaxed state feels like. As you get more skilled, you will be able to relax your muscles automatically to reduce tension.
Schedule some time out
Take time to schedule some time for relaxation and enjoyment. Make a list of some activities that interest you. Think about things that you don’t usually do, perhaps because you can’t find the time. What do you say “no” to? Are there things you used to enjoy, but no longer do anymore because of other priorities? Are there new things you’ve been meaning to try, but haven’t made time for? Write them all down.
For example, Joanna’s list looked like this:
- Go for a massage
- Paint my nails
- Take a bath
- Meet friends for coffee
- Read a fiction book
- Do some yoga or meditation
- Watch a TV series
- Eat my favourite ice cream
- Spend a weekend away with my husband
Once you have your list of activities, don’t stop there. Pick one to get started with and schedule it into your week. Without scheduling a specific date and time, it’s unlikely you’ll follow through. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to really relax and enjoy the activity. This way, you’ll get the most benefit from it. Don’t delay getting started, try scheduling something in the near future and treat it like an important meeting or appointment that can’t be cancelled.
Some other ideas for relaxation include doing something creative (e.g., art, dance), hanging out with pets, listening to music, spending time in nature, doing a puzzle, listening to guided relaxation/meditation, and massage therapy.
Do things that fill you up
As a perfectionist, it is easy to get caught up in the achievement-driven world we live in. However, in prioritising your pursuit for perfection, you risk losing yourself along the way. It is easy to get tunnel vision, and neglect other aspects of your life. Aside from achieving success, what else matters to you? If success were no longer valued in our society, what would motivate you to get out of bed? These are important questions to ask yourself
Getting to know what your values are can help you clarify some of these things. Values are like a compass, giving you guidance about who you want to be and what you want to stand for in life. In contrast to goals, which disappear once they are achieved, values are ongoing and always available to us. At any moment, we can choose to act on our values.
For example, your goal may be to become a successful business owner, but the value underlying this goal may be ‘challenge’ (to keep challenging myself to grow, learn and improve). Whilst you may never achieve your goal of owning a business, you can always choose to act in line with your values. You can take on challenges in different realms of life, for example, by going on difficult hikes, reading or learning a new language.
Put simply, goals are in the future, whereas values are always in the present. In this way, values are more empowering than goals. Despite this, most of us are used to striving for goals. When it comes to values, people often struggle to name their own. The below suggestions will help you clarify your core values. Once you have identified what they are, we encourage you to take action towards them. This can help you to live a more balanced life.
How to find what’s important to you and identify your core values:
- Write your own eulogy. This may sound strange, but it can be an extremely powerful exercise. Imagine what you would like people to say as they reflect upon your life. What would you like them to say about you? How would you like them to remember you? Would you like them to simply list your achievements? Or would you like them to remember your personal qualities, things like kindness, warmth and loyalty?
- Imagine an apocalypse is coming and you only have 24 hours to live. What would you do with your last day on earth? How would you spend your time? Would your list of priorities change?
- Imagine that all of your dreams came true overnight. You have unconditional approval from every person on the planet, no matter what you choose to do with your life. You are no longer bothered by uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You have everything you want. How would you act differently? How would you treat other people?
- Reflect on your likes and dislikes. What do you like and dislike doing? What do you like and dislike about yourself and others?
- Take a look at a list of common values and circle the ones that apply to you. Try to pick your top 5 or 6 core values.
Some examples of values are:
Perfectionism can make you feel as though achievement and success are the only important things in life. However, this is not the case if you really want to live a balanced and fulfilling life. When we acknowledge our values, it can broaden our view of what is important. In other words, it can help us challenge that tunnel vision and see the bigger picture. This often helps us to keep things in perspective.
For example, Vicky strived to have the perfect body. She spent most of her time at the gym and watching what she ate. However, when Vicky identified her values, she realised she was neglecting a few. Vicky was fixated on health and fitness, but she also valued family, friendships and nature. In striving for perfection in one area, Vicky had lost touch with these other things. When Vicky consciously invested in these other values, she started feeling more fulfilled in life.