Perfectionists More Susceptible to Anxiety, Fatigue
> 5/1/2007 11:21:07 AM

The fact that individuals with perfectionist dispositions are more easily upset by undesired or stressful elements in their daily lives is not simply a matter of temperament, according to a recent study. Such tendencies begin on the bio-chemical level, and they can have detrimental effects on one's cardiovascular health. In a study of 50 middle-aged men performed at the University of Zurich, researchers found that those who scored highest on a pre-study survey measuring degrees of perfectionism also reacted in the most dramatic ways to a number of tasks performed before an audience and specifically assigned to provoke anxiety

Researchers gave the patients involved in the study ten minutes to prepare and deliver a speech ostensibly regarding a fictional job application. Following this task, the patients were required to repeat a list of numbers in descending order after being told that they would have to start over in the case of an error in calculation. Most individuals, understandably, grew frustrated by these requests, but the bodies of those who'd received particularly high scores on the perfectionist surveys also produced noticably higher amounts of the hormone cortisol, which regulates the body's stress response by way of changing heart rates, increases in blood pressure and disparities in blood sugar readings. These physical changes can lead to anger, fatigue, excitability, and cognitive impairment. The more severe the body's reactions to varied stressors, the greater the risk for internal or external injury.

"Perfectionists also showed more symptoms of vital exhaustion, defined as a sense of feeling fatigued, irritable and demoralized. This state is itself a risk factor for heart disease."

The larger conclusion of this study is not that those who strive for perfection or stress the importance of performance standards must accept the disappointment and declining health that will inevitably result from their dispositions. It is simply that those who are aware of such tendencies must be more watchful of their own sense of equilibrium, making whatever efforts they can to avoid such dramatic reactions that, in the short term, may adversely affect their capacities for reponsive speed and productivity and, in the long term, can have serious implications regarding cardiovascular health. Stress management techniques make up a sizable industry, and those who need them the most are almost certainly aware of their relevance. The search for the most effective combination of exercise, diet, relaxation/breathing practices and other forms of self-regulation can create a degree of frustration on its own, but the end result (reduced anxiety, superior health overall) is well worth the effort.

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