Thursday, July 15, 2010

Being a perfectionist can take toll on health

by Rachel Rettner
updated 7/12/2010 8:17:19 AM ET

Perfectionists, by definition, strive for the best, trying to ace exams, be meticulous at their jobs, and raise perfect children. So one might assume this drive for the ideal translates over to their health as well, with perfectionist being models for physical and mental well-being.

But new research is revealing the disorder can bring both profits and perils.

Though perfection is an impossible goal, striving for it can be a boon for one’s health, causing one to stick to exercise programs to a tee, say, or follow a strict regimen for treating chronic illnesseslike type 2 diabetes. But the same lofty goals can mean added mental pressure when mistakes are made and the resistance to asking for help from others in fear of revealing one's true, imperfect self.

In fact studies show the personality trait of perfectionism is linked to poor physical health and an increased risk of death.

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Perfectionism tends to have two components: a positive side, including things like setting high standards for themselves; and a negative side, which involves more deleterious factors, such as having doubts and concerns over mistakes and feeling pressure from others to be perfect.

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Those with high perfectionism scores, meaning they placed high expectations on themselves to be perfect, had a 51-percent increased risk of death compared to those with low scores.

The researchers suspect high levels of stress and anxiety, which are known to be linked with perfectionism, might contribute to the decrease in lifespan.

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But after following 385 patients with type 2 diabetes for 6.5 years, the researchers actually saw the opposite effect. Those with high perfectionism scores had a 26-percent lower risk of death than those with low scores.

The results suggest that in certain situations, perfectionism can have advantages. With type 2 diabetes, scrupulous attention to blood sugar levels and strict adherence to dietary rules can have payoffs in terms of reducing disease severity, the researchers suspect.

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