If you find yourself anxious in many different situations, especially those that relate to your performance, behavior, or relationships with others, you might consider the possibility that you have unrealistically high standards for yourself. It’s not uncommon for people to hold themselves to high standards, and doing so can be motivating. Impossibly high standards, though, can make people anxious and interfere in their lives (How Not to Expect Too Much from Yourself). If your own high standards are making you anxious, there’s a way to reclaim your life.
Signs that Your High Standards for Yourself Are Causing Anxiety
It’s a cycle that feeds on itself. We have dreams and aspirations, and to achieve them we set goals. Sometimes those goals are quite lofty and we push ourselves. The act of pushing ourselves can cause anxiety when it becomes pressure to perform, to achieve. The higher our standards, the more anxious we become, and the more anxious we become, the higher we set our standards.
This cycle of goals, standards, and anxiety takes its toll both mentally and physically. Some signs that your high standards are making you anxious include:
- A heavy sense of dread that weighs on you day and night
- Fear of failure
- Fear of being judged or criticized (Anxiety, Criticism, and Conquering Self-Doubt)
- Fear of being just not good enough
- Harsh self-criticism
- Ruminating, over-thinking everything
- Digestive troubles like acid reflux
- Sleep trouble and nighttime rumination over what you think you did wrong or what you think you will be unable to accomplish
Consequences of Unrealistically High Standards
As the above list indicates, setting impossibly high standards for yourself does make you anxious. This type of anxiety leads to a host of unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, such as:
These can increase in intensity until they become life-limiting. When anxiety created by high standards prevents you from thriving, it might be time to take back your life by making some changes.
Don’t Let High Standards for Yourself Make You Anxious
If you’re like me, you might be “yes-butting” already. Yes, you might be saying, I have high standards for myself, but I can’t change that. I have this goal and that one, and they’re very important. Perhaps I can lower my standards someday, but not yet. I’ll be less anxious then, but not now.
Herein lies the key to becoming less anxious: don’t lower your standards. Chances are, lowering your standards will contribute to increased anxiety. You do have goals, and you do want to achieve them. That’s why the thought of lowering your standards might make your anxiety worse.
So, here’s what we know:
- Your high standards are making you anxious.
- Your high standards are there to help you achieve important goals.
- You don’t want to give up your goals.
- You don’t feel comfortable lowering your standards.
These truths might, at first, be anxiety-provoking because it seems as there is no end in sight. In reality, there is one simple thing you can add (yes, add) to your cycle of standards and goals in order to become less anxious: when you craft your goals, include the reason for each goal. Why is the goal important to you? Why are you setting such high standards for yourself in order to achieve it?
Knowing the purpose for your goals helps determine their importance in your life. If a goal is meaningful to you and improves the quality of the life you want, you won’t mind working to high standards to achieve it. The anxiety associated with it won’t become out of control. If, however, there is no deep meaning underlying a goal (for example, you’re working hard only to please someone else), perhaps those high standards that are making you anxious can be revamped a touch.
Often, it’s not high standards alone that make us anxious. Sometimes what increases anxiety is working to high standards when the ultimate goal has no greater purpose in our life. Take time to explore your greater purpose and you just might find it easy to adjust some of your high standards and become less anxious.