You have been called many things: high achiever, Type-A, a perfectionist, and maybe even “having it all”. But this only describes one part of you, and not who you are as a whole person. There’s a whole other set of traits or characteristics inside of you that is beyond what you present to the world.
Perhaps you suffer from depression at times, or feeling like you’re “in a rut”. Or, more likely, anxiety and always wanting to be on top of things and in control. Maybe your relationships suffer because you cannot open up fully and show your true self to those you care about. Finally, these are the parts of you that you keep inside, deep inside, and don’t show to others.
There are both negative and positive connotations for being a high achiever, or a perfectionist, or a Type-A person. And yes, this trait has most definitely helped you out in your life. You may have a high-level position or job. Or maybe your perfectionism comes out in your home and family life by always trying to be the perfect partner, parent, child, or friend. And others love you and respect you, and you have a successful career.
But how does high achievement affect mental health, yours in particular? Because there comes a time in your life, maybe you’ve yet to reach it, that the type of rigid thinking that is associated with high achievers and perfectionists starts to show its negative effects. Here are some ways in which high achievement can impact mental health:
Positive Impacts of High Achievement on Mental Health
Sense of Accomplishment
Setting goals for yourself is a good practice. Especially positive goals, those that are reachable. Setting and then reaching the goals you set for yourself can really boost your self-esteem. It feels so good to reach a goal that you set for yourself, especially when the goal is a bit difficult to achieve. What a sense of accomplishment! This feels good and can contribute to positive mental health.
We all need a sense of purpose, or meaning, in life. The “why” behind what we do and how we do it. A guiding force for how we make decisions. Setting and achieving high standards for yourself can be really motivating - as long as the goals are actually reachable and realistic. Motivation helps us to stay on track, make good decisions, and be happy with ourselves, another positive mental health boost.
Negative Impacts of High Achievement on Mental Health
Stress and Pressure
Sometimes, after setting high-achieving goals, you may start to feel stressed and pressured to meet those goals in a certain timeframe. Or in a certain way. And the stress and pressure can continue to worsen, instead of getting better. Over time, this stress can impact your body (physical health) and mind (mental health) in negative ways.
Maybe you start to feel anxious about getting as much done as you think you need to, but something happens and then you cannot reach what you intended to do. Then you feel more anxious because now you have even more to do, and thus a vicious cycle begins. Beware of how stress is impacting you and your life.
With high achievement often comes perfectionism, which is the idea that you have to “perfect” at something, or many things. Maybe you have to be the perfect boss, or daughter, or father. And even though you know there’s no such thing as “perfect,” your mind tricks you into believing that it is achievable.
So you try harder, and harder, and continue to push yourself. This can affect how you feel about yourself in a negative manner, thinking that you can never measure up to what you “should” be.
Neglect of Self-Care
The word “self-care” has many different aspects. The Self-Care Wheel
lists 6 different areas in which you can practice self-care:
That is a lot of areas to focus on caring for yourself in! I mention this because it is very easy to neglect any of these areas of self-care. And when you’re working so hard to achieve or become perfect, usually at least one of these areas gets neglected.
What happens when you neglect any one of these areas of your own self-care? For myself, if I’m not attending to my physical needs (such as exercising regularly), then it most definitely has a negative effect on my mental health. I started to feel grumpy and unsatisfied with things. Notice the effects of each of these areas of self-care on your mental health!
Imposter Syndrome means that you believe that your success is not due to your innate ability or that your achievements are not legitimate, as you define it. Basically, you can feel imposter syndrome in many different roles. You can be a new mother and feel like an imposter, or Imposter Syndrome can come up for you at work.
At its core, Imposter Syndrome occurs when you do not have the confidence in yourself and your abilities. And, interestingly, people who are high achievers or perfectionists often have a lower sense of self-esteem than you might imagine. Imposter Syndrome makes you doubt yourself and your abilities, perhaps even venturing into depression, which definitely has a negative impact on your mental health.
Balancing and Coping Strategies
The good news is, that even if you are a high achiever or a perfectionist, there are things that you can do to mitigate the effect on your mental health. It is essential for high achievers like yourself to find a balance between pursuing your goals and taking care of your mental health.
Taking care of your mental health care can look different for different people. It can involve:
Setting realistic expectations
Going to therapy
Seeking support from others
Manage your stress effectively
All of these things can help you prioritize your mental health while you are out conquering the world. It’s not a bad thing to be a high achiever, but you do have to take extra effort to make sure that you are happy.
Overall, the impact of high achievement on mental health can vary greatly from person to person. The more self-awareness that you develop, the more likely you are to be on top of your mental health needs. Striving for balance in all areas of your life can help you be successful and maintain your well-being!
If you are interested in learning more about how to balance high achievement and perfectionism, check out our Recovering Perfectionists Group, where you can connect with others and get support for balancing your life!
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Follow these simple steps if you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you:
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Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor with Firelight Supervision, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.