Friday, October 29, 2010

How being imperfect can save your life

Perfectionism ups your risk for binge eating, depression, and other problems.

Constantly striving to live a faultless life increases your risk of a very imperfect outcome—early death. Experts specializing in perfectionism recently convened at an Association for Psychological Science Convention in Boston to present research looking at perfectionism and its effects on health, ranging from loss of self-esteem and resilience to increased stress and risk of death. It can even interfere with effectively dealing in a crisis situation. "Even though these impossibly high standards are self-imposed, the true perfectionists find it hard to relinquish the high self-expectations of performance, or to settle for more realistic standards, even during times of severe emergencies requiring them to act fast," explains Prem Fry, PhD, professor of psychology at Trinity Western University in British Columbia.

The Details: At the convention, researchers specializing in perfectionist behavior shared their research, including Fry, whose recent study of older adults found a 51 percent reduced life-expectancy rate in perfectionists when compared to non-perfectionists. Other health ailments have also been linked to perfectionism. Other researchers have linked perfectionism to binge eating, hoarding, anxiety, substance abuse, and an increased risk of oxidative and nitrosative stress, which cause cell damage and inflammation, leading to a whole host of serious health problems. The good news is that not all perfectionists' traits mean bad news. Some of Fry's other work, published earlier this year, has found that perfectionists living with type 2 diabetes tend to more effectively control and monitor their condition. "Compared to non-perfectionists, they followed the treatment regimen more thoroughly and, as a result, lived healthier and longer lives."