Mental Health Moments: What Are Unrelenting High Standards?

⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten 

Your mind races, but at the same time, you can’t capture any one specific thought. Thoughts blast past all logic at record speeds, and you’re caught up in moments of your own personalized “What If” game.

What if I don’t turn in that assignment on time? What if I’m not successful? What if I act a certain way that gets so-and-so mad at me and then not to like me forever?

Instead of using pros and cons as a productive form of say, career management, those of us with obsessive-compulsive thoughts spiral into our tangled webs of unhelpful rules and assumptions.

Personally, I would be uncomfortable with a lack of obsessive-compulsive thoughts. In fact, there are times in which I desperately want and need to relax but can’t. This is due to my mind attempting to collapse on itself in anxious precision -- for no reason at all. I just don’t feel normal with my long-winded process of obsessive-compulsive thoughts. We may not be able to get rid of them completely, but these thoughts can be managed.

What are unhelpful rules and assumptions?

The Centre for Clinical Interventions in Australia explains unhelpful rules and assumptions in the second module of its “Perfectionism in Perspective” workbook. Most people adhere to basic rules and assumptions, such as speed limits or The Golden Rule. When you have inflexible and inaccurate rules and assumptions, that leads to obsessive-compulsive thoughts and other behaviors. You don’t bend to your own will, and it can lead to debilitating thoughts, behaviors and actions.

Some examples of unhelpful rules and assumptions are:

  • Setting Incredibly Demanding Standards For Yourself: I have to work all the time to be successful or I won’t make money or be viewed as a hard worker.

  • Fear of Failure: I can’t put my writings out there because they’re not as good as others’ works, and I will fail.

  • Constant Checking: Let me just check this brief email several times before I press “send.”

  • Simplicity, Structure and Control: Delegating tasks is not for me. How else will I know the task will get done unless I do it myself?

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: If I don’t get an A on my exam, then I don’t deserve anything positive in life.

  • Shoulds and Musts: I must clean the house all at once and clean everything with precision.

  • Self-Control: Let me just finish these 1,345 work tasks before I get up to use the bathroom or eat lunch.

Does that sound like you? Yeah, it sounds like me, too. This mode of thinking leads to unrelenting high standards for yourself and others -- and you will never be able to meet all of these inflexible standards you set for yourself. It’s commendable to have standards, of course, but when they cause extreme stress, anxiety, depression and all of the above, then working toward a more positive solution is the best avenue for internal (and external) relief from yourself.

How can you begin to manage your unrelenting high standards?

Make a list of your standards.

You could obsess about losing that extra 20 pounds and weigh yourself constantly throughout the day or have to always be in first place in every facet of life. Be open and honest with yourself. You could have one sector of unrelenting high standards or they could affect you in each of the following ways: performance at work/school, grooming/personal hygiene, organization/ordering, close relationships, sports, eating/shape/weight, housework/cleaning and health/fitness.

Assess your standards.

One you write down your standards, you will be able to see if they’re achievable and flexible. Do you know you have to clean your house but choose to do it tomorrow when a friend calls and wants to go to dinner? Are you in the pursuit of your own perfectionistic “happiness” by never allowing yourself to relax because you have to work 24/7? It’s easy to tell because you will see patterns, but each assessment is individualistic. No two answers are the same due to each of us having our own experiences, influences and personalities.  

Start making some changes.

Making behavioral changes takes time, and you have to be patient with yourself. You may see results instantly, but more often that not, you have to trust in the process and view every day that you try to implement changes as a win. I completed all nine modules and started implementing what I learned. What really helped me was to start setting a general goal and a few objectives within a six-week period. For example, if I wanted to eat better, I would set the general goal of Cooking healthier meals. Then, I would set the following objectives: Meal prep every weekend, only eat out once per week, cook healthy recipes and pay attention to a meal plan that works for my overall health goals and objectives. It’s all fun and games to set these goals and objectives, but after the six-week period is over, assess what you did well and what you need to improve upon. Be honest but not mean to yourself.

Please note: These blog posts will not be clinical, although we will provide symptoms and other information. These posts are based on my experiences with anxiety and mental health in general.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit a website like Mental Health America to learn more. 

Mental Health Moments blog posts are every other Tuesday of the month. Our CEO and contributors highlight what it's like to live with a mental health disorder and continue to fight the stigma through storytelling.

Copyright © MMXVIII Hourglass Media, LLC

Kaylin R. Staten is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer. She owns Hourglass Omnimedia, a consulting company based in Huntington, WV. 

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