Does your pain get worse when you’re stressed and have a short deadline at work, but you push through it anyway just to finish the job?
Or maybe you often stay up late to make sure your work has been done flawlessly otherwise you wouldn’t be able to sleep?
Modern life stresses and deadlines are an even bigger health hazard if you have tendencies towards perfectionism. Slow progress can feel like laziness, but learning how to pace your activities is an important part of retraining pain and living well again.
The Problem of Perfectionism (h3)
A perfectionist is someone who holds themselves to an extremely high standard. Not a standard of healthy striving for excellence, but a standard of achievement that is unrealistic.
If you’re a perfectionist, you hate when something’s not done perfectly. You’ll work tirelessly until you finish the job or find a solution to the problem. You loathe half-measures.
It also means that you’re in a constant state of tension and urgency. This anxious state can amplify pain through sensitizing your nervous system and sending danger signals to your brain.
When you feel this way it’s hard to remember that you can change your pain by slowing down and enjoying the present moment. Rushing, pushing and demanding more is your normal way of being.
Many people think of perfectionism as a “positive flaw” but as Thomas Curran shows in this video, perfectionism holds people back from living well.
My quest to fix pain; a perfectionist’s confession
‘I remember I started experiencing pain in my right hand while preparing for an Associate Diploma in Music piano recital.
I had my date scheduled, I’ve put so much work into it already and my teacher expected me to get a very good mark.
It was my final exam, I HAD to get it done and rest was not an option. I pushed through the pain and passed receiving the highest mark. Rest did not help with the pain, so I got myself another task – getting rid of the pain.
I committed myself to physiotherapy, did all the scans and tests possible expecting a solution and swift recovery. When my efforts didn’t pay off soon enough, I’d give up. I’d get back to my normal level of activity too quickly for my body to adapt, suffer for some time, get slightly better and do it all over again.
It was another task that my perfectionist mind had to finish right away.
It wasn’t until I learned to pace my activities that I realised there was a better way to recover.’
Pain Coping Strategies
If my story (above) sounds familiar to you, then you probably fall into the “boom & bust” category of coping strategies.
Many people do what I did – trying to do more when they feel better, and then have to restrict their activities severely to make up for it.
While this is a common strategy that people use to continue their activities when they develop pain, there are also other ways that people use to cope.
You might be more of an ‘all or nothing’ perfectionist. If you can’t do something up to your very high standard, you avoid it.
Your pain comes and goes, seemingly out your control. Quitting certain activities seems like something you CAN control, but what if you don’t want to quit your job? Or you love walking your dog every day and playing tennis with friends over the weekend and you don’t want to give it up? This all or nothing thinking shuts down your opportunities to continue to live your life well.
You might try really toughing out the pain by “endurance coping”. You’re still doing exercise, work and family activities, even with high level of pain.
‘As an exercise physiologist, pacing is one of the simplest solutions we can recommend for clients who have chronic pain. But often the easiest solutions are the hardest to do.
We live in a society where products, services and needs can be met in an instant. We expect to feel better in a few days, so it’s difficult to accept that one’s ten years of chronic pain might require effort, guidance and time.
People with perfectionist tendencies tend to be committed and highly skilled at paying attention to details. Clinicians can foster their determination to return to meaningful activities, and work with their motivation to gain control back in their lives.
As healthcare professionals, it’s our job to communicate clearly that pacing is not solely to reduce pain, but to help people do more of what they want to do. When efforts are praised, small achievements are celebrated and fitness increases, pain fades more and more into the background.’
Daniel Arbilla, Exercise Physiologist from Arbilla Exercise Physiology