In high school, I was attending a straight-edge, Kumbaya, leadership, “let’s do crafts and talk about our feelings” retreat called Operation Snowball. We did an exercise where some of us were blindfolded and guided by another group member through a maze made of yarn. One by one, others who were blindfolded made their way out of the maze. After what seemed like forever, I was the only one left. I was really frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the maze. I remember sighing exasperatedly and throwing up my hands and uttering something along the lines of, “Just help me!” And like magic, I was out of the maze and un-blindfolded. The key to getting out of the maze? Asking for help.
When researchers at Trinity Western University examined the relationship between perfectionism and the risk of death, they found that those with high perfectionism scores had a 51% increased risk of earlier death when compared to volunteers who had low perfectionism scores. The researchers theorize that high levels of anxiety and stress (you know, caused by frustration when things doing turn out as planned or ahem, not asking for help) may contribute to a reduced lifespan.
Now, I’m not of the impression that living longer equals wheelchairs, loneliness, dependence on children and caretakers, etc. Probably because I’ve seen my Grandma E and Papa live quite contentedly into their 90s, I not only aspire to, but I believe that I am capable of living a long and healthy and happy life. But apparently, my chances of doing so will be greatly diminished by not asking for help, stressing out about every stupid slowpoke or overly aggressive tailgater I encounter on Route 4 or overanalyzing the minutiae of every day life.
Sometimes I’m stressed, because I don’t want to let someone else down. Or I don’t want to let myself down. Mostly, I want so badly to succeed at something that I freak out about the possibility of failure. Classic “Straight A Student” Syndrome, right? I also attribute my propensity for doing these things to my genes, my personality, my astrology (yes, laugh all you want, but in many ways I am a crazy worrisome, type-A Virgo), and it’s certainly environmental. Simply living anywhere adjacent to Manhattan is very stressful. But, this whole picture just means more than ever that I have no choice but to de-stress (with yoga, reading, walking leisurely in the park with Dan) and make a conscious effort to prevent perfectionism from taking over. Let me tell you, it is not easy.
Illustrated example. Last week, at the Lady Gaga concert, when little monsters were blocking my view and spilling beer on me, I could have made a greater effort to be less of an agitated control freak. I probably should have done some deep breathing during “Speechless” (I did take the ballad as an opportunity to sway), loosened up, let it go altogether, and I wouldn’t have pissed off Emmie so much. Don’t get me wrong, we still had an awesome time. But the fact is, I’m easily stressed out. I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all?
Making it easier is the fact that it’s summer. And it’s Friday. That means two whole chill days to look forward to, filled with carefree time. I’m going to do my best—OK, maybe it doesn’t have to be my ultimate best!—to make the most of it. How about you?
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