Holiday Stress is Approaching: Are You a High Achiever or Perfectionist?

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person.
— Dr. David M. Burns
Perfectionist or High Achiever .jpg

You can almost feel the shift in energy every year around the holidays. It’s a mixture of excitement and anxiety…what a combination! We start thinking about all of the things at work that need to get done before year-end.  Then we add the stress of holiday activities, travel, and friends and family obligations to our work obligations, and we start to feel a little overwhelmed. So how do we cope? Instead of adopting a strategy of self-care to manage the extra work and stress, we often try to make more time by eliminating all of the things that we know are good for us…exercising, healthy eating, spending time with those closest to us.  We assume that we’re always stressed this time of year and that’s just the way it is.  After all, do we really have a choice? Well, of course, we do. And that choice doesn’t involve giving up on the healthy habits we have worked all year to achieve, or adding something else to our to-do list. Nor does it mean not living up to our obligations.  What it does mean is making a choice to exercise self-compassion and proper perspective — by deliberately tuning into our internal dialogue and being aware of messages of self-criticism, self-doubt, and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.  And then, making a conscious effort to change that dialogue.

For example, we’ve all seen people who seem to get so much done and move through these activities with ease and joy. They embrace joy in the unexpected and can see the bigger picture when things don’t go according to plan.  I bet you can bring someone like that to mind or even better, maybe you are one of these types of people. So how do they do it? The answer may lie in considering the difference between two different mindsets: high achievers vs. perfectionists. A high achiever is someone that has high goals but understands that mistakes may occur or outcomes may be different than they thought, and that is part of the experience of life. A perfectionist is someone who is not happy with anything that isn’t perfect or with things that fall short of some level of impossible standard. While both the perfectionist and the high achiever may have the same goals (and equally long to-do lists), the main difference between the two is motivation. One is motivated by goal achievement and life as a journey and the other is motivated by fear, anxiety, and perhaps, issues with self-esteem.

Take a moment and review the characteristics of both types of mindsets. See if there something that resonates with you.


  • Spend lots of time on things they don’t enjoy

  • Cause people around them to be anxious and stressed

  • Procrastinate because they feel they never have the time to do things the way they should be done

  • Nothing is ever good enough

  • Become irritated with even the smallest criticism

High Achievers

  • Understand that things happen and sometimes things don’t get done the way they envisioned

  • Focus on bigger picture outcomes such as fun and relationships

  • Look for short cuts or involve others in getting things done

  • Establish priorities that are consistent with what’s really important

  • Are able to forgive themselves and others when things go wrong

Indeed, most of us have characteristics of both mindsets and have certain areas of our lives where one area or the other dominates.  Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you enter what should be a joyous and festive time of the year:

Print and post to help you reduce holiday stress!

Print and post to help you reduce holiday stress!

  • Above all else, put yourself first on the to-do list.  Make sure you schedule your mindfulness practice, exercise, and healthy eating activities to keep up your healthy habits.

  • Consider relaxing your standards. Focus on what’s really important – not just for friends and family activities, but for work goals, too.  Sometimes we lock in on an ideal that is not necessary or expected by others.  Sometimes completing the task is good enough.  

  • Try something new.  Make a list of all of the things that you usually do during the holidays – both at home and work. Next, cross off anything that has served its purpose or you are doing it because it’s just what you always do. Then, start with a clean slate.  Consider what you would do if you could start over.

  • Spend time with people who are important to you. Drop those activities that really don’t matter.  We sometimes fill our calendars with people and events that we feel obligated to do, leaving little time for those closest to us.

  • Ask yourself why. When faced with a choice or you find yourself stuck in the middle of what looks like an impossible task, stop and ask yourself, “why are you doing this?”.  You may find that the reasons are related to habit or tradition, fear, or tied to your self-esteem.   

The good news?  There’s still time left to fully enjoy the holiday season the way you want to — with unnecessary pressure and stress.  Take a moment now to review what’s planned and make some changes if needed.  Take care of yourself, have some fun, relax your standards, and avoid those fruitcakes.