All too often we find ourselves paralyzed by the ideal of perfection. Trapped at a standstill, unable to move in a direction, and unsure of ourselves, most individuals tend to fear making a decision over the potentiality of relief upon its execution. Primitively speaking, these ideas make a lot of sense. Dating back to the early 1920’s scientists coined the term “fight, flight, or freeze” to define the automatic human nature response to perceived threats in the wild. During hunter-gatherer times, it was super important to be able to fight against possible life-threatening events (if a bear is running at me, I probably would want to run or play dead!). However, danger in the 21st century looks a lot different than it did back in those times. Yes, no bears are chasing us down; rather, we have immeasurable amounts of deadlines, expectations, and tasks to complete in an all to short 24-hour period. The same primitive genes that thousands of years ago served us well for survival purposes still lie within us and are being triggered a lot more than you maybe realize.
It is interesting that nature inclines us to freeze. Human nature, as complex as it is illusive, promotes survival over all. With this in mind, it can help us better understand why we may experience severe stress and anxiety over making a decision about a job offer, a move, or even where to go for dinner. Our beautifully complex brains become overwhelmed quite easily, especially under stress, lack of sleep, and poor self-care (welcome to the 21st century!). In my own clinical practice, I see and work with hard-working individuals who pile so many things on their plates to the point that their to do lists resemble more of an anthology. Described as feeling paralyzed, they talk about fear of failure as if it is their promised outcome no matter what decision they make. At some point, I think we all can relate to the idea of perfection and the bounds that it can place on us. The same cerebral connections that fired to help us “play dead” when those crazy bears would try to chase us are the same ones that stop us from deciding if we should leave our toxic relationship or not. Thousands of years separate these events, but our biology has not changed too much. Understanding that being plagued by perfection is a part of the human experience can help us better process and accept this struggle rather than fight against it.
What are we to do? Do we simply through our hands in the air and curse genetics for its hold on us and quit? Certainly not. I find that 3 small actions can offer us peace during these times.
- Accepting our “freeze moments”. Accepting when they happen and for what they are can be helpful. Rather than avoiding or suppressing we practice radical acceptance of our present moment without judgement.
- Breathing through the stress. Yes, it is that simple. Practice taking 5 minutes to focus on your breath. Fighting against our genetics will not work so taking time to breathe through the stress of the “impossible decision” reminds our bodies and nervous system that we are okay, we are safe (aka no bear), and that…
- You can move forward. After talking, processing, and breathing we have to take the next step. Moving forward means that we trust ourselves to execute the most effective decision, free from self judgement.
Fear of failing to be perfect or making the wrong decision can no doubt be paralyzing. Accepting that this is part of our genetics and human nature, practicing self-care and breathing while processing our next move, and then taking the plunge and making a decision can help us maintain success while also focusing on our mental health. You are more than worth it.
Hanna Cespedes is a counselor working on her PhD at Mercer University located in Atlanta, GA. She is currently working within private practice and hopes to serve her local community through promoting awareness for mental health in all walks of life and breaking the stigma surrounding serious mental illness.