In a recent study, the National Mental Health Association reported that 10 percent of college students and 13 percent of college women have been diagnosed with depression. A University of California at Los Angeles survey found that more than 30 percent of college freshmen report feeling overwhelmed a great deal of the time, and that 38 percent of college women report feeling frequently overwhelmed.
According to the 2005-2006 "State of Our Nation's Youth" report findings that were released by the Horatio Alger Association in the summer 2005, 41 percent of high school students said that the pressure to get good grades was a major concern. These numbers have increased by 15 percent since 2001.
For whatever reason -- the need to impress future employers, the pressure of keeping up with peers or simply meeting self-imposed but unrealistically high standards - an increasing number of high school and college students are literally making themselves sick in the pursuit of perfection.
My battle with perfectionism
Unfortunately, I understand all too well the price students pay for measuring self worth through a number on a test. A perfectionist through my college years, I'd rather skip an assignment than risk turning in a less-than-perfect paper. I fantasized about the day I would walk across the stage at my graduation ceremony and hear my name announced along with "summa cum laude" -- with highest honors. My family would be in the audience snapping pictures and beaming with pride. By my senior year, that goal had become an obsession.
When I finally did walk across that stage in 2001, I held back tears with everything I had in me. They weren't tears of joy, as my professors and family might have imagined, but of a sick sorrow. The speaker announced, "Maria L. Pascucci, summa cum laude." I did it -- I graduated with the highest honors possible, but at much too high a psychological cost.
I had dreamt of being a writer ever since I was old enough to pick up a pencil and scribble my name, but after I graduated from college, I didn't write a thing for months. I told my college career counselor that I would never write again, and I believed that I wouldn't. I was burnt out and depressed, battling with anxiety-induced stomach problems and certain that writing had almost destroyed me. Five years later, I understand that it was perfectionism that almost destroyed me and that my love of writing helped me to rebuild my life.
When I was a little girl, I'd always tell people, "Someday, when I grow up, I'll be a writer." When the cap and gown came off, I realized that society considered me a grown-up whether I felt like one or not, and that it was the time to make or break my dreams. I didn't think I could measure up to what that little girl envisioned while sitting on a porch stoop with her favorite red notebook in hand. It's so much easier to dream of the end product than to actually see it through.
Anxiety, depression, insomnia
I've suffered stomachaches, insomnia, anxiety and depression from the unrealistic expectations I'd placed on myself to be the best. Can any of you relate? At what price should success come? Should we have to sacrifice our health to be successful? In a word: NO. Once I learned to start defining success on my own terms and ditched my need to be perfect, I'm more successful today than ever before. And if I can do it, so can you!
- Ever stress about grades?
- Ever find yourself up at night worrying over school?
- Get stomachaches before a big test or paper is due?
How do you deal with the pressure? Do you exercise, spend time with friends, visit your campus counseling center, talk with your teacher or parents? Drop me a line -- I'd love to hear from you!