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6 Signs Your Perfectionism Is Ruining Your Trip

Travel6 Signs Your Perfectionism Is Ruining Your Trip

For many people, an upcoming vacation is exciting because it gives them something to look forward to throughout the year. Maybe they get to explore a place away from home or, if they’re traveling with family, perhaps their trip is an opportunity to connect with loved ones. Maybe their vacation is a desperately needed respite from work.

But for perfectionists, an upcoming trip can be a source of stress — and the vacation itself might be hard to enjoy as a result. Perfectionists are known to put a lot of pressure on themselves and feel at fault for things that aren’t actually their mistake. This makes vacations, which are often full of curveballs, potentially challenging times.

Does this sound familiar? Here are some signs that perfectionism is ruining your trip and what you can do about it, according to therapists:

1. You may be inflexible when plans change.

“When something doesn’t go as planned, a perfectionist might have a lot of trouble adapting,” said Jennifer Chaiken, a licensed marriage and family therapist who co-owns The Therapy Group in Pennsylvania and co-hosts the ShrinkChicks podcast.

That’s because perfectionism can give you a false sense of control and “a level of rigidity,” she added. Perfectionists may feel like a “perfectly planned” vacation — with tours, meals and outings arranged down to the minute — will mean that nothing can go wrong, but this certainly isn’t the case.

“In reality, as we know, nothing is perfect and there is so much that is out of our control,” Chaiken said.

For example, a perfectionist might have “this perfect idea of an excursion that they want to take,” like visiting a waterfall and taking an ideal photo next to it, she said — but if the weather isn’t nice, perfectionists may have trouble adapting to creating a new plan that would allow them to enjoy their day in a different way.”

2. You misplace blame when things inevitably go wrong.

According to Chaiken, both internal conflict and external conflict are common among perfectionists.

“Perfectionists are so hard on themselves and other people about not meeting perfection standards,” she said. “There are a lot of ways that that can lead to internal or external conflict.”

When plans get disrupted, perfectionists tend to blame themselves or someone else instead of accepting that some things are out of their control, she said. They also set unrealistic expectations for themselves. On vacation, a perfectionist might get self-critical about not planning better in advance when museum tickets are sold-out. Or they could blame their partner for choosing a restaurant that ends up being too busy.

Blaming themselves or someone else is a way for perfectionists to express more control over a situation that has gone awry, “when in fact … life is just out of our control,” Chaiken said.

3. Or you may bail on a trip altogether.

According to Becca Trayner, a licensed mental health counselor at Self Space in Seattle, perfectionists often want things to go so perfectly that they end up imagining every worst-case scenario — a habit known as catastrophizing. Maybe you panic about a potential incoming snowstorm and end up canceling your flights, for example.

“It’s not just that once we go on the vacation, we’re having all these thoughts of ‘everything needs to be perfect’ — you need to have the perfect reservations, the perfect plans, the perfect outfit — but sometimes there’s so much fear around that not happening that it actually gets in the way of us even going through with those plans,” Trayner said.

4. Your vacation isn’t about your well-being anymore.

“The whole point of a vacation, really, is to take time away from your normal routines to improve your well-being,” said Tom McDonagh, a clinical psychologist at Good Therapy SF in California.

You probably associate words like “relaxing,” “calming” or “transformative” with vacation, since those tend to be the desired effect.

“So, if you’re applying a perfectionistic mindset and it’s getting in the way of that well-being, then we’ve gone too far,” McDonagh said.

If you’re sacrificing your well-being for the sake of a “perfect” vacation, you may find yourself exhausted at the end of it or so consumed with anxiety that you end up dreading a trip you were once looking forward to.

5. Or you frame it in a way to impress others.

As a perfectionist, you may have a preoccupation with how others view or think about your trip, feeling like “you have to frame your vacation in a certain way that’s maybe less than authentic to get other people’s approval,” said McDonagh.

This might involve comparisons to others online. “We tend to put our best faces on social media,” Chaiken said. “So, we’re seeing our friends and people that we’re connected to go on these incredible vacations. And because they’re posting this perfect picture of what their vacation looks like, we then believe that ‘oh, I also need to have this perfect vacation.’”

If you end up comparing your trip to someone else’s online, perfectionism may indeed be getting in the way of your vacation, Chaiken stressed.

6. You’re not living in the present moment.

When you’re at a beachside restaurant you were excited to visit, you may find yourself just hoping to get into the cool cocktail bar across the street. Or when you’re on a hike, you might only think about the next leg of your travels.

“We’re always thinking about the next thing rather than being in the present moment,” Trayner said.

“Sometimes, [perfectionism] can be in our thoughts. Sometimes it can really prevent us from getting out and doing the things we want to do,” she added.

Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

There are ways to cope with your perfectionistic tendencies so you can actually enjoy yourself.

If you struggle with perfectionism, consider these methods to have a more enjoyable trip.

“That perfectionistic mindset, in general, tends to take more than it gives,” McDonagh said. “At first, it feels very addicting and useful and effective. But if you think about it over time, it’s causing more issues in your life than you otherwise expect it to.”

Still, Trayner said you shouldn’t pressure yourself to suddenly start going with the flow, since that’s “not sustainable” for someone with perfectionist tendencies. “Balance is really key and can lead to more authenticity,” she said.

Instead of having your entire trip scheduled precisely, consider leaving some free time for unexpected activities or making a rain plan if there’s bad weather in the forecast, instead of just abandoning your whole itinerary.

If you’re in a perfectionism spiral at the moment, McDonagh said that deep breathing can be a helpful way to ground yourself.

“There’s something really common right now — it’s called the physiological sigh, where you do two inhales through your nose as deeply as you can, and then you exhale once,” McDonagh explained. “That mimics a sigh that our bodies naturally do when we want to calm down.”

You can also consider what you need to self-soothe. “Part of this is really noticing the way in which you talk to yourself, and that is a learned skill,” Chaiken explained. If you usually engage in harsh dialogue with yourself, that needs to be changed.

“You’re going to want to start to say things like ‘you’re human,’ ‘everyone makes mistakes,’ ‘it’s OK, you’re going to be able to work through this,’” Chaiken said. “Talk to yourself in the way that you would talk to someone you really love and have deep compassion for.”

If you’re still struggling to enjoy your vacation (or your day-to-day life — because perfectionism does not end when the vacation does), consider talking to a therapist for more help. You can use sites like Inclusive Therapists and Psychology Today to find a mental health provider to support you.

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