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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Pinterest may be bad for your health

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3 2013 10:25 a.m. MDT

Because perfectionism is a personality trait and not a mental illness, it may be harder to “cure.”

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Pinterest. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Blog after blog after blog. Oh, the ways to feel inferior in today’s world!

I don’t know how many friends I’ve talked to recently who have said, “That’s it! I’m deleting my ___ account. I just can’t stand comparing myself anymore. I feel like everyone else has a perfect life!”

I’ve fallen victim to the, “Man, I wish I was as good as her at baking/crafting/ quilting …” many times since the world of insta-sharing. It may seem ridiculous for a post about perfectly iced cinnamon buns to make me feel somehow less than qualified to be a “good mom,” but I admit that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago after scrolling through my photo feed.

“Those are perfect!” I thought to myself. “How come I don’t make cinnamon buns like that?”

Whether intentional or not, women always seem to be striving for perfection and feeling terrible about themselves when they inevitably fall short.

“For most people, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best,” says Ann W. Smith, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Overcoming Perfectionism: The Key to a Balanced Recovery.” "Striving to do one’s best and having a healthy competitive attitude can push you to achieve your goals and feel satisfied with your effort."

But “the problem comes,” Smith continues, “when the need for perfection becomes a compulsion that starts to interfere with your life.”

That compulsion can lead to comparing, coveting, ignoring family members and beating yourself up because that quest for perfection is always just out of reach.

And that can lead to stress. Lots of stress.

Because perfectionism is a personality trait and not a mental illness, it may be harder to “cure.”

According to an article in the September issue of WebMD, author Colleen Oakley writes that “a recent study found that perfectionists age 65 and older have a 51 percent increased risk of death which researchers say may be due to the high levels of anxiety and stress linked to the character trait.”

We know it’s not possible to be perfect (well, at least in this life). We also know, despite some really great pictures on Pinterest, no one else is, either. But how can we stop driving ourselves crazy trying to make the World’s Best Cinnamon Buns?! … or … um … whatever it is that we are obsessing about?

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D. and assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reverse University in Cleveland, suggests making small mistakes and not fixing them.

“People are not big fans of this at first,” she says. “But they do learn that a small mistake doesn’t make a whole project worthless."

Oakley says one way to do this is to leave a comma or period out of a sentence. Or don’t line all your shoes up perfectly in the mud room.

Another thing to remember is that while you’re striving to perfectly achieve a task, your loved ones may be suffering.

“Remind yourself that your family and friends come before tasks on your list like the mail, mopping the kitchen, perfecting a work presentation,” Smith says. “If you want to be close to your kids, you can’t be a taskmaster constantly trying to make them” — or your home — “turn out perfectly.”

This is especially hard for me. I feel like if I don’t clean the house, my “work space,” I can’t focus on my kids because I’m constantly thinking about how messy the family room is, or that load of laundry rotting in the washer, or those dishes stinking up the kitchen, or those shoes dripping mud all over the floor … so I become a mad woman cleaning and scrubbing and organizing until pretty soon it’s 3 p.m. and my kids, while pretty darn good at entertaining themselves, have had hardly any one-on-one mommy time.

And that’s when the guilt seeps in.

I read a hilarious post on Facebook the other day (while fervently trying not to compare) as I browsed through the posts from one of my friends in my neighborhood:

“Clean house. Sleep. Raise kids. You get to pick two. I lied. You only get to pick one.”

I laughed at first, but realized the wisdom in what she was trying to say: everything else honestly can wait. The dishes can stay stinking in the sink for a few more minutes while I read “Ghosts Hour, Spooks Hour” for the 20th time. That load of laundry can be rewashed. Again. And those shoes can swim contentedly in their dirty little puddle.

I love Hilary Weeks’ song “If I Only Had Today.” She sings:

I’d let the dishes sit in the sink …

I’d tell you I love you over and over

For once I’d just let the phone ring …

If I only had today.

I’ve found that my children will only ask, “Mommy, will you read to me?” so many times before they find something else to do. And pretty soon, they stop asking. I want my house to be clean and filled with delicious food. But more than that, I want a home full of laughter, learning, and lots and lots of love.

I guess that means those blasted cinnamon buns will have to be purchased at Cinnabon for the time being

(The missing period in that last sentence still bugs me though ….)

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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