Millennials Are Dealing With a Serious Achilles' Heel

A new study revealed that millennials are more likely than previous generations to put pressure on ourselves (and others) to be perfect.

Whether we’re resolving to go to the gym more often or looking into a new skin care routine, young people are constantly in self-improvement mode. After years in school learning to be smarter, more sociable and athletic, isn’t that kind of our job?

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to live your best life, a study recently published in the journal Psychological Bulletin revealed that millennials are more likely than previous generations to put pressure on ourselves (and others) to be perfect, which could be taking a serious toll on our mental health.

To understand the impact of social and economic conditions on young peoples’ personalities, the study authors analyzed data from more than 40,000 American, Canadian and British college students between 1989 and 2016.

Each of the students completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, which measures three different kinds of perfectionism: self-oriented (an irrational desire to be perfect), socially prescribed (the feeling that others have excessive expectations of you) and other-oriented (the projection of unrealistic expectations onto others).

The researchers found that perfectionism increased from previous generations across the board. Between the late 1980s and 2016, self-oriented perfectionism scores rose by 10 percent, socially prescribed perfectionism jumped by 33 percent and other-oriented perfectionism increased by 16 percent.

But what is wrong with striving to be the best version of yourself? Unfortunately, research shows that there’s an association between perfectionism and clinical depression, anorexia nervosa and suicidal thoughts, according to the study. It’s also been connected to a heightened sensitivity to stress and failure.

As you’ve probably guessed, social media is part of the problem. The authors note that young people are more competitive than previous generations as a result, in part, of a more difficult job market. Caught up in comparing themselves to others, millennials spend more money on material possessions and more time on social media. The latter, according one 2017 survey, only fans the flames of body-image anxiety and social alienation, feeding our desire to keep up with the Kardashians and the Joneses.

Of course, perfection is impossible to achieve, so we’re constantly setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. So what now?

We can’t overhaul our culture overnight, but we can make small changes to our habits and thought patterns to show ourselves some love. The Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia writes that it is important to recognize negative self-talk and make an effort to focus on the positive. It can also help to think about how your friends and family would view your accomplishments: Sure, you might think that going to the gym three times a week isn’t good enough, but you’d probably be proud of your friend if you heard she were doing the same.

Read more: 10 Essential Life Lessons Every 20-Something Needs to Know