How to Overcome the Stress of Being an Overachiever

According to Dr. Phil, “we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge first.” With this being the case, I have finally come to terms with a plaguing issue that I’ve denied for many years: My name is Jennifer, and I am an overachiever.

There. I’ve said it. The proof is in the pudding.

Adorning my bedroom walls are dozens of plaques, commendations, and kudos from just about every avenue of my life: from grade school awards, to college scholarships, to writing competitions, to community service.

I say this not to brag, but to make a point. In 2005, in the hit movie “Hustle and Flow,” one of the main characters of the movie laments over how hard it is to be a successful hustler. This “baller” should try being an overachiever! Overachievers may not get the same street cred, or cool theme music, but they work just as hard and live in constant angst in their daily efforts to be the best at what they do.

Achievement becomes an addiction in which the “high” of success is often chased by additional acts of excellence and emotional and physical over investment. And to be quite honest, it can be rather exhausting.

Sure, for those of us who suffer this malady, we can say that it makes our moms proud, earns us a few bragging rights, and reasons to reward ourselves with chocolate and periodic shopping sprees, but somehow, somewhere, we have to draw the line.

For example, I was competing with a little girl at a close friend’s daughter’s birthday party, in a jump rope competition, and let’s just say that this kid proved to be a poor loser. But I was determined to outdo her.

Could you be an overachiever just like me?

According to the Overachiever Coach, “Overachievers are ambitious, driven, and influenced to do (and be) the best. They have a unique mindset that keeps their brain on overdrive and a work ethic that keeps them one step ahead.  High expectations and focused intensity are definite characteristics of overachievers. They are always pushing themselves for more,–whether it’s professionally, academically, personally, or in a sports or hobby.”

Sound familiar?

Here are some other tell-tale signs of overachievers, based upon my own experience and observations:

  • Overachievers have a sense of urgency about things that makes them unique comparatively. They view time as a commodity.
  • Overachievers often come from successful families where parents or other family members were doctors, lawyers, actors, teachers, bankers, or military personnel (whereby “they got it honestly”).  In other words, achievement was as much a part of their family blood line as their DNA.
  • Overachievers typically do well in school, often skipping a grade or two, or earning scholarships along the way.
  • Overachievers tend to be their own worst critics. They impose high standards and subject themselves to personal scrutiny on various levels.
  • Overachievers are very results-oriented. They are very diligent in their day-to-day functioning, and often set goals by which they measure their overall performance.
  • Overachievers often feel pressured to do well.

Now that we’ve identified what it is, here is how to look at this condition more objectively — and use it to enhance our lives rather than encumber it.

If you, like me, have decided that 2011 will be the year to be less stressed, less anal, and more balanced in your personal and professional life, here are some savvy ways to walk the talk:

  1. Realize that we were designed to be “human beings”, not human doings. Keep things in proper perspective. We are more than our titles and Facebook status updates. Our value as human beings should never solely be tied into our value in the workworld, or the value of our achievements.
  2. Know that the stress associated with “driven personalities,” grueling work hours, and extremely high self-imposed expectations can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and poor sleep habits.  It can also adversely impact our personal relationships, if we apply the same high, rigid standards. Act accordingly.
  3. Take heed to the saying, “all work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.” Balance is crucial. Work hard, but play hard too when time allows.  Tap into some personal hobbies like cooking, or writing, or sports for recreational outlets and a greater quality of life.
  4. Give yourself a break. There’s nothing wrong with having a “marginal mindset” or weaknesses in some areas. For instance, I really suck at bowling, but enjoy it immensely. Everybody needs an activity that allows them to relax and release. What’s yours?
  5. Realize that life is not a competition. Run your own race. Don’t get caught up in comparing your successes to your siblings, friends, or co-workers. We each have different skills, circumstances, and goals.

Follow these timely tips and you’ll achieve something much greater than “status”. You’ll enjoy a greater quality of life, and better mental and physical health.  And that’s something truly worth boasting about.

(Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

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Jennifer Brown Banks is a veteran freelance writer, popular relationship columnist and Managing Editor at Formerly an "awesome" public relations professional, she now enjoys the spoils of the entrepreneurial life. Additionally, she is a columnist for Technorati.


  1. Camille on the 28th March

    You hit the nail on the head there, and several times over. This is just the blog post I need. I’m printing and bookmarking it.

    And this line is classic:
    “Realize that we were designed to be “human beings”, not human doings.”

    What I struggle most on now is how to keep away from others those “high standards” I’ve always set for myself growing up. You mentioned it here, and I’m glad you did, ’cause I thought I was the only one dealing with this sorry attitude.

    Thanks for the GREAT post!

  2. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 28th March


    Thank you for the kind comment and the confirmation that I’m not alone here. 🙂
    But I don’t think that having high standards is a “sorry attitude”. I just think that it needs to be balanced and kept in proper perspective.

    I appreciate the feedback. Be well. 🙂

  3. Karen Lange on the 28th March

    Guilty here. I was just thinking the other day about how I perceive my value in certain areas based on how much I accomplish. Aiming to chill more in 2011, and believing for the necessary wisdom to maintain the balance. Good post, Jennifer, thank you!

  4. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 28th March

    Thanks, Karen. Wishing you love, peace, and long walks on the beach. 😉

  5. AE Thanh on the 29th March

    This has a lot to do with your self-image. If you view yourself as someone who always has to be the best at X, you will act accordingly. You really want to start to view yourself differently to make a lasting impact. I’m not saying that being the best at something is bad, it’s actually pretty darn good if you are. Just not EVERYTHING. Pick your poison. You only have limited resources at your disposal; your time and energy. Use them wisely and understand what “return on investment” and “diminishing returns” mean. It will make you stop being an overachiever really fast 🙂

  6. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 29th March


    I agree, “pick your poison.” Thanks for the input.

  7. Marcie on the 30th March

    My name is Marcie Hill and I am an overachiever. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it’s not. These days I feel like I am working extra hard to get my business flowing, others I don’t feel I’m doing enough. And I’m working on giving myself a break which seems like the hardest thing to do. But I will….soon.

  8. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 30th March


    Thanks so much for your time and input..

  9. Michael LaRocca on the 30th March

    Thanks for posting this, Jennifer. I probably knew most of this, but it seems I need to be reminded of it on a regular basis. I guess I’m what Mamma might call a backsliding overachiever. 🙂

    • Jennifer Brown Banks on the 30th March


      I like that—“backsliding overachiever.” 🙂
      Clever comment. Thanks for your feedback.

  10. Bojan Djordjevic on the 30th March

    I am an overachiever. Maintaining balance is a constant struggle. It’s an achievement yet to be accomplished.

  11. AB on the 30th March

    Hello Jennifer,
    Thanks for sharing. Sometimes – make that most of the time – I drive myself nuts with my “need” to be perfect and the best. This post is definitely worth keeping and just what I need.

    • Jennifer Brown Banks on the 31st March


      My pleasure. As I said before, there’s nothing really “wrong” in having high standards and being committed to excellence. I believe in fact, that excellence honors God, in terms of using our gifts. I do think that it should be balanced and based on the right mindset.

      Keep being “excellent” in your own way. 🙂 Thanks for adding to the mix.

  12. Anthony on the 18th April

    I had a series of anxiety attacks a few years ago which ended up in months off work with stress. The interesting thing was at the time I didn’t think I was stressed. It’s a hard beast to identify sometimes – it’s the chameleon elephant in the room.

    I thought that as I worked for a decent company, had a great manager and no-one shouting at me that I couldn’t possibly be stressed. It took a long time to realise I was generating it by setting impossible standards in my work life. So logically, having identified the source, it should be fairly easy to ease off… but no, two years down the line I’m still fundamentally an overachiever and the person who puts me under the most pressure is still me.

    I see it a lot in other people now too, mostly they’re on anti-anxiety medication but to me that treats the symptoms and not the cause. There must be a better way.

  13. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 21st April


    Thanks so much for your thoughts here. I appreciate your sharing. Many times overachievers are their own worst critics. The way to recovery is a paradigm shift.
    It won’t happen overnight, though. Rather, it’s a process. It’s also important to remember that we are “human beings” not “human doings”.

    I wish you well.

  14. Elizabeth on the 2nd July

    Any ideas on what to do when you FINALLY realise that you have been overachieving all your life and want to stop because you just know that someone is going to find out that you are not actually that bright after all……? Mortgage to match to effort…… It just keeps escalating. Success breeds success? Was just about to to lay down tools and then….landed biggest contract so far….twice the previous monetary value….. so what did I say? Yay! (and died a little bit more). I am so tired!!!!! Again – ideas?

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