Perfect Moment Syndrome Could Be Ruining Your Day

"Perfect moment syndrome" is the tendency to approach an event with the expectation that it must go perfectly and, when it doesn't, you fall apart and see the whole experience as a failure. The term was coined by Sarah Wilson in her book, "First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety," and has since gained traction, particularly online, as people resonate with it and come to terms with their disappointment when certain expectations aren't met. 

Think of it as a perfectionist attitude around big moments. We tend to face major events with loaded expectations. Birthdays should be fun; a holiday must go perfectly; a wedding is the best day of your life. These events are loaded with superlatives and the unyielding expectation of success. They must go off without a hitch. The problem is, of course, that nothing in life is perfect. When we experience a hiccup during these events that are already loaded with expectations, we emotionally crumble.

Fortunately, awareness of "perfect moment syndrome" can lead to better self-care. Learning techniques to deal with PMS can help in addressing anxiety, for instance. Hopefully, it'll help us give ourselves permission to skip certain events, prompted by the joy of missing out, when they spark more anxiety than pleasure. But most of all, it'll help us face big days with more flexibility for the inevitable mishaps. After all, life is an unexpected road of both joys and disappointments.

What causes 'perfect moment syndrome?'

Essentially, PMS is caused by unrealistic expectations. For those who struggle with idealizing the future, this can be especially difficult, as people who are afflicted by PMS have a harder time living in the moment. It can come from a fear of failure and, certainly, perfectionism. "[P]eople who struggle with [this] are often scanning for issues or shortcomings because they have a history of feeling like things go badly for them and they expect that to continue," licensed clinical psychologist Kamran Eshtehardi, Ph.D., explained to Bustle.

For everyday, lived experience, "perfect moment syndrome" can impact all aspects of our lives. Birthdays can be especially tough, as we hope and expect the day to be perfect when in reality, it can be ordinary or even a miss. On TikTok, user @youloveandyoulearn spoke about the condition and others responded with their specific area of difficulty, including struggling with perfect moment syndrome in their relationships. 

Holidays were another huge one for many respondents. "My whole life. Holidays as a kid, my prom. My daughter's graduation. My mood ruins big events due to anxiety from expectations," one person wrote. Even eating out at a restaurant can be a minefield, as one commenter acknowledged, for fear of ordering the wrong food. So PMS isn't just relegated to major milestones, like weddings. It can impact quotidian joys too.

How to manage 'perfect moment syndrome'

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to deal with "perfect moment syndrome." The first is becoming aware of it, and knowing that many other people struggle with this condition too. So, there's no need to be hard on ourselves when these sensations of disappointment crop up; it's fairly common. On author Sarah Wilson's website, I Quit Sugar, there are several helpful tools for dealing with PMS. 

The first is to practice mindfulness; stay in the moment, particularly with triggering events, and accept and appreciate what comes up rather than living in a state of expectation. Practice flexibility around life's unpredictability and let go of any effort to control the moment. On Wilson's website, taking up therapy if perfectionism is an ongoing issue is also recommended. Another helpful tool is to manage your priorities around a certain event. 

"While it's natural to anticipate, having overly idealized or unrealistic expectations can set us up for bigger negative deltas," Dr. Katherine Iscoe warned MamaMia. "This is especially true if you compare yourself to the insta-perfect highlight reel experiences of those you follow on socials. When you see someone having 'the best time of their life', take it with a grain of salt." If you focus on ensuring your main concern is enjoying quality time with loved ones, then the small inconveniences won't matter as much.