The admonition to “just relax” goes only so far for some people.
A phenomenon known as relaxation-induced anxiety occurs when people experience anxiety as a result of trying to relax. Activities such as listening to music or taking a vacation, for example, may trigger worrisome feelings.
Relaxation-induced anxiety is a fear of relaxation itself or an increased fear that is triggered just after relaxation is achieved, said Christina Luberto, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Cincinnati.
“Someone with a fear of relaxation is able to initially relax,” said Luberto, who has developed a questionnaire, known as the Relaxation Sensitivity Index, to examine this fear. “But once they start to feel relaxed, they begin to feel anxious as a result.”
Relaxing activities don’t truly unwind people with this condition but rather make them feel wound up. Their heart rates increase, their breathing speeds up, their muscles tense and they feel nervous and worried.
For example, some people with this condition may be scared of the unwanted thoughts that enter their heads when their minds quiet down. Still others may fear the social consequences of engaging in relaxing activities, such as appearing lazy, feeling a loss of control, or worrying they’re not relaxing “correctly.”
Preliminary findings of the study, which involved 300 college students — most of whom were 21 years old, female and Caucasian — revealed that about 15 percent experienced relaxation-induced anxiety.
Participants were asked to rank on a scale of 0 to 5 statements such as “I worry that when I let my body relax, I will look silly” and “When my mind begins to wander, I worry that I might be going crazy.”
These results reflect the frequency of this condition in relatively healthy young adults, but Luberto adds that relaxation-induced fears may run as high as 50 percent among people with anxiety disorders. And there’s still no information on its prevalence among those with other types of mood disorders or mental health problems.
Luberto said that relaxation-induced anxiety isn’t a diagnosis, and it doesn’t necessarily require treatment unless it interferes with a person’s life.
Source: University of Cincinnati