Most people relish time away from work or routine and live for vacations.
But a subset of individuals becomes anxious when they take time away to relax.
A new research study examines the phenomenon by asking individuals to complete a questionnaire called the Relaxation Sensitivity Index (RSI). Preliminary findings suggests that individuals who are high in relaxation sensitivity are also high in anxiety sensitivity.
“Relaxation-induced anxiety, or the paradoxical increase in anxiety as a result of relaxation, is a relatively common occurrence,” said Christina Luberto, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Psychology. “We wanted to develop a test to examine why certain individuals fear relaxation events or sensations associated with taking a time-out just to relax.”
The RSI is a 21-item questionnaire that explores fears related to relaxation anxiety in three key categories:
- physical issues – “It scares me when my breathing becomes deeper; I hate getting massages because of the feeling it creates when my muscles relax;”
- cognitive issues – “I don’t like to relax because I don’t like it when my thoughts slow down; I don’t like to relax because it makes me feel out of control;”
- social issues – “I worry that when I let my body relax, I’ll look unattractive; I worry that if I relax, other people will think I’m lazy.”
Three-hundred undergraduate college students were asked to rate how much each statement applies to them on a scale of 0 to 5. They were, on average, 21 years old, female and Caucasian.
Luberto said that exploring the idea of relaxation sensitivity was based on a related concept of anxiety sensitivity, which is the fear of arousal.
Early results from the RSI study found that people who are high in relaxation sensitivity are also high in anxiety sensitivity.
“This suggests that for some people, any deviation from normal functioning, whether it is arousal or relaxation, is stressful,” said Luberto.
Results also suggested that the RSI is a valid and reliable measure of relaxation-related fears and is able to identify which individuals have experienced increased anxiety when relaxing in the past.
Researchers acknowledge that additional studies are necessary to establish the validity of the survey for more diverse populations (including beyond college age), as well as among individuals with psychiatric disorders.
Conceptually, researchers believe the RSI could be used to identify patients who would not respond to being treated through relaxation therapies, which is a common component of treatment for anxiety disorders.
Source: University of Cincinnati