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Fear of Relaxation?

Fear of Relaxation? 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

Woman relaxing photo by shutterstock.

Fear of Relaxation?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Fear of Relaxation?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 15 Nov 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.