Does relaxing stress you out? How to find calm now

Relaxation-induced anxiety (RIA) is a form of anxiety that results from trying to find calm

Woman getting a massage

Photo: Masterfile

Yoga, meditation, a hot bath, lying on a towel in the sun — for some people these things represent a catalogue of relaxing delights. For others these activities are the triggering point at which they shift from calm to full-on panic.

While we’re often given the general advice to slow down and take it easy to relax, apparently this advice is not as universal as one might expect. In fact, a recent article in The Atlantic makes reference to a phenomenon known as “relaxation-induced anxiety.”

Relaxation-induced anxiety (RIA) is a form of anxiety that results from relaxation itself. It doesn’t mean you can’t experience relaxation — rather it means that the calm feeling is not sustainable. And there are physical manifestations of this anxious response, including a rapid heartbeat, racing thoughts and an uptick in your breathing rate.

According to Atlantic writer James Hamblin, University of Cincinnati psychology researcher Christina Luberto has been studying the curious mental process in which the act of relaxing triggers anxiety and she recently presented her take on the condition, which, Hamblin reports, has been discussed in medical circles since the 1980s.

Luberto makes the argument that about 15 percent of people have experienced this kind of reaction. In an effort to help produce an effective treatment protocol, she established a system for interpreting the factors that cause the problem in the first place. Her system focuses on three foundations for the problem: social, cognitive and physical. For example, some people may become fearful that they look unappealing or ugly when they relax, which triggers anxiety. While others may not like how their body feels in a state of calm.

Each one of these factors might then be treated according to where the feelings originate.

So how do you cure anxiety without using relaxation techniques? That’s the dilemma that researchers like Luberto will face as they continue to examine RIA.

She told The Atlantic that people who fear relaxing may have to challenge themselves to relax (in a controlled environment and ideally under the supervision of a trained professional) much as a person who fears spiders may engage in exposure therapy to reduce the effects of the fear.

Do you find it hard to relax?