Does Relaxing Make You Anxious?


A recent study might be able to explain why

“I suffer so much from anxiety that even when I am not anxious, I worry that it is about to hit me and just worrying about it makes me anxious,” one of psychologist Geetanjali Kumar’s patients told her recently. Another confessed that she is afraid to admit when things are working well for her because it makes her anxious that something might go wrong.


These aren’t rare cases. A recent study by Michelle Newman and Hanjoo Kim of Penn State university (the results are scheduled to be published in the December issue of The Journal of Affective Disorders) has found that while relaxation exercises are meant to reduce anxiety, people who need to relax the most — those suffering from anxiety disorders — are most prone to relaxation-induced anxiety. “Many people suffering from anxiety feel they don’t deserve to relax. They fear if they aren’t worrying, something worrisome will happen,” says Kumar.


According to a report published in Medical News Today (MNT) , “Since the 1980s, the medical community has recognised the existence of relaxation-induced anxiety”. The report adds, that Newman, who in 2011 developed the theory of ‘contrast avoidance’ – which, the MNT article quotes her as explaining, is centered around the idea that “people may make themselves anxious intentionally… to avoid the letdown they might get if something bad were to happen” — felt this may be why relaxation doesn’t work for some.


For Kumar’s patients, what often helps is listening to melodious music and finger painting – just dipping their fingers in pots of colour and trailing them on a canvas. “It works as a release of pent up emotions. I also tell them to just concentrate on their breathing. But these are only short-term aids. In the long run, the only thing that helps is learning to regulate one’s thoughts,” she says.