We all know someone who can’t sit still - those who never seem to take a vacation or just kick back and relax. Well as it turns out, they may actually have a relaxation phobia. That’s right – a fear of relaxation.
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Phobias are irrational fears that become implanted in a person’s subconscious as a result of a traumatic experience or a form of negative exposure. Fear of relaxation poses an interesting slant on typical phobia treatment. Commonly recognizable phobias such as fear of flying, spiders, darkness, and public speaking are often treated with relaxation techniques and gradual exposure therapies.
For instance, an individual must use a controlled breathing technique while concentrating on their fear in order to achieve a state of physical and emotional relaxation while confronting the object of their phobia. But if an individual has a fear of relaxation, these methods aren’t going to be helpful.
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Identifying the relaxation phobia
Christina Luberto, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Psychology has taken the first step towards recognizing this unique phobia by establishing a way of identifying relaxation-phobic individuals. In order to understand why some individuals experience anxiety when faced with relaxing situations such as reading the newspaper or taking a vacation, Luberto developed a questionnaire called the Relaxation Sensitivity Index (RSI). According to Luberto, “ Relaxation-induced anxiety, or the paradoxical increase in anxiety as a result of relaxation, is a relatively common occurrence. 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.”
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The RSI questionnaire includes 21 questions that analyzes fears associated with three areas related to relaxation anxiety:
Physical issues – lower breathing and feelings of muscle relaxation
Cognitive issues – thought processes such as feeling out of control and not alert
Social issues – how others perceive persons in a state of relaxation--unattractive and lazy
The questionnaire asked 300 undergrads who were, on average, 21 years old, female, and Caucasian, to rate themselves in those areas on a scale of 0-5. Results revealed that the questionnaire was a reliable and acceptable gauge of relaxation-related anxiety, as it was able to accurately identify which individuals have experienced an abnormal increase in a stress when relaxing in the past.
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What else does the questionnaire reveal?
In addition to revealing the people that suffer from a relaxation sensitivity, the questionnaire indicated that those individuals also ranked highly for “anxiety sensitivity,” also known as the fear of arousal.
What does this mean?
The additional presence of anxiety sensitivity suggests that for some people, deviation from normal functioning, whether it is arousal or relaxation, is stressful. Think the Goldilocks scenario – not too hot and not too cold equates to physical and mental harmony.
What does this mean for treatment?
Despite the promising results for identifying anxiety anomalies, Luberto believes additional research is needed to examine the overall effectiveness of the RSI across a more diverse population, one which includes people of different ages and different psychiatric conditions. Eventually the survey will help those currently suffering from treatment-resistant anxiety, since it will identify patients who are unable to benefit from the relaxation therapies. That’s currently the dominant method for treating anxiety disorders and phobias.
University of Cincinnati (2012, November 14). Why some people are afraid to relax.