The Fear of Relaxing

Health Writer

One of the most common behavioral methods to treat anxiety is to teach relaxation skills. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga are all suggested ways of coping with stressful situations and calming down anxiety and fears. But for some, these methods actually trigger anxiety. For some, the fear of relaxing becomes the reason, not the solution, for feelings of anxiety.

Relaxation-induced anxiety was recently looked at by Christina Luberto, a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati. She recently developed a questionnaire to measure how anxious someone gets when relaxing.  The test has 21 questions relating to physical, cognitive and social issues. Participants need to rate each statement on a scale of 1 to 5, based on their personal experiences. Examples of statements include:

  • I worry when I let my body relax.
  • I hate getting massages because of the feeling it creates when my muscles relax.
  • When my mind wanders I worry that I might be going crazy.
  • I don't like to relax because it makes me feel out of control
  • I worry that when I let my body relax I'll look silly
  • I worry that if I relax other people will think I'm lazy

Luberto gave 300 college students the questionnaire and found relaxation-induced fears to be relatively common - about 15 percent of the students who took participated experienced this type of anxiety. She discovered that someone with a fear of relaxation is "able to initially relax, but once they start to feel relaxed they begin to feel anxious as a result." [1]  Instead of slowing down, they feel wound up. Instead of having their heart rate decrease, it increases. Their breathing speeds up, their muscles tense and they worry more.

Because the participants were all college students, it is impossible to say whether these results are indicative of the general population, but, Luberto indicates that "relaxation-induced fears may run as high as 50 percent among people with anxiety disorders." [2]

There is no diagnosis of "relaxation-induced anxiety" but this information can be useful to therapists who find their patients are not responding to relaxation exercises or feel more anxious when using these types of strategies to calm their fears.


[1] [2] "For Some, Relaxation Triggers Anxiety," 2012, Dec 13, Traci Pedersen,PsychCentral

"relaxation-Induced Anxiety," 2012, Nov 16, James Hamblin, MD, The Atlantic