Unwind your MIND
Good Health Magazine Australia|March 2020
DOES YOUR BRAIN SWITCH TO YOUR NEVER-ENDING TO-DO LIST WHEN YOU SIT DOWN TO RELAX? TRUDIE MCCONNOCHIE LOOKS AT WHY THIS HAPPENS AND HOW TO PREVENT IT
Trudie Mcconnochie

What does the word ‘relaxation’ bring up for you? Does it prompt a softening of your muscles and a sense of peace, or does it result in a racing heart and a vague sense of panic? If you fall into the latter camp, you could be experiencing relaxation-induced anxiety.

It sounds like a contradiction – after all, the whole point of relaxing is to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety – but trying to relax can actually make some people anxious. Researchers have estimated that relaxation-induced anxiety may affect between 17 and 53 percent of adults. And unfortunately, those who are most likely to experience it are typically those most in need of relaxation.

A 2012 University of Cincinnati study into relaxation-induced anxiety asked participants about their health and emotions while doing relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation or getting a massage. Those who fit into the category of relaxation-induced anxiety described sensations such as restlessness, boredom, embarrassment, unwanted thoughts and worry about the fact that they couldn’t relax.

Sydney psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says there are a number of reasons people can find relaxation inherently stressful. “I believe there are some limiting beliefs people might have about the role of relaxation and some of the techniques that go with it,” she says. “It might be their sense of not being ‘good’ at or not feeling skilled or comfortable with the techniques, and a mindset that might be quite fixed or closed around adapting to new skills.”

A large part of the problem, she says, is the fact that we live in a fast-paced world where success is conflated with productivity.

“There can sometimes be resistance because they fear what might come up for them when they are alone with their thoughts or stop working or doing,” Jocelyn explains. “Many people live in a perpetual state of busyness and are always ‘on’, meaning slowing down, stopping and making space to unwind, quieten the mind and reflect can be foreign and uncomfortable.

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