We all know that relaxation is key to a healthy lifestyle. But far too many of us are constantly on the go go go, pushing for more with no breaks. Pair that with high social media use, where you are bombarded by other people "doing it better" than you, and it's no wonder we can't relax. Content creators are particularly in need of scheduled relaxation since they spend exponentially higher amounts of time on social media than the average Joe.
But what do you do when relaxation turns into anxiety? For some people, simply taking it easy can lead to feeling overwhelmed and panicked. If this happens to you, don't worry—you're not alone.
So take a deep breath, and read on! This article will teach you how to spot the signs of relaxation-induced anxiety and provide helpful tips for managing it.
What is Relaxation-Induced Anxiety?
If you ever feel like trying to calm down makes you even more anxious, you have plenty of company. Research suggests that about 15% of people are prone to relaxation-induced anxiety.
What exactly is it? Well, relaxation-induced anxiety happens when your efforts to unwind make you feel even more anxious.
Experts aren't entirely sure what causes this reaction, but it seems that some people develop sensitivities to the body's physical relaxation responses.
When we are relaxed, our muscles release tension, our heart rate slows, and our brain can think more clearly. People suffering from Relaxation-Induced Anxiety (RIA) will ultimately feel more anxious due to these "symptoms" of relaxation.
This all may sound a little wack but think about it this way. In a warped way, anxiety is a type of hypervigilance that our brains use to protect us. Relaxation puts that hypervigilance at bay, leaving us in "danger."
Many who suffer from anxiety subconsciously view their worry as a way to prepare for the inevitable worst outcome. For the hypervigilant, relaxation can feel like a loss of control. Whatever the underlying reason, the mind is trying to protect you in its own distorted (and unpleasant) way.
Understanding Relaxation-Induced Anxiety
Not all anxiety can be classified as RIA. If you suspect you have Relaxation-Induced Anxiety, pay particular attention to your symptoms.
True RIA only presents itself after a short period of relaxation. People with RIA can relax briefly, but relaxation soon triggers the anxiety response. So, unless you notice feeling more anxious after a relaxing activity, RIA is not in play.
RIA is not a specific diagnosis but rather a deeper understanding of a common anxiety response. Thankfully, there are ways you can combat RIA in your day-to-day life. Let's look at some tips on how to do so!
Fighting back against RIA
Accept your struggles
If you have worked with a mental health practitioner to overcome anxiety, you know acceptance is one of the first steps toward recovery.
Extend compassion toward yourself. Being angry or upset with yourself for struggling with anxiety will only reinforce your anxious thoughts. Remember, your mind is weirdly trying to protect you through the anxiety; it just needs to be reminded you don't need to be protected in this way.
Don't fight with yourself; instead, fight against the anxiety.
Take relaxation slow
Remember, people who struggle with RIA can only relax for short periods. Try easing yourself into relaxation and building up your "stamina" over time.
For example, if you want to take up meditation, instead of jumping in and trying a 30-minute guided meditation, start with a 5-minute one instead.
Your body needs to learn that it is ok to feel relaxed - that nothing is wrong when you feel calm. Take it slow. This will take time.
One theory suggests that RIA is the prevalence of intrusive negative thoughts in a scenario that doesn't warrant that sort of reaction. Put into normal words, the anxiety is valid, but not to the extent it's felt and not in the scenario it's projected into.
For example, you are sitting, getting ready to meditate, and all of a sudden, you think, "what if I lose my job." Next thing you know, you are spiraling into a dark hole of negative "what if" thoughts, and you can't seem to stop.
The worry you have, in this instance, the fear of losing your job, could be valid (maybe you have received hints that your job is in jeopardy). But the worry isn't warranted in this scenario (it would make more sense to feel this anxiety while you're at work).
A great way to stay in the present and not let anxiety run wild is the practice of grounding. A common method used is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This method goes through the steps below:
- Look for five things you can see
- Become aware of four things you can touch
- Acknowledge three things you can hear
- Notice two things you can smell
- Find one thing you can taste
This method forces you to get out of your anxious mind and focus on what is currently around you. Since RIA is a hyper-focus on thoughts that don't belong, forcing your mind to focus on what's in your present reality is a great practice.
Try this the next time you feel RIA flaring up.
Learn your triggers
We know that RIA is a response to the body feeling relaxed, but what things put you into a more anxious state of mind in general?
Are you prone to having a meltdown if you spend all day cooped up inside? What about if you have spent too many hours online? On the flip side, do you feel calmer when you have taken the time to do something you enjoy?
Paying attention to things that provoke or subdue anxiety is key. This information gives you the power to set yourself up for success before anxiety begins.
Taking proactive steps to help your mind relax overall will also help with RIA. Setting yourself up for mental success before you even attempt relaxation will help you succeed when it is time to sit down and take deep breaths.
Seek professional help
We are not mental health practitioners, nor do we pretend to be. If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety, we highly encourage you to seek professional help.
The tactics we highlighted here are methods that professionals have researched. But in order to get individualized therapy for your unique needs, it's important to find a counselor you can work with.
If you are unsure of where to start, consider using an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp. BetterHelp has grown in popularity as they provide affordable, accessible, and comprehensive therapy options for everyone!
We value mental health!!
Relaxation Induced Anxiety is a very real, often discouraging issue to deal with. Research is still being done to fully understand what it is, but if you experience it, know you are not alone. Remember, your anxiety is there to serve a misguided purpose, and thankfully you have the power to redirect your thoughts and learn ways to cope.
Especially as influencers, it is vital to do mental health check-ins. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of comparison and discontent. Take care of yourself first - content always comes second.
If you take nothing else away from today, we hope you have learned that you can control your thoughts and manage your anxiety in healthy ways. What are some tactics you use to manage your anxiety? Let us know!