In a new study, researchers found some people with anxiety may actively resist relaxation in favor of worrying.
They suggest it’s a way to avoid a large jump in anxiety if something bad really does happen.
The results could help benefit people who experience “relaxation-induced anxiety,” a phenomenon that occurs when people actually become more anxious during relaxation training.
The research was conducted by a team from Penn State University.
While researchers have known about relaxation-induced anxiety since the 1980s, the specific cause of this phenomenon has remained unknown.
In the study, the team 32 people with generalized anxiety disorder, 34 people with major depressive disorder, and 30 healthy people with neither disorder.
They found that people more sensitive to shifts in negative emotion—quickly moving from a relaxed state to one of fear, for example—are more likely to feel anxious while taking part in relaxation exercises.
Additionally, this sensitivity linked to feeling anxious during sessions intended to induce relaxation.
The team says these people may be staying anxious to prevent a large shift in anxiety, but it’s actually healthier to experience those shifts.
The more they do it, the more they could realize they can do it and it’s better to allow themselves to be relaxed at times.
Mindfulness training and other interventions can help people let go and live in the moment.
The study also sheds light on why relaxation treatments designed to help people feel better can potentially cause more anxiety.
The lead author of the study is Michelle Newman, professor of psychology at Penn State.
The study is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
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