You’ve been working hard and deserve a break, but for you, taking some time off to kick back and chill out is anything but relaxing. In fact, trying to unwind actually causes you anxiety. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one feeling it; in fact, it’s so common, it even has a name: relaxation-induced anxiety.
So why do some people freak out when forced to chill out? For some individuals, any deviation from their normal day-to-day routine can be stressful, explains Christina Luberto, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Psychology, who developed a questionnaire to explore the disorder.
“The way I explain it to my patients is that they have a set point, or the common state that their body and brain are used to being in every day,” says Denise Tordella, MA, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma and addiction. “When you’re sitting on the beach thinking, I’m going to relax, your set point has changed; there is incongruence between your brain saying, ‘Let’s relax,’ and your body still running on normal.” As a result, your breath starts getting shallow and you feel a pit in your stomach.
You don’t have to let it ruin your getaway, though. Instead, try exercising! “Exercise is a way to discharge the anxious feelings from your body,” says Tordella. “Pilates in particular helps because of its focus on breathing, and regulating your breath when you’re anxious sends a message to the brain that everything is okay.” So next time you feel that tightness coming on in your chest, take a deep breath, go for a walk or just try pumping out the Hundred on your chaise lounge. —Amy Schlinger