Fear Of Relaxation Is A Real Phobia

Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Phobias are irrational fears. Whether it´s fear of flying, public speaking, snakes or the dark, these phobias are usually manifested after a traumatic experience that plants itself deep in the subconscious of the sufferer. A phobia can continue to hold sway over an individual even though that person can understand the irrationality of it. And if one avoids the source of their phobia it typically can increase the sense of worry and fear.
An important technique to allay a phobia involves relaxation. The individual should maintain a strict focus on staying relaxed while slowly and gradually introducing themselves to the object or situation they fear. In so doing, the individual is provided with reassuring evidence that the situation doesn´t control their feelings. Additionally, it gives that person the confidence to realize they have more control than they had previously thought. But what if your irrational phobia is that you are afraid to relax? Christina Luberto, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati´s Department of Psychology has developed a way to identify these phobic individuals.
While most of us look forward to a leisurely Saturday, catching up on reading or our favorite TV show, or a fantastic getaway vacation, there are some among us who experience the same level of anxiety when faced with relaxation as we would having to speak before the American Association for Nude Recreation.
Luberto has developed a questionnaire, which she calls the Relaxation Sensitivity Index (RSI) designed to examine this phenomenon. Her preliminary findings on the RSI are to be presented next week at the 46th annual convention of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) to be held in National Harbor, Maryland.
“Relaxation-induced anxiety, or the paradoxical increase in anxiety as a result of relaxation, is a relatively common occurrence,” explains Luberto. “We wanted to develop a test to examine why certain individuals fear relaxation events or sensations associated with taking a time-out just to relax.”
Comprised of 21 items, the RSI is a questionnaire that was designed to specifically explore fears that are associated with relaxation anxiety. The RSI focuses on the three key categories of physical, cognitive and social issues. The physical issues address sensations like lowered breathing or touch that might spark a phobic response. Cognitive issues relate to an increase in anxiety due to thought processes associated with relaxation. And finally, social issues refer to how others might perceive you during a state of relaxation.
In the study, comprised of 300 undergraduate college students who were, on average 21 years of age, female and Caucasian, participants were asked to rate, on a 0 to 5 scale, how a series of statements applied to them.
The idea to explore relaxation sensitivity stemmed from studies done previously on a related concept of anxiety sensitivity. Anxiety sensitivity, unlike relaxation sensitivity, is the fear of arousal. However, the initial results of  Luberto´s RSI study find that participants who rate high in relaxation sensitivity also rate high in anxiety sensitivity. “This suggests that for some people, any deviation from normal functioning, whether it is arousal or relaxation, is stressful,” states Luberto. Additionally, results show the RSI to be a reliable and valid measure of relaxation-related fears. This questionnaire is able to accurately identify which individuals have experienced an increase in anxiety when relaxing in the past.
Despite these results, Luberto believes additional research should be conducted to examine the overall effectiveness of the RSI across a more diverse population. This diversity would include participants beyond the college age. Also, administration of the RSI, according to Luberto, should be performed among individuals with psychiatric disorders. The hope for the RSI is that it will eventually help to identify patients who would not respond to being treated through the use of relaxation therapies. As discussed above, these therapies are often a common method in treating anxiety disorders.
The study was supported by the UC Department of Psychology´s Frakes Foundation Endowment Fund and William Seeman Psychology Fund.
The ABCT is a multidisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of scientific approaches to the understanding and improvement of human functioning through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive and other evidence-based principles to the assessment, prevention, treatment of human problems and enhancement of health and well-being.

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