If you’re a worrier, you’ve probably heard more times than you can count, “You need to relax.” And you’ve probably given yourself a mental smack on the forehead and thought, “Duh.”
Relaxation exercises in which you alternately tense and relax each muscle group in the body or breathe from the diaphragm to create a calming response used to be standard components of my clinical repertoire. But these days I almost never recommend them except to manage chronic pain (which is aggravated by muscle tension) or, on rare occasions, hyperventilation (which can be controlled with belly breathing).
Although using relaxation to counteract anxiety and stress may seem intuitively to make sense, it almost always backfires. You can’t force yourself to relax, no matter how hard you try. In fact, trying to relax makes most people—especially those prone to tension—more stressed when they can’t achieve the mental calmness they’re seeking. Not only is it hard to summon relaxation on demand; it’s also a particular challenge for tightly wound people to let go because the sensations of relaxation can feel alien and even unpleasant to someone who values feeling in control.
And there’s another reason I don’t teach relaxation. Learning to tolerate negative emotions like anxiety is much more beneficial in the long run than trying to eliminate them.
So the next time some well-meaning friend or family member advises you to relax, you can respond with an enigmatic smile and say, “Actually, I’m trying to get more anxious.”
In my next post, I’ll tell you how.
This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.