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What is relaxation induced anxiety and how can I avoid it?

February 26, 2024
Kiera Benson

When we’re feeling anxious, we’re told to relax. Whether it’s meditation, breathwork or just watching TV, taking some time to focus on ourselves without distractions can help us to unwind and recharge.

But what about if relaxation doesn’t work? When, no matter how many baths you take or how many candles you light, you can’t seem to calm down, and instead, you actually feel more anxious. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing relaxation induced anxiety.

What is relaxation induced anxiety?

Relaxation induced anxiety (RIA) isn’t an official diagnosis, but it’s thought that people with general anxiety are more likely to experience it.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, RIA is where you experience an increase in anxiety symptoms while you’re trying to relax. Some research suggests that as many as 17-53% of the population experience it.  

It’s not entirely clear why RIA happens, but it’s thought that it might be linked to the need for control or an inability to let go. It’s also possible that the brain associates hypervigilance with safety, so it tries to protect itself by never allowing you to become too relaxed, in case a threat occurs and you’re not prepared.

Although RIA is something that you can’t help, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on relaxation. Our bodies need to rest and recuperate to support our health, so if RIA is something you experience, it’s a good idea to learn more about it and how to work through it.  

Symptoms of anxiety

Some of the symptoms that you may experience as a result of anxiety include:  


  • Pins and needles
  • Shallow breathing, or breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense  
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling sick or dizzy  
  • Trembling
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal problems, such as IBS
  • A fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat  
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating or hot flushes  
  • Feeling weak or tired  
  • Muscle tension


  • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having a sense of looming danger, panic or doom
  • Worrying about anxiety itself (worrying that you’re worrying too much)


  • Feeling like you’re losing touch with reality
  • Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax  
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down


  • Avoiding everyday situations that trigger anxiety
  • Being unable to enjoy leisure time, such as time off work, holidays or hanging out with friends  
  • Being bad-tempered

Read more about anxiety and coping with uncertainty.  

How to cope with relaxation induced anxiety  

  1. Ground yourself  

When you find yourself becoming preoccupied with worries and ‘what ifs’, try to bring your focus back to the present moment by noticing your surroundings. This can help to interrupt a negative thought cycle and redirect your attention away from the worry. One exercise you could try is the 54321 method, where you:

  • Name 5 things you can see
  • Name 4 things you can touch
  • Name 3 things you can hear
  • Name 2 things you can smell
  • Name 1 thing you can taste

  1. Relaxation through exercise

Relaxation methods that require you to stay still, like breathwork and having a bath, can be hard for people who experience RIA. Instead, you may prefer to choose an activity that allows you to switch off mentally, while staying active physically. Perhaps you could try swimming, walking or yoga.

  1. Therapy

Although RIA isn’t an official diagnosis, if you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help. At ieso, we offer online typed CBT for a range of mental health issues, which gives you the tools you need to manage your mental health symptoms. It’s confidential, flexible and non-judgemental. Find out how to get started.

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This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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