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18th Oct 2019

It’s not just you – trying to relax while anxious can make it worse, finds study

You're not useless for being unable to switch off.

Anxiety manifests itself in different ways in different people but many sufferers will recognise the feeling of mental restlessness.

We’re often told that unwinding, maybe with a book, a walk or by meditating, is a good way to tackle anxiety.

That’s often easier said than done when your brain is racing and you end up feeling frustrated that you’re not capable of switching off.

Now scientists have confirmed that there may be a reason for this.

Researchers at Penn State University in the US have found that the negative feelings anxiety sufferers can experience when trying to relax may actually be the brain’s way of protecting itself.

According to their theory, people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder “fear a sharp spike in negative emotion” and so rather than be lulled into relaxing, their brains prefer to worry to maintain a constant state.

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that this is common among GAD sufferers. However, the researchers agreed that you should still try to push through and find a way to relax when you’re feeling anxious.

“People may be staying anxious to prevent a large shift in anxiety but it’s actually healthier to let yourself experience those shifts… the more you do it, the more you realise you can do it, and it’s better to allow yourself to be relaxed at times,” said Professor Michelle Newman, one of the study’s authors.

The study was relatively small and so its are not conclusive but bottom line, you’re not useless for being unable to relax when your mind is anxious.

It’s still worth trying to find a relaxing activity that actually works for you, whether that’s taking to your pets, cleaning the house, visiting a friend, or catching up on Netflix.