6 Reasons Why Anxiety Symptoms Can Seem Worse When We Relax

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated April 19, 2022

Many anxious people are confused when their anxiety symptoms increase even though they are relaxing. While it can seem counterintuitive for that to occur, there are many good reasons why anxiety symptoms can increase rather than decrease when relaxing.

Play the video below to learn about the six reasons why anxiety symptoms can seem worse when we relax.

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Video Transcript:

Here are six reasons why anxiety symptoms can seem worse when we relax:

1. Anxious behavior

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones, such as adrenaline, cortisol, and others, into the bloodstream.

Once in the bloodstream, stress hormones cause specific body-wide changes that give us an emergency “boost” of energy when we believe we could be in danger – so that we have an increased ability to fight or flee.

Stress hormones are powerful stimulants that stimulate the body into action, especially the nervous system. A body that becomes stimulated can exhibit symptoms.

We call these symptoms “anxiety symptoms” because anxiety activated the stress response, the stress response caused body-wide changes, and those changes produced symptoms.

You can read more about this in our “Stress Response” and “Anxiety Symptoms” articles. The links are in the comments.

So, if you are relaxing yet engaging in anxious behavior, such as worrying about something, you can experience an increase in symptoms.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the stress response changes.

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly anxious behavior, the body doesn’t have enough time to recover. Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi stress response readiness.

We call this state “Hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation can cause anxiety symptoms even though we aren’t anxious, including when resting.

Hyperstimulation is a common cause of persistent and increasing symptoms, even when resting.

Read our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information. Again, the link is in the comments.

3. Homeostatic Dysregulation

Homeostasis is the term used to describe the ongoing process of keeping the body in a state of internal balance and physical wellbeing despite the ever-changing conditions.

When we’re healthy and not hyperstimulated, homeostasis does a good job of keeping the body running smoothly and without problem.

However, hyperstimulation can cause the homeostatic process to act erratically. This erratic behavior can cause involuntary spikes in symptoms at any time, including when resting.

Hyperstimulation is one of the main reasons why symptoms can increase when relaxing and when we don’t feel anxious or stressed.

4. Buildup Of Nervous Energy

Stress responses triggered by anxious behavior can create “nervous energy.”

When we’re active, the body uses that “nervous energy,” which reduces it. A reduction in nervous energy can reduce symptoms.

Many anxious people try to stay active because they feel better due to using up that nervous energy.

However, when we relax, “nervous energy” can build up. Increasing nervous energy can increase symptoms.

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5. Activity Can Distract Us Away From How We Feel

When we’re busy, our minds are distracted by what we’re doing. This distraction can pull our attention away from how we feel, making our symptoms seem less troublesome.

However, when we relax, our attention can move inward and onto how we feel. That inward focus can magnify our symptoms, making them feel worse.

Moreover, when we’re active, our minds are focused outward and onto the tasks at hand. This outward focus distracts us away from anxious behavior.

However, when we’re relaxing, anxious minds can re-engage in anxious behavior, causing an increase in stimulation and symptoms.

6. Stimulants

As mentioned, anxiety symptoms are caused by the stimulating effects of the stress response or hyperstimulation.

If you are ingesting stimulants when relaxing, such as caffeine, those stimulants can create anxiety-like symptoms, as well as aggravate existing anxiety symptoms if the body is already hyperstimulated.

Ingesting stimulants is a common cause of increasing anxiety symptoms when relaxing.

Even though anxiety symptoms might increase while relaxing, we can eliminate this phenomenon by addressing the cause, and certainly by sufficiently resting the body to diminish the overall level of stimulation. As stimulation decreases, the body stops producing symptoms, including when resting.

Reducing stress, containing anxious behavior, increasing rest, and giving the body sufficient time to recover from the stress response and hyperstimulation will eliminate anxiety symptoms in time.

Again, you can read more about this in our “Anxiety Symptoms,” “Stress Response,” and “Hyperstimulation” articles. The links are in the comments.

Recovery Support members can view the video, “Why Do My Anxiety Symptoms Seem Worse When I Relax?” for six more reasons.

This is Jim Folk for anxietycentre.com, wishing you a speedy return to good mental and physical health!

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

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