You're anxious and it's getting worse by the day. You snarl at other drivers, slam doors at home, mutter mean things to co-workers. At last, you take charge and enroll in a stress-reduction program. Finally, you can relax.
Or can you?
After just a few sessions of stress-reduction training, you feel more stressed than ever. Worse yet, you are nervous because you don't seem to be getting the knack of it as quickly as you'd hoped.
What you have now, according to one psychology expert, is relaxation-induced anxiety, a paradoxical response some people suffer when they participate in formal relaxation training.
"At least one in three persons will not find traditional relaxation techniques especially helpful," said Arnold Lazarus, distinguished professor of psychology at Rutgers University, who writes about the limitations of relaxation in the current issue of the journal Psychotherapy.
"In essence, while many people derive benefits from the relaxation response, some appear to be 'allergic' to it and for them, it is clearly contraindicated," Lazarus wrote.
When clients react unfavorably to formal relaxation programs, Lazarus said, they most often say they fear losing control.
Formal relaxation techniques aren't the answer for everyone, agrees a Huntington Beach psychologist who directs a biofeedback center. Least likely to derive benefits from the formal programs, said Ivy Walker Wittmeyer, are people who need to be "in control," those who have had a bad psychological reaction to anesthesia, those with a history of illegal drug use and "bad trips" and those who have been sedated for mental health problems.
But Walker indicates that formal relaxation programs can work for most people, given the proper instruction. "What people often don't understand is, they can gain control by allowing themselves to lose control," Wittmeyer said. She talks to patients at length to prove that "letting go" during biofeedback sessions can ultimately help them gain control over stress and anxiety.
For those who still can't relax in formal relaxation programs, Lazarus suggests finding a therapist who can tailor a program to their personality and needs. He has developed a questionnaire for therapists to predict what forms of relaxation work with which clients.
Turning to less traditional relaxation approaches can be the answer for others, Lazarus said in an interview. A client who is very active might do better running laps than learning biofeedback, for instance, he said. "Some people find mini-relaxation is the answer--simply closing their eyes several times a day for two or three minutes," Lazarus said. He tells other clients to sit in a bathtub with warm water for half an hour and read a magazine.
As for Lazarus' personal stress-reduction method? "I watch TV a heck of a lot," he said, "and I play tennis."
SHOPTALK New Scale Talks You Down
Need a booster shot of motivation to lose those extra pounds? Maybe you need a conscience like the Technasonics' new Weight Talker II, a $99 talking scale with a volume control.
A man's voice tells you your weight, plus the amount gained or lost since the last weigh-in, according to Kenneth Burnett, Technasonics' president. Even if you've slipped, it tells you "Goodby" or "Have a nice day," whichever sign-off you select. As many as five family members can store data in the Weight Talker II, sold through Sears catalogue and other outlets.
Is it worth the price? Yes, with some caveats, according to Jody Lander Spector, program coordinator of a weight loss program at St. Vincent Medical Center, Los Angeles. "It does keep track for you. You don't have to remember what you used to weigh. He just told you."
But Spector cautions people not to become obsessive about weigh-ins, whatever scale they use. Weigh in weekly on the same day and at the same time, she recommends. "And keep a written record. It helps."