Researchers have known about relaxation-induced anxiety since at least 1983, when a paper found that, in people with chronic tension, around 31 percent who tried progressive muscle relaxation (in which you focus on tensing and relaxing one set of muscles at a time, from head to toe), and 54 percent who tried meditation, ended up having high levels of anxiety instead. An up-to-date estimate is that anywhere from 17 to 53 percent of all people have experienced this phenomenon.
Relaxation-induced anxiety isn’t the same as not being able to relax. People who deal with this can initially relax in various ways, but that relaxation morphs into feelings of moderate or intense anxiety, said Tina Luberto, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who created a measure of the fear of relaxation in 2012. “Once they achieve a relaxed state, they suddenly become anxious or afraid and may notice things like their heart rate increasing or their breathing becoming more shallow,” Luberto said.