Feeling ‘stresslaxed’ is real. Experts share what to do

Does trying to switch off make your anxiety worse? You might be ‘stresslaxed’. Here’s how to dial down the inner chit-chat and find calm.

You’ve been up since 6am. You were stuck in traffic, had a tough day at work, burnt dinner and couldn’t get the kids to go to bed on time.

All you want to do is sink into a warm bath with a good book and switch off – and you know you need it.

But before you’ve even reached the end of the first page, the inner dialogue starts, tugging at your consciousness like a needy toddler, demanding you pay attention to the torrent of thoughts racing through your mind and your inexhaustible to-do list.

Your well-intentioned effort to relax has only made your stress levels worse.

This is sometimes termed “stresslaxation” and while not a formal condition, psychologist Dr Marny Lishman describes it as more of a phenomenon relating to anxiety management.

“It’s when you know you want to relax and you need to, and you’re probably putting pressure on yourself to actually relax, but it’s just not working,” Dr Lishman explains.

Why do we get ‘stresslaxed’?

There are a host of reasons people may feel stresslaxed, Dr Lishman says.

This includes feeling overwhelmed by their busy lifestyle, living with anxiety, or simply being exhausted.

“Sometimes people can’t relax properly because they feel guilty – they should be doing all the things that are making them stressed,” she says.

“If you’re already living in stress and chaos, it’s very difficult to unwind and relax.”

Why we can’t simply get rid of stress

Psychologist Amanda Gordon points out stress is our body’s normal response to challenging situations.

“Our goal can’t be to take away stress,” Amanda says.

“Our goal can be to make sure there is a balance and we’re not living on this perpetual edge of stress, which will lead to burnout.”

Dr Lishman says it is important to acknowledge stress and deal with it.

“You can’t bubble-bath your way through your stresses,” Dr Lishman says, adding that if you have unresolved issues in your life, your brain will remind you because they need to be resolved.

“So, if you’ve got work issues that require communication, or you’ve got boundaries that need to be set with people in your life, you’ve actually got to do something about it.”

How to balance stress and relaxation

Tune into your emotions

Rather than dismiss or minimise our worries, Dr Lishman says we should tune into them.

“Our emotions are extremely important; we have to feel them and understand why we’re getting them,” she notes.

“When you feel stress, listen to that and ask yourself, ‘What is this emotion telling me I need to do?’”

Release the pressure

Rather than emphasising the need to relax, Amanda suggests shifting the narrative so relaxation is a potential consequence of practising self-care.

“For example, ‘I can go for a walk, and maybe that will take my mind off things but if not, I can still have a good walk, which is good for me anyway’.”

Calm the chit-chat

Learn to manage your mind and let go of some of your thoughts, Dr Lishman says.

“There are a lot of things we think about that we need to control,” she says.

“A psychologist can help with strategies to learn to do that.”

Ritualise self-care

Create space in your day to allow yourself to relax and make it a ritual.

“Otherwise you’ll never find the time to do it, or you’ll feel guilty because you think you should be doing something else,” Dr Lishman says.

Learn relaxation techniques

Whether it’s listening to music, a creative activity, mindfulness or meditation, Dr Lishman recommends leaning in to activities that help your body and mind be present in the moment.

More ways to dial down stress:

Written by Claire Burke.