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How to let go of demands in relaxation when you

are born a perfectionist?

Summary

Relaxationmethodsaremoredifficulttopracticeforperfectionisticorcompetitivepeople
becausetheyareusuallytryingtoohardtorelax.Becauseoftheseperfectionistictraits,these
peoplemaysufferfromaphenomenoncalled:relaxationinducedanxiety(RIA),whichmeans
theirfrustrationandanxietylevelsparadoxicallyincreaseduringrelaxation.

Continuingputtingperfectionisticdemandsonrelaxationforalongtimecanleadtoan
increaseofmoodproblems.Sincemoreandmorepeopleareengaginginrelaxationor
meditationtoincreasetheirstresstoleranceinasocietythatpromotesperfectionism,thereis
aneedformoreawarenessaboutthepotentialthreateningconsequencesof
relaxationinducedanxiety.Especially,peoplewithananxietydisorderorananxietyrelated
personalitydisorderarepronetoexperiencingRIA.Thisisaproblemthatneedstobe
addressedbecauserelaxationisanessentialelementtohelpmanageanxiety.

Icansaybasedonmyownexperiencethatfailingtocopewithrelaxationdemandsinan
adjustedmannercanleadtoanincreaseofanxietyanddepressioninthelongrun.Initially,
relaxationworkedwellformetodealwithageneralizedanxietydisorderandpersonality
disorder.ButthenIstartedtograduallyputdemandsonachievingarelaxedstate,leadingto
frustration.Intheend,Ibecamesoobsessedwithrelaxationduringthedaythatitledtoan
increaseofmyanxiousmoods.Itrainedmybrainindemandthinkingtosuchextentthat
thesethoughtsgrewautomaticallyduringrelaxation.Addressingthisproblem,withoutgiving
upthepracticeofrelaxation,feltasanoverwhelmingchallenge.LuckilyIfoundawayto
resolvethisproblem.

Inthisarticle,Iwillprovidemypersonalexperiencetoprovidehopeandinsightstorelaxation
practitionerswithrigidperfectionisticorcompetitivepatterns.FirstIwilldefine
relaxationinducedanxietybasedonexistingpsychologicalliterature.Then,Iwillsketchmy
ownpersonalityintomoredetailthepresentedinsightsdonotnecessarilyapplytoall
perfectionisticorcompetitivepeople,thereforeIwouldliketogivesomeadditionalcontext
aboutme.ThenIwillofferpracticalinsightsonhow
topreventRIAbypresentingthelessonsIlearnedfrommyownmistakes,
todeterminewhetheryousufferfromRIA,byrepresentingalistofsymptomsand
associatedmaladjustedcopingbehavior,
toresolveRIAwithoutcompletelygivingupthepracticeofrelaxationbyquotinga
numberofstrategiesthatworkedforme.

Forme,akeylessonisthatrelaxationisnotaboutachievingapleasantstateorforgettingrid
ofanxiety.Instead,itisaboutallowingmybodytobringitselfinastateofrestinorderto
revitalizemyenergeticresources.
ThesecondlessonIhavelearnedisthatalwaysusingthesamerelaxationtechniqueis
counterproductiveinthelongrun,becauseindoingsoIunconsciouslytriggerperfectionistic
demandsonrelaxation.
Thirdly,thefirstkeysteptoresolvingRIAisunderstandingandacceptingthatmy
perfectionisticpersonalityisthemaincause.
Finally,thebestantidoteforperfectionismisgrowingselfconfidence,orbettersaid,growing
trustonyourinnerself.

Perfectionisticdemandsinrelaxationcanbeaddressedbymeansofcognitivebehavioral
therapy(CBT)andmindfulness.Inmycase,thesetwotherapieshelpedmetolearnhowto
toleratethesymptomsofanxietyagainandtoincreasemyconfidenceinmyabilitytorelax.
Ialsofollowedacourseonacceptanceandcommitmenttherapy(ACT)todealwiththe
automaticdemandthinkingwhichhasensuedfromobsessivelycontrollingmyrelaxedstate.I
learnedthatIcouldbettertakesomedistancefromrelaxationbyfocusingonachievinglife
goals.Ialsoengagedinotherwaysforrelaxingsuchasdistractiveleisureordailyexercise
Finally,topreventtriggeringautomaticdemandthinkingduringrelaxation,Iusedavariationof
differentrelaxationtechniquesforwhichrelaxationdemandsarelesslikelytobetriggered.

Relaxation-induced anxiety defined


Relaxationinducedanxiety(RIA)isdefinedinthepsychologicalliteratureastheinabilityto
effectivelyuserelaxationwithoutexperiencinganxiety(Borkovec,1988).Thereareanumber
ofdifferentcauseswiththemostcommonbeingthefearoflosingcontrol,perfectionistic
demandsorexpectationsleadingtofrustration,orintoleranceofboredom(MonicaFrank,
personalcommunication).

Forpeoplewithananxietydisorder,RIAisdefinitivelyaproblemthatneedstobeaddressed:
ifrelaxationisthecentralelementofeffectivetreatmentofanxietydisorders,thentheinability
torelaxwithoutexperiencinganxietyandthustheinabilitytoeffectivelyuserelaxationasa
copingskillcompromisethedegreeoflearningtomanagetheanxietydisorder(Borkovec,
1988).

Intherapyrelaxationinducedanxietyismanagedbydeterminingwhatiscausingthe
increasedanxietyandaddressingit.Ifitisthefearoflosingcontrolasystematic
desensitizationmethodtotherelaxationisused.Ifitisthedemandsthesecanbeaddressed
cognitively.Usually,theintoleranceofboredomismoredifficulttoaddress,whichisone
reasontolistentodifferentrelaxationaudios(MonicaFrank,personalcommunication).

About me
DuringmychildhoodandadolescenceIgraduallydevelopedintoaperfectionisticand
competitivepersonduetolowselfesteemandfearoffailureanddisapproval.Atprimary
schoolIdidmyverybestbecauseIwasafraidofbeingpunishedbysevereteachersorbeing
bulliedatschool.WhenIthoughtsomeonewasbetterthanmeatdoingsomethingorwhen
someonewasboastingabouthisorherperformance,Ifeltinferiororjealous.TheonlywayI
knewhowtodealwiththeseemotionswasbytryingtobemybestineverythingIdid.Athigh
schoolIphysicallydidnotdevelopintopuberty.AtuniversityIhadanextremeacnerashin
myface.Ididnothaverealfriendsoragirlfriend.AsaresultIthrewmyselfuponmystudies.
Myparentswereproudofmyschoolanduniversityperformanceandpeoplerespectedmefor
it.Consequently,IthoughtthataslongasIliveduptoeverybodysexpectations,thingswould
workoutfine.

However,laterinlife,thisfeardrivencompetitivebehaviorduetolowselfesteemwasan
attackonmyhealth,leadingtoageneralizedanxietydisorder,depressionandapersonality
disorder.Ihadtocombineacareerasanacademicresearcherwiththemanagementofa
familyofawifewithtwoyoungchildren.WheneverIfeltIdidnothavemylifefullyunder
control,Istartedtoworkharderduringthedayandworrymoreduringthenight.Itwasofno
helpthatIworkedfor15yearsforaverydemandingandcompetitiveprofessorwhohad
issueswithrudeverbalandnonverbalcommunicationandlackofempathyduetothe
Aspergersyndrome.HenevertoldmeabouthisconditionuntilIbecamesickinmymiddle
thirties.IdidnotfunctionanymoreandIhadtoquitworking.Igotdepressedbecauseofmy
fearformyfamilysfinancialfuture.

Initiallyrelaxationwasveryusefulasanessentialelementoftherapytomanagetheanxiety.
Themosteffectiverelaxationmethodwasacombinationofmultiplerelaxationtechniques,
involvingmindfulbreathing,abodyscan,ashortvisualizationandthenlettinggoand
indulgingmyselfinwhateverhappened.Thismethodallowedmetoexperienceavery
peacefulstatewithpleasantvisualizations,emotionsandsensations.SometimesIeven
experiencedasocalledmindfulstateinwhichthoughtsandemotionsareobservedwithout
judgment.

Atacertainmomentmyperfectionisticandcompetitivepersonalityslippedgraduallyintomy
relaxationexperiencebyputtingdemandsonrelaxation.FirstItriedtoimprovethepeaceful
stateIexperiencedandIstartedtotryoutdifferentrelaxationandmeditationtechniques.After
readingabookonspiritualpsychologyIwasconvincedthatIwasonthevergeofapersonal
spiritualtransformationandcouldbecomeaspiritualleader.Unfortunatelythisbeliefledme
intoputtingmoredemandsonrelaxationandafterawhileitcreatedalotofharminmyability
torelax,leadingtofrustrationandanxiety.ClearlyIfailedtocopewithrelaxationdemandsin
anadjustedmanner,inthelongtermleadingtostressintoleranceandanxiousmoodsagain.
AtthatgivenmomentItriedtostopusingtherelaxationmethods.Initiallyitfeltasarelief,but
aftersometimeIstartedbuildingupemotionaldistressandmuscletensionagain.Ican

concludebypointingoutthatIclearlytookbenefitfromusingrelaxationtomanagethestress
inmydailylife.

How to prevent RIA?


AnarticlebyLazarus,anexpertincognitivebehavioraltherapy,statesthatsomepeoplewith
perfectionisticorcompetitivetendenciesinherentlyregardrelaxationasanoverwhelming
challenge(Lazarus,1990).Thearticlefurtheradvisesthatitisbetterforthesepeopletorelax
byjustdoingnothingfor20minutes,orbytakingawarmbathwhileleafingthrough
magazines.
Usingrelaxationmethodsinitiallyworkedoutverywellforme,however.InmyprimarybeingI
amthusnotsuchaperfectionist.Ihavelearnedthatmyperfectionisticandcompetitive
personalityisasocalledschemaorlifetrap(Young,1994)thatcanbetriggeredbysimple
stimulisuchasseeinganimageofperformanceonTVorbeingconfrontedwithawordof
offensebyasuperiororafriend.

ThemainreasonIeventuallygotintoRIAisthatmyperfectionisticschemahasbeen
triggeredbyvariousstimuli.Thesestimuliwerebothexternalandinternaltome:
Theexternalstimuliareusuallyeasytoprevent.Inmycase,theexternalstimuliwere
statementsfromaspiritualpsychologybooksayingthatitispossibletoachievea
uniquepeacefulstateofdeepconscienceandcreativity.Thereforemybasicadviceis:
ifrelaxationworkswellforyou,keepupthesamepractice.Justkeepondoingit.Dont
readabouthowtorelax.Stopreadingthisarticle.
Theinternalstimuliaremoredifficulttoaddress.Inmycasethemaininternalstimulus
wasthatIstartedarelaxationsessionwithanexpectationthatIwouldexperiencea
pleasantstate.Somewhatparadoxicallythemosteffectiverelaxationtechniqueledmy
mindtohavethehighestexpectationsaboutachievingapleasantstate.Actually,Iwas
afraidtolosetheabilitytoachievethatpleasantstate.Thisobservationisconfirmed
byAndersonwhohaspointedoutthatmostnegativeemotionsandsensationsare
experiencedwiththemosteffectiverelaxationstrategy(Anderson,2001).

Thebestwaytopreventalotofinternalstimulitooccurisbymeansofgainingsome
cognitiveinsightsandadaptingbehaviorinaccordancewiththeseinsights.Thekeycognitive
insightsarethefollowing:

1)
Dontreadabouthowtorelax.
Ifrelaxationworkswellforyou,cool!Keepupthe
samepractice.Justcontinuedoingit.Dontreadallthosespiritualpsychologybooksthat
promisethatyoucancompletelyfreeyourselffromyourego.Ifrelaxationworksfinefor
you,stopreadingthisarticleafterthissection!

2)
Relaxationisnotaboutachievingapleasantstate
.Instead,itisaboutallowingyour
bodytobringitselfinastateofrest,inordertorevitalizeyourenergeticresources.Byrelaxing

thebodysnaturalhealingcapabilitiesaregivenachancetodotheirwork.Donttrytoforce
therelaxation,justallowyourselftorelax.

3)
Lettinggoofperfectionisticdemandsonrelaxationdoesnotmeanthatyoushould
trytoavoidthesedemands
.Afterall,youareputtingagainademandonrelaxation.When
youcontinuouslycontrolthatyouarenotrelaxingtoohard,youareactuallyfightingagainst
yourself.Ingeneral,thereisnothingwrongwithworkinghardaslongastheunderlying
emotionisthedesiretolearnandgrow,andnotthefearforfailureordisapproval.

4)
Repeatedlyusingthesamerelaxationtechniquecantriggerperfectionisticdemands
.
Itisimportanttoresistthetemptationtoalwayspracticethesamerelaxationtechniquethat
oncewasmosteffective.Afterall,ifyoukeepexercisingthesamemethod,eventuallyyour
competitivemindwillunconsciouslytrytoimprovethewonderfulstatethatyouonce
experienced.WhatifIlosetheabilitytoachievethatpleasantstate?istheunderlyingsilent
thoughtwhichdrivesmycompetitivemind?Itisthereforebettertoengageinahealthy
practiceofusingdifferentrelaxationtechniquesincombinationwithexerciseanddistractive
leisureandjusttoallowyourbodytorelaxbyitself.IfboredomisthesinglecauseofRIA,itis
okaytorepeatedlyusethesamerelaxationtechnique,butthenyoucanlistentodifferent
audiosthatofferdifferentexperiences.

5)
Increasingthenumberofrelaxationsessionstomorethan2perdaycantrigger
perfectionisticdemands
.Ifyoutrytodomoresessions,youstarttoputyourmindonit.In
thisway,yourperfectionisticdemandscanalsobetriggered.Thisdoesnotmeanthatyou
shouldnottakerestregularly.Igrewthehabitofdividingmydayintasksandtakeashortrest
betweentasksjustbydoingnothingorbydoingsomelightstretching.

6)
Foreachpersononetechniquemaytriggermoredemandsthanothertechniques
.It
isthereforerecommendedtotryoutdifferentrelaxationtechniquestolearnwhichtechnique
triggerstheleastdemands.Thus,ifyouexperiencedemandstothemethodoftensingand
releasingvariousmusclegroups,animmediateswitchtovisualizationorrelaxingcognitive
selftalkmaysolvetheproblem(Lazarus,1990).Severalauthorsproposetodecreasethe
focusonsomaticsensationswhenadverseeffectsofrelaxationareexperienced.

7)
Relaxationisnotmeanttoreduceacuteanxietyattacks.
Myexperienceisthat
regularlyusingrelaxationforgettingridofanxietymaydecreasetheanxietyintheshortterm,
butdefinitelyincreasestheanxietyinthelongterm.Infact,whenyouareanxious,learninga
newrelaxationtechniqueislesseffective.Repeatedlytrainingrelaxationdoesincreaseyour
abilitytotolerateanxietyattackshowever.
Oneofmyphysicalsymptomsofananxietyattackisfeelingextremelytensedandweak
(Burns,1999).Itisthereforetemptingtopracticerelaxationtodealwiththeweaknessand
tensedmuscles.However,dontfallinthistrapbecausethisbehaviorisinfactavoidanceof
anxiety.Anybodywhoknowsanythingaboutanxietymanagementcantellyouthat
avoidanceofanxietyleadstomoreanxiety.

Thepreferredmethodtomanageananxietyattackistolistentoacognitiveselftalkaudio,
(suchasthePanicAssistanceaudioattheExcelatLifewebsite),ora20minuteintense
exercisesuchascyclingorrunning.

How to determine if you have RIA?


Atrivialanswertothisquestionisthatyouexperiencedistressduringrelaxation.However,
whenthedistressiscausedbyperfectionisticdemands,youmayactuallynotbeawareofthis
distressinthebeginningoftrainingrelaxation.Youmightalsoexperiencethestress
symptomsaspleasantsensationsthatyouthinkoccurbecauseoftherelaxation.RIAcan
thusslipintoyourrelaxationexperiencewithoutgettingnoticed.Asaresult,RIAcangrowinto
aseriousconditionwhenyouunconsciouslykeepexercisingperfectionisticdemandsfora
longtime.

Lookingback,IcansaythatIwentthroughthreestagesofnonadjustedcopingbehavior,
eachstageleadingtolongerandmoreintensemoodproblems.Failingtoaddressthe
nonadjustedbehaviorcausedmetojumptothenextstage.

Stage1:Positivestress.
Iinterpretedthestressasapleasantstatebecauseofthe
relaxation,soIdidnotchangemybehavior.
Physicalsymptoms
:afterarelaxationsessionIfeltalittlebitofmuscletensioninmy
shouldersandabitofphysicalexhaustion.

Stage2:Frustratedmood.
Iwasnotableanymoretoachieveapleasantstateandafter
relaxationIstartedtofeelfrustratedandtensed.Iincreasedtherateofrelaxationsessions
andtriedtoachieveapleasantstatewithmorevigilanceandperseverance,leadingtomore
frustrationandmuscletension.
Physicalsymptoms
:afterarelaxationsessionmybloodpressurewashigherthan
beforethesession.

Stage3:Obsessivecontrol.
Ibecamemoreandmoretensedduringtheentireday.My
mainbehavioralsymptom,asanextremeRIAsufferer,wasthatofirrationalobsessivecontrol
andautomaticdemandthinking(alsoknownasrumination):
Controllingmyrelaxedstate.IcouldnotletgoofmuscletensionandIwasconstantly
applyingshortrelaxationmeasurestokeepthetensionundercontrolduringtheday.
Bydoingthis,Iwascreatingmoretensionandanxiety.
Automaticdemandthinkingduringrelaxation:Itrainedmybraintoexercisedemands
onrelaxationtosuchextentthatthisdemandthinkingbecameanautomaticreaction.I
lostcontroloverthisdemandthinkingduringrelaxationitself,leadingtomoreanxietyA
fancywordfortrainingautomaticdemandthinkingisoperantconditioning.Itmeans
thatanegativemooddrivesnegativebehaviorsuchasworrying,andtheworrying
intensifiesthenegativemoodbyreinforcingtheemotion.

Inthelongterm,thiscontrolbehaviorandautomaticdemandthinkingcausedstress
intoleranceandincreasedmyanxiousmoods.
Physicalsymptoms
:Ihadcontinuousproblemswithtensionheadaches,muscle
tension,increasedheartrate,heartpalpitationsandincreasedbloodpressure.

Defining control
Tobetterunderstandtheviciouscycleofcontrol,Idefinecontrolasbeinginaperfectionistic
moodwhereIworryabouthowtoimprovemymood.Controlentailsworryingabout
somethingabstractsuchasgettingridofanegativemood,orimprovingapositivemood.
Ofcourseitistheworryingitselfthatcausesthenegativemoodtolastlonger.

Thegoodnewsisthatananxiousmoodwillpass.Itisjustatemporaryunpleasantstatethat
willpassifyouareconsciousoftheunderlyingemotionsatplay.InherarticleUnderstanding
mindfulnessStep3:mindfulnessandpleasantemotions,MonicaA.Frankclarifiesthe
differencebetweenamoodandanemotion
(
http://www.excelatlife.com/downloads/mindfulness/understanding3.htm
).Anemotionisa
briefreactionwhileamoodislongertermemotionalstatethatisfueledbythinkingaboutit.

Formepersonally,theworryinginvolvesactivelythinkingaboutbothpositiveornegative
moods:
Positivemood:inventing
strategies
howtoimproveapleasantrelaxationexperience,
andthendemandingthatthestrategieseffectivelydowhatIexpectthemtodo.
Negativemood:beingalertforsome
unexpectedinternalstates
withinmymindor
bodyandinventingworstcasescenarioswhattheseinternalstatesmayimply,and
thentryingtoapplydifferentstrategiestopreventthesescenariosfromhappening.
Boththestrategiesandtheinternalstatesareillusionsofthemind.Theydontexistinreality,
butinmymindtheyseemveryreal.Theonlywaytobreakthroughtheseillusionsis
becomingconsciousoftheunderlyingemotionbyfeelingtheemotion:feeltheanxiety.

How to resolve RIA?


ResolvingRIA,orpreventingtojumpontoanextstage,involveslearningtotoleratethe
symptomsofanxietyandincreasingselfconfidenceintheabilitytorelax.
ThewayIgainedthesetwoskillswasbymeansof(i)cognitivebehavioraltherapy(CBT)and
(ii)mindfulness.

Cognitivebehavioraltherapy
(CBT)helpedmetodeveloprealisticexpectationsofmyself.
CBTmotivatedmetolookatmythinkingandtowriteoutthethoughtsthatmademeanxious.
CBTalsolearnedmetotrulybeliefthatanxietygoesawaybytoleratingitsassociated
thoughtsandphysicalsensations.Finally,CBTalsohelpedmetoincreasemyselfesteemby
developingpositiveorrealisticselftalk.

Thefollowingpositiveselftalkhelpedmetochallengemyperfectionisticdemandson
relaxationwere:
Theneedtosucceedateverything,thatdestroysme.
Icanstandanxiety,itisjustanunpleasantfeeling
Iliketoberelaxed,butIdontneeditnow
Ihaveconfidenceintheuniverse
IbelieveinGod
ItrustmybodyasItrustmybestfriend
Idonthavetodoanythingnow
IaccepteverythingfrommyselfbecauseIlovemyself
Idontneedtoachieveanythingnow
Idontneedtoavoidanythingnow
Idontneedanythingnow

Itrulybeliefthattheinsightsabovearetrue.Believingfor100percentthatyoucanstand
anxietyisimportanttoresolveRIA.Thebestwaytodevelopyourownrealisticbeliefs,in
whichyoubelievefor100percent,istalkingtoarelaxationtherapistorCBTtherapistwith
experienceinrelaxation.

Mindfulness
allowedmetoexperiencethatmybodyisabletorelaxbyitself,andthereforeit
increasedmyconfidencetorelax.Mindfulnessalsoincreasedmyselfesteemingeneral
becauseitpositivelychangedhowIthinkaboutmyself.

Mindfulnessisalsoagreatwayforfeelingtheanxietyandlettingitgo.Itisagoodmethodto
learntoaccepttheautomaticdemandthinkingduringrelaxation,andeventuallydecreasingits
poweroveryou.Thefollowingprocessusuallytakesplace.Duringarelaxationsession,when
Inoticedemands,Istoptherelaxation.ButIdontstanduporleavemyplace.Ijustdo
nothingandrefusetogiveintotheautomaticdemandthinkingtocontinuetherelaxation.
ThenInoticeanincreaseofanxietyandmuscletensionandanincreaseofthoughtsthat
pushmetorestarttherelaxation.Ijustobservethesethoughtsandfeeltheanxietywithout
judgmentandaftersometimetheanxietyusuallyflatsout.IjustletmyselfenjoythatIve
conqueredmyanxietyandindulgeinwhathappensthen.

Ofcourse,sometimesmyperfectionisticpersonalitytriggersdemandsonmindfulness.When
thathappens,myexperienceisthatitisbettertotakesomedistancefrommindfulnessand
justfocusonsomethingelse,preferablysomethingpositive.Duringthenextrelaxation
session,justtryoutanotherrelaxationtechniquethatdoesnottriggerthesedemands
anymore.

Ifyouhaveananxietydisorderduetoperfectionism,Iadviseyoutoemploythecognitive
behavioraltherapyselfhelpmethodsofExcelatLifefirst,beforelearningmindfulness.Ididit
theotherwayaround,withseriousmoodproblemsasaresult:Ifirstfollowedthepopular
8weekcourseonmindfulnessbasedcognitivetherapy(MBCT)beforeknowingaboutExcel

atLife.Iwastryingtoohardtobecomemindful,andIcouldntaccepttheanxietyinmybody.
Nobodyexplainedmewhyacceptingtheanxietyistheonlyhealthywaytolearntomanageit.

AlthoughsomeCBTprincipleswereintegratedintheMBCTcourseIwouldhavepreferredto
usetheExcelatLifeAppsandaudiosbeforestartingtolearnaboutmindfulness.

Self-help methods
Ifyouliketouseselfhelpmethods,theresourcesontheExcelatLifewebsiteareveryuseful,
includingtheaudiosandarticlesonimprovingselfesteem,managinganxietyand
mindfulness.Formepersonally,repeatedlylisteningtotheRationalThinkingAudiowas
extremelyhelpfulbecausethisaudiohelpstoletgoofanxietyandoftheperfectionisticand
competitivedemandsthatcausetheanxiety.Furthermore,theselfesteemblackboardApp
canbeusedtorecordyourpositivebeliefssoyoucanregularlyrepeatthem.Thankstothe
CBTDiaryAppIdiscoveredIhadalotofirrationalthinkingstylesincludingshoulds,
mindreading,mindreadingexpectations,negativeevaluationofmyself,internalcontrol,
personalization,generalization,allornothingthinkingandcatastrophicthinking.

Mistakesandlessonslearned
Thereareanumberofcommonerrorsmadeincognitivebehavioraltherapythat
perfectionisticpeopleshouldbeawareofwhenusingselfhelpCBTmethods.Itherefore
certainlyrecommendtoreadtheExcelatLifearticle10commonerrorsmadein
CognitiveBehavioralTherapy.Inaddition,specificallyrelatedtousingCBTmethodsfor
managingrelaxationdemands,Imadesomeothermistakes.BelowIpresentthemajor
lessonslearnedfromthesemistakes:

1)
Beawareofirrationalassumptionsaboutyourdisabilitytorelax
.OnceIdiscovered
thatIwastryingtoohardtorelax,Idevelopedalotoffalseallornothingassumptionsabout
myproblemswithrelaxation.IsilentlyassumedforexamplethatIalwayswastryingtoohard
torelax,whileactuallyIonlywassometimesdoingthat.Or,onceIdiscoveredIwas
obsessivelycontrollingmyrelaxedstateduringtheday,IassumedthatIwasalways
controllingmyrelaxedstate.Thesefalseassumptionareirrationalthoughtsatthemetalevel,
calledmetalevelthoughts.Theyarethoughtsaboutmyrelaxationexperience.These
thoughtsinvolvedalotofshouldnots:Ishouldntcontrolmyrelaxedstate,Ishouldnttrytoo
hardtorelax.Ofcoursethesethoughtswerejustanotherlayerofobsessivecontroland
demandthinking.

2)
Dontchallengemetalevelthoughtsatthemetalevel
.Icanconfirmthedifficultyof
challengingtheabovemetalevelthoughtswithusingselfhelpCBTmethods,suchasthe
CognitiveDiaryApp.InthebeginningIusedthediaryAppinawrongwaytoworkthrough
thesemetalevelthoughts.OneofmymistakeswasthatIchallengedthesemetalevel
thoughtsatthemetalevelagainsuchasIcannotobservemyanxietyanymorewithout
judgment,therearesomanythoughtsinmyheadwhentryingtoobserveanxiety.In
responsetothesethoughts,Itypicallywroteanotherchallengeatthemetalevelagainsuch

asMyanxietycausesautomaticthoughtsthatcheckformyanxiety,Ineedtobeawareof
thesethoughtswithoutjudgmentinordertogetoutofthisviciouscircle".Clearly,this
challengeitselfwasirrationalbecauseitisjustanotherdemand.
Inhindsight,abetterthingIcouldhavedonewasrefrainingfromwritingchallengesatthe
metalevel.InsteaditwasbettertousechallengesatthebaselevelsuchasItisbetterto
letrelaxationrestforawhile.

3)
Letthemetalevelthoughtsjustbe.
Iwasafraidofhavingthesemetalevelthoughtsin
myheadbecauseofsomeirrationalassumptionthatwheneverIhadthesemetalevel
thoughtsIwasobsessivelycontrollingmyrelaxedstate.Unfortunately,asaresult,Ibuiltalot
offearforthesethoughtsandItriedtofightagainstthesethoughts.Fightingagainstyour
thoughtsisaveryenergyconsumingactivity,andgetsyouquicklyinananxiousmood
however.
InsteadIlearneditisgoodtotrytolistenforthesethoughtsforadayorso,soyougetused
tothem.

4)
Lessismore.
AnothermistakewasthatIwastryingtounderstandhowrelaxationand
mindfulnesswork.WhatIhavelearnedisthatitissometimesbetternottryingtounderstand
whatyoucannotfullyunderstand,nortryingtocontrolthingsoverwhichyoudonthave
control.Amindfulorrelaxedstateisastatethatourmindcannotfullycomprehend.It
transcendsourlogicorientedreasoningintellect.Thus,themoreIthinkabouttryingtobe
relaxed,thelessIbecomerelaxed.

Dealing with Stage 3 obsessive control and automatic demand thinking


WhenyouareaStage3RIAsufferer,withautomaticdemandthinkingandobsessivecontrol,
resolvingRIAusingCBTandmindfulnesstakestimeandregularpractice.DuringthisperiodI
usedanumberofadditionalstrategiesthathelpedmetomanageRIA,withoutgivingup
relaxationcompletely.Thesestrategiesmadeiteasierformetobreakoutfromtheobsessive
needtocontrolmyrelaxedstateandtoreducetheautomaticdemandthinkingduring
relaxation.

ThesestrategieswereinspiredbyacourseonAcceptanceandCommitmentTherapy(ACT)
(Hayes,2012)andawebsiteonmanaginganxiety(Calmclinic.com).Thekeystrategieswere
thefollowing:

1)
Focusonwhatyouwant(insteadofwhatyoudontwant)
:Itooksomedistancefrom
relaxationbyfocusingonpositivevaluesorgoalsinmylife(Riviera,FocusMeaningAction).
ItisimportantthattheactivitiesIengagedinhadapositivemeaningforme(andothers),soI
knewtheendresultwasalwayssomethingusableformeorothers.AlsoonceIchosetodo
anactivitywithpositivemeaning,itbecameimportanttoperseverewithconsistentaction,
evenwhenIwasanxiousoritdidnotfeelgood.

WhenyouareaStage3RIAsufferer,focusingonlifegoalswillhelpyoutobreakoutofthe
obsessiveneedforcontrollingarelaxedstate.Thefollowingscenariousuallyneedstooccur
inordertobreakthroughthisirrationalneedforcontrol.Firstthereisariseofanxiety.Itis
importanttotoleratethisdiscomfort(itisjustanunpleasantfeeling)andtoignoreracing
thoughtsthattrytoconvinceyoutorelax.Instead,IjustcontinueddoingwhateverIwasdoing
aslongasIwassurethatitwouldbringsomethinggoodformeorothers.Usually,after
sometime,theanxietyflattedoutandtheneedforcontroldisappearedlikefreshsnow!
Congratulateyourselfandtakearestbyjustdoingnothingbutenjoyingyourself.

Tomakeiteasiertokeepmyfocusawayfromtheneedtocontrolmyrelaxedstate,Ialso
developedalistofbehavioraltips.Thesetipsincludedamongothershowtoquestionsand
simpletrickstostayinthesocalledhereandnow(SeeTable1).Thebasicideaofthese
tricksisthatyoucannotcontrolanxiety,butyoucancontrolyourfocusandtosomeextent
yourbehavior.Therefore,youcanfocusyourattentionawayfromtheanxietysymptoms.

Table1.
Behavioraltechniquestohelpshiftyourfocusawayfromrelaxationdemands

Howtoquestions
Focusonprocessorientedgoalsinsteadofresultorientedgoals
Focusingonhereandnow
Problemsolvingbehaviorinsteadofproblemavoidance
Distractionbyfollowingcuriosity
Respectingprioritiesamongstvaluesinlife

Singing
Feelingpositiveemotions(e.g.feelingconfident)
Believinginmyself

Takingaconfidentbodyposture(straightposition,chinup,shouldersrelaxed)
Slowingdown
Chewinggum
Focusononeofthefivesenses
Focusingonthechildren

Usingthesetricksinthemorningcanmakeabigdifferencebecausedepressionandanxiety
aretypicallyworseinthemorning.ForexampleIoftenusedthetechniqueFocuson
processorientedgoalsinthemorningtoignorephysicaltensionandanxietyinmybody.This
techniqueinvolvesfocusingmymindonthestepsthatIaimtodo.Ijuststartthemorningwith
acleardecisiontofocusmyattentiononwhatIamdoingtogetmybreakfastandcareforthe
childrenontrack,andjustletthetensionsandanxietyofthemomentbethere.

2)
Acceptance
:Iacceptedthatdemandthinkingduringrelaxationhasbecomeautomatic,
i.e.thatIhavelostcontrolovertheseirrationalthoughtstosomeextent.Iacceptedwith
serenitythatIcannotcontrolallofmythoughtsnortheemotionsandbodysensationscaused

bythesethoughts.However,thankstotheACTandCBTtherapies,IknowthatIcancontrol
myfocus,myselftalkandmyintenttoachievethingsthatIvalueinlife.Iwasthuswillingto
livemylifewhilstsometimeshavingtheseautomaticthoughts.However,themoreIamable
totolerateanxiety,themoretheanxietywillvanish.Andthemoretheanxietyvanishes,the
lesstheautomaticdemandthinkingwillbetriggered.

3)
Exerciserefocusing:
IhavelearnedhowtomorequicklybecomeawarewhenIwasina
perfectionisticmoodtocontrolmymood.WheneverIwasruminatingabouttensioninmy
body,Ilearnedhowtoquickerbecomeawareofthesethoughtsandhowtoredirectmyfocus
tomycurrentactivity.Regularlyexercisingamindfulnesssittingmeditationhelpedmegain
thisskill.Atechniquecalledmindfulgroundinghelpedmetoredirectfocusfrommyinternal
worldtotherealworld.

SometimesIamnotconsciousofmyownanxiety.Inthatcase,theanxietymay
unconsciouslydriveme,forinstance,tokeeprepeatingtheoncemosteffectiverelaxation
techniqueseveraltimesduringtheday.OrInsidemyheadIamsocompletelymixedupinto
mythoughtstotoleratetheanxietythatIdontseeanymorethatIamdemandingthatthe
anxietygoesaway.OrIamsomixedupintryingtoavoidgettingstuckinaperfectionistic
moodtocontrolmymood,thatIdontseethatIambringingmyselfintothatmood.Ifyou
focusonwhatyoudontwant,eventuallyyouwillgetthat.

AcceptanceandCommitmentTherapyreferstothisunconsciousmeltingbetweenourselves
andourthoughtsasfusionandproposesdefusionastheprocessofbecomingawareof
thedemandthinkingandseparatingourselvesfromthethoughts(Hayes,2011).

Butbecomingawareofthethoughtsisnotenoughinmyexperience.Youalsoneedtoallow
yourselftofeeltheanxietyandacceptitasitis.Youcanonlyaccepttheanxietyifyouhave
reallyfeltitinyourbodyandcanacceptitwithoutjudgmentinyourmind.
Sometimesitisverydifficulttotoleratetheanxietywithoutjudgmentinyourhead.Inmy
experience,akeystepthathelpsyoutobettertoleratetheanxiety,istoregularlyemploy
meditationorrelaxationtechniquesonceortwiceaday.

4)
Meditation
:

Meditationhelpsmetoincreasemystresstolerance.Thereforeithelpsto
achieveorretainamorecalmstate,fromwhichrelaxationcanensuequicker.Imeditateby
focusingmyattentiononmybreath,asound,orbyrepeatingamantra.
Asstatedabove,learningmindfulnesscanalsohelpyoufeelhowyourbodyisabletorelax
byitself,butthisrequiressomepracticeduringarelativelylongtime.

5)
Resistthetemptationtocontinuetousethesamerelaxationtechnique
:Topreventto
gettiedintoobsessiverelaxationdemands,IlearnedthatassoonasInoticedanydemands
duringarelaxationsession,itwasbettertostoptherelaxationsession.Moreover,duringthe
nextrelaxationsessionIhadtouseanotherrelaxationtechniquethatdidnottriggerthese
demands.


Forexample,supposeInoticedemandstokeepmuscletensionundercontrolduringa
socalledbodyscanrelaxation.Inthatcaseitisbettertostopthebodyscanandtorefocuson
achievinglifegoalsordistractiveleisure.AfterwardsIunderstandIwasputtingdemandson
gettingridofsomeunpleasantbodysensations.Then,duringthenextrelaxationsession,I
selectanothertechniquethattakesmyfocusawayfromthesesensations.Forexample,I
couldchoosestretchingoryogathatmainlyreleasestensionbymeansofgestures.

Ifounditalsoveryhelpfultowritedownonasheetofpaperormobiledevicealistofthe
relaxationtechniquesthatIknewImastered.Keepingthislistofrelaxationtechniquesclose
tomehelpedmetoresistthetemptationtocontinuetousethesamerelaxationtechniquethat
wasoncethemosteffective.Intimesofanxiety,ImayexperienceatunnelvisionsothatIsee
themosteffectiverelaxationassinglepossibility.Byreviewingthelist,youaresnappedout
ofthistunnelandyoucanseethebiggerpictureagain.Youcanalsousethelistofrelaxation
audiosofExcelAtLifeat
http://www.excelatlife.com/downloads.htm
forthispurpose.SinceI
preferredpracticingonerelaxationtechniqueatatime(insteadoflisteningtorelaxation
audiosthatcombinemultipletechniques),Idevelopedmyownlistofrelaxationtechniques:

Distraction
Sport
Cycling,Walking
Hobby
Painting,Shopping,Cooking
Interpersonalactivity
Talkingtoagoodfriend,Playingwithchildren
Music
Listeningtoormakingmusic
Relaxation
Clearyourmind
Journaling,Selftalk,Affirmation,CBTDiary,Relaxingselftalk
ReleaseTension
Stretching,Yoga,ProgressiveMuscleRelaxation,MindfulBreathing
BeawareofTension
Bodyscan
Visualise
Listentovisualisationaudio
Autogenictraining
Meditation
Basic
Focusonbreath
Focussed
Transcendentalmeditation
Spiritual

NLPanchoring
Doingnothing,justtrustingyourownbody
Activityoriented
QiGong
Standingmeditation
Walkingmeditation
Mindfulness
Sittingmeditation:Focusingonbreathing,observingthoughts
Lakemeditation
Selfmeditation
WhoamImeditation
NetiNetimeditation

6)
Doingtheopposite:
Anotherstrategyistochoseupfrontarelaxationtechniquewhere
demandthinkingislikelynottooccur.

DoingtheoppositemeansthatImakeaconsciouschoicenottoselecttherelaxation
techniquethatmymindasksmetodo.Instead,Iselectarelaxationtechniquethatisthe
oppositeofwhatmymindasks.Forexample,whenIhavethoughtsthatpushmetoclearmy
mindbymeansofengagingcognitiveselftalkapproach,Iselectarelaxationtechniqueto
releasetensioninmybodyorbeawareofthetension.OntheotherhandwhenIam
overwhelmedbytensioninmybodyandmymindspushesmetoreleasethetension,Itryto
focusoncognitiveselftalk,orvisualization.

7)
Schedulingrelaxationtechniques
:Anotherstrategytododgeautomaticdemandthinking
duringrelaxationistheuseofaschedulethatallowedmetoselectarelaxationtechniquethat
Ididntuseforalongtime.Inthisway,ananxiousmood,duetodemandthinkingaboutthat
particularrelaxationtechniqueinthepast,isnotactiveanymoreinmymindandbody.
Instead,Ihaveamoreopenmindwithcuriosityandconfidencethattherelaxationtechnique
willnowworkoutfineforme.

IfIoncehadanegativemoodrelatedtoacertainrelaxationtechniquethismoodislikelyto
occuragain,aftersometime,duetoreactivationofthedemandthinkinginmymind.Assuch
itisimportanttokeeprotatingtherelaxationtechniquesinaroundrobinwayovertime.

Mylistofrelaxationtechniquesislong,andmakingaschedulemayunfortunatelyalsoleadto
perfectionisticdemandsonschedulingintherightway.Inthisway,youstarteveryrelaxation
sessionwithanxietyagain,whichmakestherelaxationlesseffective.Beinginspiredbythe
AppsoftheExcelAtLifewebsite,apossibleimprovementistoletanAppdothescheduling
foryou.

8)
Customizingandvaryingrelaxationtechniquesaccordingtomodality

Toimplementcustomizingrelaxationtotheneedsofaspecificperson,Lazarusdistinguishes
betweenseveralmodalitiesincludingBehavior,Affect(emotions),Sensory,Imaginary,
Cognitive,Interpersonal,andBiomedical.Relaxationtechniquescanbeclassifiedaccording
totheprimarymodalityaddressedduringtherelaxation(Lazarus,1990).Thetablebelow
representsanadjustedlistofmodalitiesandwhichrelaxationtechniqueaddressesthis
modalityprimarilyinmyopinion.
Lazarusalsodeviseda35itemtest,calledstructuralprofileinventory,todeterminewhich
modalitiessomeoneismostreactiveto(Vivian,C.StructuralProfileInventory).The
hypothesisisthattheaccordingrelaxationtechniquesinthesemodalityclassesarethebest
matchforthatperson.AstudybyHermanindicatedthatitispossibletopredictwhichformsof
relaxationarelikelytobemosteffectiveandpreferred,onthebasisofclients'scoresonthe
SPItest.(StevenM.Herman,2004).

Somerelaxationtechniquesaddressmultiplemodalities.Forexample,thevisualizationof
healingenergytechniqueoperatesprimarilyintheimaginarymodality,butusuallyleadsto
relaxingresponsesattheSomaticandEmotionalmodalities.
Usually,addressingmultiplemodalitiesmakestherelaxationmoreeffective.Thisisalsothe
reasonwhyarelaxationaudiocombinesmultiplerelaxationtechniquesinacertainorder.On
theotherhand,whenmultiplemodalitiesareaddressed,relaxationdemandsaremorelikely
tobetriggeredinmyexperience.

Modality
Modality
RelaxationTechnique
Order
(G)
Cognitive
1. Listeningtoselftalkaudio(e.g.Rational
2.
3.
4.
5.

Thinkingaudio)
ReadingorWritingCognitiveDiary
ReadingorWritingpositiveaffirmations
Talkingtoyourselfinthemirror,cognitively
ReadingarticleofExcelatLifewebsite

(H)

Emotionalor
spiritual

1. Feelingconnectedwithnature(e.g.watchingthe
sunsetattheseaside)
2. Believinginyourself
3. Praying
4. Feelingconfidentorhappy
5. Doingnothing,justtrustingyourbody
6. NeuroLinguisticProgramminganchoring
technique
7. ListeningtoZenmusic
8. QiGong
9. FeelingChistreaming(resolutionofpainbody)

(A)

Sensory

1. Aromatherapy(e.g.smellinglavender)
2. Listentosoundsintheenvironment

3.
4.
5.
6.

Staringattheclouds
Watchingleavesrustle
Listeningtomusic
Makingmusic
Yoga
Stretching
Tenseandrelease
Progressivemusclerelaxation
Walkingmeditation
Standingmeditation

(B)

Behavioralor
gestures

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

(C)

Imaginaryor
visualisation

1. Mountainmeditation
2. Lakemeditation
3. Listeningtoavisualizationaudio(e.g.Lotus
Flowervisualization)
4. Imaginingapleasantscene
5. Visualizationofhealingenergyaroundyourbody

(D)

InterPersonal

1. Blowingballoonswithchildrenandletthemplop.
2. Talkingtofamilyoragoodfriend
3. Huggingfamilyandchildren

(E)

Exercise

1. Cycling
2. Walking

Aneffectiveandeasywaytododgeautomaticdemandthinkingistoschedulerelaxation
techniquebymodality,andwithineachmodalitybyrelaxationtechnique.SoIselectupfront
theorderofmodalities(A,B,C,...J).Secondly,withinamodalityIalsoordertherelaxation
techniques(1,2,3,.).Eachrelaxationtechniqueisthusidentifiedbyaletterandanumber.
ForexampleF2identifiestheMindfulnesssittingmeditation.

TheactualscheduleisthenA1,B1,,J1,A2,B2,J1,A3,B3,etc.

9)
Focusonsomethingwhichbearsnojudgmenttotheconfidentobserver
.Ingeneral,
relaxationworksbestifyoufeelconfidentandyoufocusyourmindonsomethingwhichbears
nojudgmenttotheobserver.Forexample,duringcertainrelaxationsessionsIjustengagedin
doingnothing(Lazarus,1990)bygazingatanundefinedpointinspaceandtakingapassive
attitude.SometimesIwhisperedthepositiveaffirmationsmentionedabovesuchas:Ibelieve
inmyself,orItrustmybodyasItrustmybestfriend.Typically,formethesepassiveyet
openattitudeswereagreatwaytofeelthatthebodyknowshowtorelaxitselfIjustneedto
giveitachance.

Ialsosaidtomyself:Itrainedveryhardonrelaxation.Mybodycanthusachievearelaxed
statebasedonthistraining.Ijustneedtobelieveinmyselfandgivemybodyachanceto

relax.Youcancomparethistodrivingacarorplayingthepiano.Aftersomelearningperiod,
drivingacarorplayingthepianobecomesaneasyautomaticthingtodo,youjustneedtolet
ithappen.

Conclusion

Noneoftheadviceofthisarticlewillworkifyoudonotallowyourselftofeeltheunderlying
anxietyinyourbody.Feelthesensationsandlearntoacceptit.Butalsolistentoyour
thoughtsandlearntoobservethemwithoutjudgment.

Foremostdonotfeeltheanxietyorobservethoughtsinaproactive,continuousmanner.Just
focusonyourlifegoalsandwheneveryounoticetensionorupsettingthoughts,itstimeto
giveyourselfsomediscretespaceforlisteningtoyourthoughtsandfeelingyourbody
sensations.

Anxietyisanormalemotionthateverybodysometimesexperiences.Wecandecidewhenit
makessensetolistentothemessagethatanxietybringsusbecauseitisarationalmessage.
Continuingrelaxationwhenwearetryingtoohardtorelaxintheendcreatesanxiety.The
anxietyistryingtosaytousheypal,thistypeofrelaxationisnotworking,youareexhausting
yourself.Theanxietybringsusarationalmessage.Continuingexercisingsuchaworse
relaxationforalongtimeisnotgoodforyourhealthbecauseitleadstoincreaseof
depression,highbloodpressure,andheartpalpitations.

Conversely,wecanalsodecidetoignorethemessagethatanxietybringsusbecauseitisan
irrationalone.Obsessivelycontrollingyourmoodduringthedaybecausetheanxietysaysto
youyouhavetocontrolyourmoodotherwiseyouaregoingtogetdepressedagainisan
irrationalmessage.Itisthentimetohaveconfidenceinyourself,GodortheUniverseandask
yourself:WhatamIactuallyafraidofnow?andWhatdoIreallyliketodonow?Andthen
doit.

Godgrantmetheserenity
toacceptthethingsIcannotchange

couragetochangethethingsIcan

andwisdomtoknowthedifference.

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