Living with essential tremor (ET) has its challenges that can put event the most optimistic people to the test. While no one consciously chooses to have ET, each person has the power to choose how to respond to it. Creating and maintaining a positive outlook is important because it’s better long-term “medicine” than a negative outlook. Chronic negativity can actually take years off your life by sending your body into a heightened biochemical state called the stress response.
According to Harvard Health, “Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).” Even worse, feelings of anxiety and depression make it still harder to cope with the physical and emotional toll that occurs when ET makes ordinary life tasks virtually impossible.
Since cultivating a positive attitude is an investment in optimum physical and mental health, here are seven ways to help generate and keep a spirit of optimism:
- A cocoon of loving relationships – A cocoon is what protects a vulnerable caterpillar during its transformation to a butterfly. Who are your most caring family members and friends? Ask them to become part of a support cocoon that you can call on when you are feel a bout of vulnerability coming on: lack of self-confidence, anger, depression, self-pity—whatever. Surround yourself with their encouragement, affection and belief in you.
- Adaptability – Tremors may start small and practically unnoticeable, but ET is considered progressive, meaning tremors may gradually become more aggravated. As new obstacles arise, do you see them as a crisis, or an opportunity to adapt and learn new ways of doing things? Millions of people with ET have come up with clever “hacks” or “workarounds,” and thanks to the internet, it’s easy to tap into a wide array of practical suggestions and solutions.
- Reframe success – Be willing to experiment putting a new spin on discouragement. For example, if you are a person with perfectionist tendencies, can you let yourself off the hook of self-judgment if you fail to meet your standards? Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In redefining failure, he became a stellar success!
- What’s most important? – When we begin a new day, each of us has certain ideas about what we hope to get done before we go to bed. However, ET has a way of sabotaging daily plans. Keep priorities simple. Choose 2 or 3 things to assign as top priorities and turn down things that conflict with those until you have accomplished those that matter most.
- Give yourself permission to slow down – ET makes everything take longer, and the effort to stick to some mental timetable for a task can increase the stress response and make tremors worse. Ask yourself, “What’s the rush?” and truly ponder that. You will probably find that there are fewer deadlines than you think.
- Train your stress response to quiet down – Most of the biological changes that occur when the stress response is triggered are involuntary. However, you can actually train your body to put the brakes on the speeding biochemical changes. Learn one or two measured breathing techniques, and methods of conscious relaxation. The secret is to practice them daily for 4-6 weeks during times when you have little stress. Then, when you feel yourself starting to tense up, heart pounding or racing, breath becoming shallow – as soon as possible stop what you’re doing, go sit down, close your eyes, and do your breath/relaxation exercises. Not only does this break the cycle of anxiety and expectations, it physically calms the raging hormones, etc. coursing through your body.
- Sense of humor – Humor takes the edge off of stress and restores perspective. It’s a great coping method for finding a silver lining in a dark cloud. Read my blog on two individuals who have harnessed laughter in order to deal more positively with their own ET.
You may not be an incurable optimist, but for sure don’t be an incurable pessimist! When it comes to living with ET, giving yourself an attitude boost when you need it may be a lifesaver.