Millions of Americans practice some form of meditation, also referred to as mindfulness. Even for people who don’t adhere to a religious or spiritual community, the word itself conjures up serene images such as a lone person sitting peacefully on a beach as the sun sets, or Buddhist monk calmly gazing at a lit candle. Our inner mind seems to breathe out a slow, deep sigh, our shoulders relax, and for a few seconds we take a time out from the hustle and bustle of our very full days.
How easily the activities, schedules, pressures, interruptions, and problems of daily life jangle us until our bodies go into an automatic flight-or-flight stress response. For those with essential tremor (ET), this natural mechanism often triggers a greater degree of the involuntary shaking that characterizes this condition. This happens because the stress response triggers a surge of adrenaline. In turn, this leads to a feeling of loss of control—which amplifies inner stress. What a vicious cycle!
According to the International Essential Tremor Foundation, “Any method of reducing the effect of stress on the body and so limiting the effects of adrenaline is beneficial for people with ET.”i Meditation is an important feature of many stress management programs. There are many types or schools of meditation, but all have one thing in common: they calm the stress response.
Building a practice
So many of us are in the habit of responding to outer demands all day long that it’s hard to suddenly expect ourselves to be able to sit quietly, slow our breathing down, relax and go inward. Just like learning to play a musical instrument, or becoming adept at a new sport, meditation requires a training period. Some types of meditation develop a conscious inner focus, while others are based on “letting go” of inner conscious thought. There are many simple resources for beginners, and setting aside even a brief daily period to develop a practice can condition the body so it “turns the volume down” on stress.
3 benefits that help manage tremors
No matter which school of meditation one chooses, there are proven physical changes that happen during meditation, and strengthen their positive effect over time:
- Slower heart rate – Have you experienced how your heartbeats grow faster or more pounding when you’re anxious and feeling stressed or worried? Without realizing it, those sensations can actually increase your perception that there is indeed something to worry about, even when it’s irrational. A heart that continues a slow tempo even when the day is coming apart at the seams helps reduce the sensations that accompany anxiety, which then keeps tremor from increasing.
- Deeper relaxation – A state of deep relaxation gradually reduces the hair-trigger tendency of muscles to contract and tense up during stress. ET patients often experience a slowdown or even disappearance of tremor when their hands are at rest, but the minute they put their muscles into action (e.g. reaching for a cup of coffee and lifting it) the tremors are activated. As your body acquires the ability to relax deeply, it is learning how to avoid muscle tension even if you are bombarded by stressors.
- Better overall sense of well-being – As inner wellness and contentment take over more and more of your inner world, your perspective on what really matters can begin to change. Things that were previously experienced as troubles and problems begin to shrink in proportion to more positive aspects of life. Inner well-being is great outer “armor” against stressors. When you’re less perturbed, you’re less likely to shake noticeably.
There are many more physical and mental benefits from a regular and consistent practice in meditation. The mind-body connection is a powerful force that can be gently harnessed to calm and reduce tremors in the face of stressors. Consider exploring the different techniques of meditation in hopes of finding one that you’d like to try. Helpful hint: commit to two months of daily practice – and if you miss a day, don’t worry, just pick it up the next day. Research suggests that it takes an average of 88 daysii to develop a new habit, so remember to give meditation the time it needs to first take root, then blossom with the benefits it has been proven to bring.