5 Ways to Live with Essential Tremor at Work

Essential tremor (ET) affects millions of people. It is a misconception that it’s a condition of elderly people. While it is more prevalent among older adults, it often runs in families and can occur at any age. For young adults with ET who are entering the workforce, the tremors in hands, head or voice may be more than embarrassing. In job interviews, or on-the-job performance, they may be wrongly perceived as anxious or nervous. An employer may also wonder if “the shakes” will compromise tasks like keyboarding.

To talk or not to talk…with the boss?

Each individual who lives with ET must learn his or her own unique style of coping in social and professional situations. ET is a misunderstood condition – even doctors often mistake it for Parkinson’s disease. The decision to “come out” to one’s supervisor or boss must be made on the merits of the situation. However, it can be a great relief to have a brief but honest talk, and perhaps provide the employer with a simple fact sheet, e.g. the one-page pdf available through the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.

Employers don’t want to lose good workers. Chances are, your manager values your good performance. In fact, you and your boss together might brainstorm some simple modifications to make your job easier and make you more successful at it.

Making work easier (work “hacks”)

The National Tremor Foundation offers some tips for “hacks” that can facilitate smoother on-the-job performance. Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Ergonomics (from the Greek for “work” + “distribution”) – how comfortable is your chair, desk and work area? Good arm support means less stress for your hands, possibly reducing the degree of tremor. Also, there are assistive devices to steady handwriting and typing.
  2. Has your mouse got you down? There are now software products designed to make using a mouse steadier. Consider looking into them – and, would your work reimburse you?
  3. Voice recognition software is a lifesaver for anyone who has difficulty typing, whether from ET or other disabilities. Not everyone has their own office, of course, but developing a private area at certain hours might be something to speak with your employer about.
  4. Schedule adjustments might be a way to pace yourself so fatigue doesn’t become your worst enemy. Stress and tiredness can worsen tremor, so “gentleness” breaks to pause and regroup might be negotiated even if you have to stay an extra 15 minutes.

Turn to your online community

There is a fifth strategy. Remember that you have thousands and thousands of peers, and it takes a short online search to find peer support forums and blogs where you can engage with them. Sharing what has worked for you, and learning from others what has proven successful for them contributes to a huge knowledge bank.

Stay motivated

Keep up your motivation. Some people like motivational or inspirational books or tapes. Embrace the principle that you were hired because the employer felt good about you, and wants to pay you for being who you are. Your tremors do not define you, and believing in yourself and your capabilities is an intangible quality that doesn’t show up on a resume, but absolutely shines through in your work. A boss who knows what you’re worth will be willing to do what it takes to keep you on the job, proving that you CAN live with ET at work!

About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Neurosurgery Associates.

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