Tremors Making Social Life Uncomfortable? Tips for Coping

I have previously written about how people with essential tremor (ET) often feel their tremors set them apart. I have also addressed how ET ramps up a person’s inner stress and anxiety in social situations. No matter how much people with ET strive for a positive outlook, there are simply unavoidable times when “the shakes” lead to embarrassing and awkward moments.

ET is the most common movement disorder, but there are many neurological conditions that result in visible types of impairment: tremors, rigidity, postural distortion, balance problems, etc. Social activities that non-affected persons take for granted, like dining out, birthday parties, shopping at the mall, a day at the beach, etc. can turn into the agony of being stared at or—even worse—people turning away as if from a freak. The urge to keep ET somehow secret or private is betrayed by the body itself. How does one cope?

Four general tips

I read a very wise and helpful article in in Brain & Life entitled “Ease Awkward Social Situations.”i Several experts were interviewed, and I thought I would pass along some of their encouragement and counsel:

  • Be open – Dr. Rebecca Gilbert (American Parkinson Disease Association) suggests offering simple explanations about your situation. “It can be very liberating to be open about your condition because sometimes the act of hiding it makes people more anxious and the visible symptoms more pronounced.”
  • Schedule carefully – Consider planning social activities for the times of day when your tremors are most manageable. Also, don’t commit to social activities and relationships that experience has shown only raise your anxiety. Taking care of yourself may involve making some hard decisions to cut down on parties, competitive games/activities, or time with a friend who always wants to argue politics. Choose what works best for you because you’re the only one who KNOWS what’s best for you.
  • Join a support group – Julie Fiol (National MS Society) points out, “Getting out of the house to attend a support group is a great first step. At support groups you’ll be surrounded by people who understand you and may have the same visible symptoms.” In many ways, showing up regularly at an ET support group helps life feel more normal.
  • Humor and creativity – Not only does humor lighten the emotional burden, Dr. Gilbert states that it can ease symptoms by reducing anxiety. As for creativity, expressing who you are and how you feel in original ways is not only a fun, satisfying exploration of being outside the box, it also helps transform bottled up feelings and energy. And ignore the little voice of an internal censor who tries to get you to believe that you are not an artist, dance, musician, poet…whatever. Just remember that humans are born creative, which includes the problem of how to USE, not fight, your tremors.

Our Center has created a private Facebook group for community and support, Essential Tremor Awareness & Support | Sperling Neuro. If you can’t make it to an in-person support group meeting—or even if you can!—we encourage you to join our Facebook group. All are welcome to join, including friends and family members. It’s a great place to know that you are not alone, and to hear the experience of others as well as share what’s going on with you. Our staff knows that healing the heart and spirit are just as important as controlling tremors.

Our Center is also pleased to offer the Neuravive Focused Ultrasound treatment for tremors of the dominant hand. Learn more at Sperling Neurosurgery Associates.

iWynn, Paul. “East Awkward Social Situations,” Brain & Life. Dec. 2018/Jan. 2019, pp. 32-33.

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