Do stressful situations give you the shakes? Do your hands tremble as you pass important documents to your new boss, for example, or do you give wobbly-voiced replies in job interviews?
We’re all naturally a little shaky (try holding your arm out and keeping it completely still!), but for some of us, that unsteadiness becomes a lot more noticeable when we’re under pressure.
First: there’s no reason to be alarmed. Shaking is a very common symptom of stress and a normal reaction to the hormones that surge through us when we’re emotionally aroused.
Second: There are ways to manage that shaking, and I’ll explain them to you in this article.
We’ll look at how those dreaded “trembles” are caused, and I’ll share three coaching tips to help you manage them better. Read on!
Why Anxiety Can Make You Shaky
So what causes us to shake in the first place?
Our bodies are naturally equipped to deal with a certain amount of stress, and have evolved to help us react quickly in the face of perceived danger—or whenever we feel unsafe.
These stress reactions, also known as fight-or-flight responses, involve the immediate release of hormones such as adrenaline. The goal of adrenaline and other stress hormones is to overstimulate our nervous system and trigger a much-quicker-than-usual response in the face of danger.
When it comes to the shakes, that means that trembling is simply one sign that your nervous system is overloaded. On a more technical level, you are “upregulating”, and adrenaline is pumping through your body to increase your available energy.
How Does It Work?
Shaking from anxiety is very normal, as we’ve seen, and nothing to be too alarmed about in most cases.
But it’s never pleasant, of course, so it helps to know what’s happening inside:
- When you release excess adrenaline as a stress response, your body automatically begins its own recovery process (sometimes referred to as downregulation—the opposite of upregulation).
- This involves vibrating, which burns up the extra adrenaline and can appear as shaking limbs, buckling knees, and an unsteady or trembly voice.
- This continues until your body has brought your adrenaline levels back to normal, which is when the vibrating stops. Hopefully, you feel a little better at this point, if somewhat “shaken!”
Fun fact: some researchers believe that upregulating or shaking your body deliberately can help you manage stress before it builds up. Also known as “shaking therapy,” this practice involves focusing on different bodily areas and wobbling them around on purpose!
3 Tips To Manage Anxious Shaking
Anxiety shakes aren’t pleasant or particularly productive, and they’re quite clearly caused by stress—that’s why I created the Trembling Stress Coaching Card.
The good news is that there are a few things to manage them better, and I’ll explain three of my top tips for just that.
1. 1-Minute Meditation
A 1-minute meditation can be a good exercise if you’ve got a quiet moment, and as the name suggests, it only takes 60 seconds.
While one minute might seem like too short of a period to meditate (or too long, if you’ve never tried!), it can still be highly beneficial when your goal is to de-stress and downregulate.
During this 1-minute meditation, you’ll take your mind off whatever is triggering your stress by concentrating on your breathing instead. You will naturally stop doing whatever you were doing as you focus on inhaling and exhaling, which can help you reconnect with your body.
There are a few ways to go about it; the first is to find a guided audio meditation online, sit comfortably somewhere you won’t be disturbed, and listen to it on your phone.
The second, from Buddhist mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, is called “walking meditation.” To do this:
- Begin walking, focusing on each step that you take.
- Pay attention to how many paces you take during each inhale and exhale, as well as the speed at which you’re walking.
- Focus on your lungs rather than trying to control either your step count or breathing.
- Try matching your steps to your breath, e.g. count three steps per inhale and three per exhale.
- Allow your feet and lungs to fall into a natural rhythm.
- Optional: You can repeat a mantra that works naturally with your walking pace, for example: “With each step, a gentle wind blows.”
2. Practice Deep Breathing
Your sympathetic nervous system is activated when you’re stressed out and shaking, and your parasympathetic nervous system is what eventually calms it down.
One way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system is through deep breathing—the precise opposite of the panting or short, shallow breaths we take when anxious.
Deep breathing can help you calm down, provided you do it as naturally as possible (i.e., don’t force it):
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Inhale through your nose and fill up your diaphragm with fresh air.
- Exhale through your nose.
- Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Feel your diaphragm or tummy rise as you inhale and lower again as you exhale. You’ll know when you’re breathing deeply enough because the hand on your stomach will move more than the one on your chest.
- Repeat this three more times, continuing to fill your stomach with air. Feel it rise and fall with each breath you take.
3. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a step-by-step relaxation exercise that targets all the muscles in your body.
Lie or sit down comfortably and take a few deep, relaxing breaths (see the exercise above!).
Tense the muscles in your forehead and hold that tension for 15 seconds, noting how they become increasingly taught. Next, gradually release your forehead muscles over 30 seconds.
You’ll start to notice the huge change in your muscles as they start to relax; keep going until your whole forehead is completely at ease. Continue to inhale and exhale naturally and at a slow pace throughout.
When you’ve done this, you can repeat the exercise with the following body parts:
- Shoulders and neck
- Arms and hands