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Hand Tremors and Anxiety

Tamsen Butler
Open hand

Adrenaline can cause hands to shake uncontrollably, and anxiety can cause (or be caused by) a sudden increase in adrenaline. Hands visibly shaking is a common sign of anxiety, even among people who do not have anxiety disorders.

Fight or Flight

A common assertion among mental health professionals is that anxiety is a product of the human's natural "fight or flight" response to danger, but anxiety disorders arise when the "fight or flight" response occurs without an actual threat. This leaves people feeling as though they're in a panic, yet they don't know why.

One aspect of the "fight or flight" response is a sudden, increased amount of the hormone adrenaline, which is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. This hormone is designed to give the body the power it needs to either fight or run away. When the body doesn't use the adrenaline to fight or run away, the hormone affects the body by making it shake.

This shaking can be brief and barely noticeable, or it can be quite profound, making it difficult to function with the hands. Typically, as the level of adrenaline subsides in the body, the shaking decreases and stops. At its peak, the shaking can make it nearly impossible to do anything requiring dexterity. It can be an embarrassing situation since most people associate nervousness with shaky hands; it's as if the trembling hands broadcast to everyone that nerves have taken over.

It's important to note that hands shaking as a result of adrenaline is a normal response and not necessarily indicative of an anxiety disorder.

Controlling the Shaking

There are multiple options to control hand shaking as a result of anxiety.

  • Deep breathing is a technique mental health professionals suggest as a way to calm the body and stop shaking of the hands. This method is effective and the military uses it (where it is called Combat Tactical Breathing) to calm service members during times of acute stress, which allows them to continue to function with their hands.
  • Medication is available to treat hand shaking although many of these medications are designed for hand shaking resulting from conditions other than stress. Beta blockers, anti-anxiety medication, and even Botox are sometimes prescribed for hand shaking.
  • Surgery may be an option to stop hands from shaking, but again, this is more appropriate when the shaking results from a condition other than anxiety. Physical therapy might also be suggested, which will likely involve small hand weights and stability exercises.
  • Lifestyle changes beyond trying to be calmer may help even though they're unrelated to anxiety. Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake may prove useful in calming the tremors.

Seek Medical Advice

Since a variety of issues beyond anxiety can cause hand shaking, it's important to check with your physician to ensure there isn't a comorbidity causing the hand shaking instead of the anxiety. Certain medications can cause hands to shake, as can a lack of sleep, low blood sugar, nerve damage, or something more serious like the onset of Parkinsons Disease. This is not an instance where a person should self-diagnose.

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Hand Tremors and Anxiety