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Feeling Shaky: A Common Sign of Anxiety

  • Shaking can be a function of anxiety in both the short and long term
  • In the short term, adrenaline rushes can lead to feeling shaky
  • In the long term, anxiety causes stress changes that may cause the body to shake
  • Different types of anxiety may lead to feeling shaky in different ways
  • There are activities you can do to shake less, but you will also need to address your anxiety
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated September 6, 2022

Feeling Shaky: A Common Sign of Anxiety

Anxiety is essentially long-term stress. Every day you live with anxiety is a day that you're placing stress on your body. What does this mean? Prolonged stress triggers many physical symptoms, including rapid breathing, higher blood pressure, and increased heart rate.

These and other symptoms associated with anxiety and stress can hurt your confidence in social situations and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.

Feeling shaky is a common symptom of anxiety and one that most people have experienced at some point in their life. It's sometimes possible for shaking to be the only symptom or one of the first symptoms people notice when they're feeling nervous.

There are ways to reduce the shakiness, but unfortunately, surging stress hormones like adrenaline make it hard to control completely.

Shakiness is Something You Need to Deal With in Advance

The reality of feeling shaky is that prevention is the best way to stop it. Some techniques can reduce symptoms of anxiety in the present moment, but once your anxiety levels rise, it's hard to control. It's much easier to deal with anxiety symptoms when they crop up.

So while this article explores anxiety shaking, it helps to remember that anxiety itself is what needs to be controlled the most and with the right treatment the shakiness can go away.We'll discuss this later on!

Why Do We Feel Shaky?

During periods of intense stress or anxiety, your stress response (the fight or flight response) is activated. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline/epinephrine are being pumped into the body.

It's the reason that we experience shaking before a big test, or when confronted with a dangerous situation. Your body is essentially preparing to run or fight.

When you suffer from an anxiety disorder like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder, your fight or flight system is acting out on its own. You're continually receiving these rushes of energy as your body prepares to fight or flee, elevating your anxiety level and causing your body to shake.

But because you're neither fleeing nor fighting, your body simply continues to shake, and that can cause significant distress for those that are trying to maintain their calm.

Are There Different Types of Triggers?

There are different types of triggers that can cause you to experience shaking. Many relate to anxiety, but others don't. Let's explore the many potential causes of shaking.

Short-Term Anxiety

Everyone - even those that don't have anxiety - can shake when confronted with a stressful situation. People shake on first dates, they shake before tests, and they shake when they have a meeting with their boss; anxiety shakes are an incredibly normal experience, but one that is disruptive nonetheless.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

When someone has GAD, their fight or flight system is firing all throughout the day at low levels, and occasionally can pick up at random times. This may cause shaking and other stress-related symptoms to occur for what seems to be no reason, although it tends to be less severe than during times of intense stress.

Panic Attacks

Before, during, or after panic attacks, shaking can be very common. This type of shaking is caused by the intense fear that those with panic attacks experience.

People with panic attacks may also experience occasionally shaking with no apparent trigger, and that shaking can actually cause a panic attack itself as the person worries that something is wrong.

Although there may appear to be 'no trigger,' panic attacks can be set off by anxious thoughts. These are often subtle and habitual, making them more challenging to spot. It can be especially hard to stop trembling and the other physical symptoms of anxiety if you don't understand the cause.

Physical Causes

There are also physical causes of shaking. If your tremors have started since experiencing a traumatic brain injury or stroke, there may be a link between the two.

Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and alcohol use disorder also make tremors more likely.

Depleted Resources

During periods of stress, the body may deplete important resources, like water and magnesium.

Magnesium is an essential vitamin that we require for nerve function. If you are experiencing anxiety over prolonged periods, your magnesium levels can reduce - your body may shake from this nutrient loss.

Unexplained Tremors

And sometimes, for reasons that are still unclear, those with day-to-day anxiety may simply feel shaky or develop a tremor in their hands, feet, etc. It's not necessarily clear what's causing this, but long-term stress can have unusual effects on your body, so it should be no surprise that you experience tremors and other symptoms during stressful situations.

So, what can you do to lower your anxiety levels and stop yourself from experiencing shaking?

What to Do if You're Shaking

If your shaking is causing concern, seek help from a medical professional like a doctor. They will likely be able to provide a diagnosis or assist you in generating a treatment plan.

Only a doctor can confirm that you are feeling shaky because of anxiety and not because of some health problem, so it's important to only rely on them for a diagnosis.

Many people want to stop feeling shaky during periods of anxiety. Feeling shaky makes it hard to show your confidence, and can cause you to feel uncomfortable in many of life's situations.

Controlling short-term shakiness is harder than controlling anxiety in the long term. That's because once you start shaking, your stress response (and hence your anxiety) is already activated. The only way to stop shaking with certainty is to get out of the anxiety-causing situation, and often that's not possible. You can't simply walk out of a first date because you're nervous, and unless you get comfortable, that shakiness will probably stay until the date is over.

But that doesn't mean that it's impossible. Here are some tips to control short-term shaking, and afterward we'll review some of the ways to reduce anxiety symptoms long-term.

Drink Water

Make sure that you're hydrated. Dehydration can cause shakiness, and many of those with anxiety become dehydrated and allow their shaking to become worse. It won't stop shaking altogether, but it can be a healthy quick fix.

Move

It's not a huge help, but sometimes you simply need to move. If you run in place for a short duration or wiggle your arms around, you may find that some of your anxiety symptoms, including the shakes, are reduced. If you can exercise, that is even better, because exercise has a natural calming effect on the body.

Try Relaxation Techniques

There are several relaxation techniques you can try as well. Some of the most common include:

  • Visualization: this technique helps to reduce anxiety symptoms by encouraging a state of deep relaxation. This calms the stress response, improves immunity, and helps manage pain.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): PMR involves tensing and then relaxing groups of muscles, one at a time. This technique can improve your mental health by inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system, an element of the stress response, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for relaxation.
  • Deep Breathing: This relaxation method encourages greater airflow into the body, which helps to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure and calm your nerves. This reduces anxiety symptoms and can be highly useful when experiencing a panic attack or anxiety shakes.
  • Slow Breathing- Hyperventilation can also be a cause of feeling shaky. It often occurs during times of intense anxiety. Solve it by slowing down your breathing. Hyperventilation makes you feel like you're not getting enough air, but the truth is that you're getting too much air, so fight the sensation and try to breathe at a slower pace to regain some of the CO2 levels in your body.
  • Body Part Control- Some people find that they can control the shaking if they target each body part one at a time. If your hands are shaking, for example, stare at one hand at a time and see if you can control it. Take deep breaths and move it slowly to make sure that you feel yourself gaining control over the shaking, and then switch to the next hand.

You can find more relaxation techniques here.

Contact Your Doctor

If your shaking is causing concern, seek help from a medical professional like a doctor. They will likely be able to provide a diagnosis or assist you in generating a treatment plan.

Only a doctor can confirm that you are feeling shaky because of anxiety and not because of some health problem, so it's important to only rely on them for a diagnosis.

Again, once you start feeling shaky, it's often hard to control it, because the adrenaline has already been released. You can also try to prevent feeling shaky at these types of events by desensitizing yourself to the fear. For example, if you get anxiety during public speaking, try to schedule public speaking eventsmore often. Eventually, they'll get boring to you, and you won't shake as much by the time an event matters. We'll explore systematic desensitization in more detail later on.

Controlling Long-Term Shaking and Anxiety

Shaking caused by anxiety disorders needs to be stopped at the source. There are medications and treatments aimed at just stopping the shaking, but these are simply not going to be effective, as they will not deal with the underlying issues associated with anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder or panic disorder. It'll be like placing a bandaid over an infected wound!

So your goal needs to involve finding some way to stop anxiety permanently; this is the only way to stop experiencing shaking.

You may not be able to control all shaking from short-term stresses - and you don't want to, because in general, some minor degree of anxiety is actually very healthy - but you do want to be able to reduce the random shaking that you experience from anxiety and panic attacks.

So, what are the treatment methods?

Treatment Methods for Anxiety Shaking

To treat anxiety and reduce shaking, you need to get at the heart of the problem. There is more than one type of anxiety, so there are multiple treatment options available. Let's explore the most common treatment methods.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of talking therapy that helps you to manage your anxiety symptoms by changing your anxious thoughts.

Together, with a therapist, you will work through your anxiety, building a better understanding of your physical symptoms, and identifying how your anxious thoughts play a role in this.

Medication

Your doctor can prescribe various medications to help you manage your anxiety.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most common - these prevent your body from absorbing the feel-good hormone serotonin, making it more readily available to you, allowing you to reap its full benefits. You can find out more about SSRIs and anxiety.

Systematic Desensitization and Exposure Therapy

This method involves reducing your stress to your anxiety triggers by exposing you to stressful situations. While you can perform these on your own, it's recommended that you access this through therapy.

Read more about how to manage anxiety with desensitization.

The Bottom Line

As with most mental health treatments, each person responds differently to each treatment option, and no one method will work for everyone. But anxiety is a 100% manageable condition when you find the right help, and if you are struggling with shakiness - or any anxiety symptom - it is worth it to try multiple treatments to see which one works for you.

At its core, anxiety is essentially long-term stress. Every day you live with anxiety is a day that you're placing stress on your body, and both anxiety and stress create fairly common symptoms that can hurt your confidence in social situations and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.

Feeling shaky is a common symptom of anxiety, and one that most people have experienced at some point in their life. It's sometimes possible for shaking to be the only symptom or one of the first symptoms people notice when they're feeling nervous. There are ways to reduce the shakiness, but unfortunately, surging adrenaline makes it hard to control completely.

SUMMARY:

Feeling shaky is very common with anxiety, with both short term and long term causes depending on your anxiety level. Temporary anxiety reduction will help reduce shaking, but in the long term, prioritizing anxiety management will be important.

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