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.
Is Anxiety Making You Shake?
Shaking is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety and a direct response to the activation of your sympathetic nervous system. As long as you have anxiety, you'll find yourself shaking.
We have a free 7 minute anxiety test that can help you determine the severity of your symptoms, how it compares to others, and what treatments will work best for you. If you're shaking from anxiety, this test will help you stop it.
Shakiness is Something You Need to Deal With in Advance
The reality of feeling shaky is that the best way to stop it is with prevention. There are techniques that can reduce anxiety in the moment, but once anxiety hits it's harder to control than if you never experienced that anxiety in the first place.
I have a free anxiety test that I developed to fight anxiety that can be a big help. It uses your symptoms to tailor a plan that fits you best. Click here to start the test.
Why Do We Feel Shaky?
During periods of intense nervousness or anxiety, adrenaline is being pumped into the body as the "Fight or Flight" system is activated. It's the reason that we shake before a big test, or when confronted with a dangerous situation. Your body is essentially preparing to run.
When you suffer from anxiety disorders, your fight/flight system is acting out on its own. You're receiving these rushes of energy, and your body starts to shake as a result. 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. Or, in a way, different types of shaking. Yet all of them may be due to anxiety. Shaking may be caused by:
- Short Term Anxiety Everyone - even those that don't have anxiety - can shake when confronted with a situation that causes nervousness. People shake on first dates, they shake before tests, they shake when they have a meeting with their boss; shaking is 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 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 absolutely 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.
- Unexplained Tremor Finally, 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, and so it should be no surprise that you experience tremor during unusual situations.
There are physical causes of shaking, but these tend to be less common. Only a doctor can confirm that you are feeling shaky because of anxiety and not because of some health problem. Also, during periods of stress, the body may deplete important resources, like water or magnesium. Sometimes the body shakes as a result of this nutrient loss.
What to Do if You're Shaking
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 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 afterwards we'll review some of the ways to control long term anxiety:
- 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 bit, or wiggle your arms around, you may find that some of your shaking is reduced. If you can exercise, that is even better, because exercise has as natural calming effect on the body.
- Relaxation Techniques There are several relaxation techniques you can try as well. Some of the most common include:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Deep Breathing
- 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.
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 events _more often_. Eventually they'll get boring to you, and you won't shake as much by the time an event matters.
Controlling Long Term Shaking and Anxiety
Shaking caused by anxiety disorders need 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, because every time you have anxiety you run the risk of shaking.
So your goal needs to involve finding some way to stop anxiety permanently. You may not be able to control all shaking from short term stresses - and you don't want to, because in general some minor amount 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.
In order to do this you need to get at the heart of your anxiety. There is more than one type of anxiety, so there is also more than one type of treatment. The most common treatments include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Medications (not recommended)
- Exercise and Anxiety Management
- Systematic Desensitization and Exposure Therapy
The only way to start is by examining your symptoms and discovering what types of anxiety you're dealing with. I have a free anxiety symptoms questionnaire that will help. Take it now to get started in finding the right treatment for you.
If you haven't yet, take the test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.