Why Your Hands Shake When Nervous (And How To Stop It)
Did you hate giving presentations at school?
In fact, I dreaded any presentation from the moment the teacher announced it – even if I had months to plan. I knew my voice would quiver and I’d feel a nervous wreck – but my biggest fear was trembling or shaking hands.
Many symptoms of anxiety are often easy to hide, but shaking hands feel so obvious. I was terrified people would realise just how anxious I was. It wasn’t a nice feeling.
So if you often suffer from trembling hands, I know how you feel.
You’re also not alone. Shaking is a common symptom of social anxiety that can occur almost anywhere, including:
- During conversations – especially if you feel intimidated.
- Public speaking (even confident speaker’s hands sometimes shake).
- Signing a cheque or document when someone is watching (this makes even simple trips to the bank extremely difficult).
- Talking to people with authority, such as policemen.
The frustrating thing is that hand trembling can happen even when you’re only mildly anxious…but it makes you look like you’re incredibly nervous.
This, of course, makes you even more anxious. Which is the beginning of the vicious cycle I’m going to talk about in a minute. But first…
What Causes Your Hands to Shake?
As you might know, the underlying cause of many anxiety symptoms is the body’s “fight or flight” system.
When your brain detects a “stressor,” it activates the sympathetic nervous system. This, in turn, floods your body with hormones such as adrenaline to prepare for a dangerous situation.
Very quickly these hormones cause your heart rate to increase, your breathing to speed up and your muscles to be put on “full alert.” Your body is now ready to fight an aggressor…or run for its life.
There’s an obvious problem though…
There is nothing waiting to attack or chase you. So there’s no reason to run or fight…and the adrenaline remains in your system.
So to stop your hand shaking, we need to deactivate the fight or flight system.
But before we can do that, we need to know what not to do…
Why Hand Shaking Becomes a Vicious Cycle
People with social anxiety are often very good at hiding their feelings. This can lead to “quietness” or even mistakenly being labelled arrogant, but at least others aren’t aware of the underlying anxiety.
This is completely different when your hand starts shaking though. There isn’t much you can do to hide it – especially if the trembling becomes violent.
So the natural reaction is to try and calm yourself down.
“No one has noticed…have they?”
“There’s nothing to worry about!”
You might try and hide your hands in your pockets or behind your back. You may even try to force them to stop shaking.
This is a mistake.
The more you focus on your anxiety, the less you are concentrating on the task or other person. Before long, your only focus is your trembling hands.
But your brain won’t let you get away with this for long. As soon as you realise you’ve lost track of the conversation, you’ll probably feel guilty or ashamed. You might even start to panic because you have no idea what to say next. These feelings cause more stress…more anxiety…and more shaking.
In short, consciously forcing yourself to stop shaking can often have the opposite effect.
So what should you do instead?
How to Stop Hand Shaking
The obvious answer is to focus on overcoming your social anxiety. If you can reduce your level of anxiety, your body won’t identify social situations as “stressors.” This means the fight or flight response won’t be activated and your hands won’t shake.
You also need to remember that people are much less observant than you think. It’s natural to think everyone is concentrating on you and your actions. But the reality is that most people won’t even notice your shaking.
The ones who do notice won’t necessarily assume you’re anxious either. Shaking hands can be caused by a range of things, from low blood sugar to being cold.
So try not to overthink shaking. It’s hard, I know. But it’s not as noticeable as it feels.
Aside from that, I also recommend talking to a doctor. This site is all about relieving social anxiety form home, but shaking can be a symptom of conditions other than anxiety. So it’s a good idea to get a medical opinion.
Not only that, but there are drugs that can help with trembling hands. Two examples include:
- Beta blockers such as propranolol. These are designed to slow your heart rate, making them useful if you know about an anxiety-triggering situation in advance.
- Muscle relaxing drugs from the benzodiazepine family. These can be effective at reducing trembling – but are known for their negative side effects and addictive properties.
Of course, this isn’t a medical blog. So your doctor may recommend something completely different.
I can say one thing for sure though…
a drug that your doctor probably won’t recommend is alcohol. Yet it can sometimes help stop shaking hands.
But wait, before you go out and get drunk before every social event, there are some major drawbacks and dangers with alcohol (I’m sure I don’t need to spell these out). So I’m definitely not recommending it.
Even so, there are plenty of anecdotal stories of people using a small amount of alcohol to “depress” the sympathetic nervous system.
This obviously isn’t practical in many situations. But if you’re going to a party or night out, a small drink might help.
OK, medication can help and shouldn’t be ignored…
But what if you want something that works NOW but without taking drugs?
Fortunately, there’s a highly effective nervous system “off-switch” that many people don’t know about…
How to Stop Hand Trembling Without Drugs
As we know, trembling is caused by the fight or flight response.
But there’s a simple way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which suppresses the fight or flight response, using only your breathing.
I don’t blame you. But this method is so powerful that the military trains soldiers to use it in combat situations. It allows them to stay in control of their emotions and avoid being overrun by adrenaline.
So how do you do it?
The simple answer is: breathe into your belly for a count of four…hold your breath for a short time…then breathe out again slowly for a count of four.
It sounds “too easy.” But breathing in this way activates your vagus nerve, which helps kick-start the parasympathetic nervous system.
Just breathing with this tempo can go a long way towards reducing anxiety. But if you want to learn how to combine deep breathing with muscle relaxation for even faster relief, I’ve created a free report called the “Breathe and Squeeze Method.” Just enter your email below for instant access.
The next time you have to give a presentation, sign a cheque or just have a conversation…you’ll be glad to have this method in your toolbox.
Get the 'Breathe & Squeeze' Method for Quickly Stopping Hand Trembling