Coping with ET: The Mind-Body Connection

Western medicine is increasingly recognizing the importance of a positive mental attitude on overall health. This is especially true in the essential tremor community. Symptoms that can range from embarrassing to annoying to debilitating can pose both physical and emotional challenges in daily life. How do you cope with your essential tremor? A positive mental outlook can be enormously helpful.

Julia Wood, an occupational therapist at Pennsylvania Hospital, frequently works with movement disorder patients. Her primary goal is to help people live relevant and meaningful lives. Therapy for movement disorder patients is highly individualized – there is no single standard. The toolkit of coping strategies can contain everything from adaptive aids (think magnetic snap closures rather than buttons, for example) that help patients complete daily tasks to addressing mood swings, or even depression.

Julia believes that one important approach is the practice of mindfulness. Though the technique has been around since the 1970’s, today it is having a surge of popularity for a range of chronic conditions. Mindfulness involves focusing awareness on the present moment, calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgement – being in the here and now and not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

For ET sufferers, mindfulness means letting go of the negative ‘what if’ place. ‘What if I go to that party and shake uncontrollably when I eat? What if I embarrass my friend who’s with me?’ By living in the here and now, one can try to release anxiety and stress, which often may contribute to tremor.

Julia also discusses the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), another very helpful approach to managing ET. Based on the cognitive behavioral model, the perception of a situation is more closely connected to the fear of a certain situation, rather than the situation itself. Our minds tend to make certain situations much scarier than they actually are in reality.  Psychologists who practice CBT can help patients become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so they’re able to view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively. University of Virginia neuropsychologist Scott Sperling echoes Julia’s focus on the mindfulness and CBT as highly effective ET approaches. Scott says that CBT can help avoid the downward spiral of thinking about the past or projecting into the future that isn’t helpful to living a positive, productive life.

Apps to Help Manage Mood:

Pacifica introduces Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and teaches deep breathing, behavioral exercises, and strategies for identifying negative thinking patterns and learning how to replace them with positive thinking patterns.

iTunes: Click here

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Self-Help Anxiety Management helps you understand what causes your anxiety, monitor your anxious thoughts and behavior over time, and manage them through self-help exercises and private reflection.

iTunes: Click here

Google Play Click here

(Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), 2017)

The brain is complex and wonderful and still not completely understood. What we do know is that we can exercise control over our emotions to keep a positive outlook. By practicing mindfulness or possibly seeking professional guidance, you can empower yourself to cope with tremor.

We would love to hear from you!  Let us know what works for you.