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My Holiday Spirit is a Bit Shaky Right Now, By Guest Blogger Nina Millikan

By: Nina Millikan
December 18, 2018

Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are two of those many food-focused holidays I would rather avoid. And like many suffering from ET, I would give anything to get through one family gathering without worrying over how I will get my food to my mouth without spilling, dropping, or stumbling around.

My family knows about my tremors, and they always tell me that it’s not a problem. “Don’t worry about it,” is what they tell me, but I can’t help but to worry about it. I feel like everyone is watching me and waiting for me to make a fool of myself. I know this is wrong for me to feel this way, but I just can’t help myself.

Being around people I don’t know, or, who don’t see me regularly, makes me feel like I am living under a microscope. When people don’t speak to me, I think to myself, “It’s because I am different. They see me shaking, and they know I am not normal.” If they do speak to me, I am forced into a conversation where I am already very nervous, and my ET decides to center in my throat. I can’t get the words out. My mind has the words, but my tongue can’t get them out of my mouth. I feel I sound like an idiot.

My stomach starts to knot up. My heart pounds. I begin to sweat. I know everyone around me can see how I am falling apart. I just sit there and hope I don’t have to make a run for the nearest bathroom as my stomach keeps churning. Isn’t it bad enough I have to depend on others to fill up my plate for me as if I were an invalid, or a child relying on a parent for assistance? Now, I have to keep myself from an embarrassment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a person with social anxiety disorder feels symptoms of anxiety or fear in certain or all social situations and is afraid that he or she will be humiliated, judged, and rejected.1

That sounds very much like the feelings people with ET face everyday, and with the pressures of gathering for holiday parties and engagements, the added stress makes socializing nearly impossible for those of us with ET.

The International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF) states in their website article, “ET, Depression & Anxiety,” that several medications, including SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) may help ease symptoms of social anxiety.  These medications are more commonly known as antidepressants with names such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac, but these medications can often make tremors worse, so it is important your doctor understands ET, and how treating one problem could impact your tremors. The IETF article suggests cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), counseling, and coping strategies such as deep breathing techniques and meditation for dealing with social anxiety and depression.2

In my blog, http://www.ninasessentialtremors.blog, I have talked a little about how ET has affected my daily life and the anxiety it causes. And after doing a bit of reading online, I have discovered that social anxiety can be very common among people with ET, and there are ways to cope.

Deep breathing and meditation can help many people, but for me personally, I need more practical and applicable coping techniques. Here are some helpful hints you might find can be of benefit during the holidays:

  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine as they can worsen tremors.
  • Use travel cups or tumblers with lids that open and close. They are perfect for keeping spillage to a minimum. Many are available in festive colors and designs. They need not be boring!
  • Use the larger spoons and forks offered in those sets of utensils. The weight will help keep your hands steadier.
  • Ask your host or hostess if your meat can be cut into smaller portions. This will make your meal easier to manage.
  • If you are at a party buffet, go for those finger foods!
  • If you need to carry a glass, try holding the glass by clasping your fingers around the top rim of the glass. This technique will offer more control. It is also a good idea to fill your glass only halfway. If you begin shaking, there is less chance of the beverage spilling out of your glass.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell someone you have tremors and ask if they could offer assistance. It is better to swallow your pride and ask for help than to try on your own and feel embarrassed later if an accident occurs. I have found most people are willing to help if you just ask.
  • Laugh at yourself! If something spills, if you can’t get your words out of your mouth, smile and tell them your tremor just kicked in and you would like to kick it right back! The world is not going to come to an end because you are dealing with a disorder you can’t control.
  • Most important of all…relax. Take time for yourself. If you need a quick escape to gather yourself, ask for a bathroom. You can take a couple of minutes to “not be on” for everyone. Maybe your host or hostess has a separate room you could slip away to for a moment of quiet.

I hope these hints and tips help you this holiday season. I will be at home this year and may be playing hostess myself. I let everyone know about my tremors and keep my visiting children and grandchildren busy waiting on me for a change. I like to remind them of all they times I waited on them…now it’s my turn to be pampered. Try it for yourself, and Happy Holidays!

Nina Millikan has other amazing blogs on her blog page!  You can read more at: https://ninasessentialtremors.blog/

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1https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/index.shtml.

2https://essentialtremor.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ET-depression-anxiety.pdf

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