Shaking with rage, and with a lot of other stuff too
September 7, 2007 1:53 PM   Subscribe

When I need to stand up for myself or interact with someone I despise, I often find myself literally shaking a little. Or a lot, actually. My new job involves a lot of this (often on others' behalf), so I'd like to control it.

I guess I'm talking about "shaking with rage." In my case, at least, it's more of a pronounced shiver. It's not like I have some kind of anger management issue, though; it most often happens when I'm in a verbal arguement (although it increases if that arguement begins to devolve into a shouting match). This is even if I've expected the confrontation and prepared a few arguments in my head. When it happens for more than a minute or so, it can begin to actually make my voice waver. At any rate, it's embarrassing.

I guess it happens to me in other stressful situations from time to time, because strangely I can remember shivering a lot on the night I met my girlfriend...

Anyway, how do I stop this, and if I can't, then how do I manage it?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I had a co-worker with this behavior. She described it as "essential tremors". Googling that term gives a big list of medical pages which should give you lots of information to sort through.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:14 PM on September 7, 2007

maybe it's Parkinson's, see a doctor just in case
posted by matteo at 2:22 PM on September 7, 2007

Some folks recommend beta blockers for reducing physical "symptoms" of nervousness/overexcitation. I have no idea about side effects or safety of usage for this type of situation.
posted by thebrokedown at 2:23 PM on September 7, 2007

i'd suggest looking into some kind of training or self help related to assertiveness and/or negotiations. while i didn't exactly shake, i found reading a book on assertiveness was useful - unfortunately i've lent it to my ex-boss and can't remember the title, but there are loads out there.

also, don't be mislead by the word - "assertiveness" isn't about being aggressive, it's about understanding how, when and how to express yourself.

after working things through you may find that you're not addressing issues soon enough, which is making them grow into very emotional problems, or that you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself because you're unsure whether you are being fair, or.... i'm sure those aren't the reasons, but you get the idea - assertiveness is about looking at the process of disagreeing with someone, understanding it, and so making it easier. once it's easy, the shaking will probably go away.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:34 PM on September 7, 2007

this is simply a reaction to adreneline that you body produces when you are stressed. You probably can't do much about the shaking once it happens but you might be able to prevent it by working on ways to calm down/destress, deep breathing, meditation ...

I have the same reaction, it's certainly unpleasant. Good luck
posted by estronaut at 2:43 PM on September 7, 2007

I've been dealing with the same thing, nothing debilitating, but rather uncomfortable. My counselor helped me identify it as anxiety. Simply putting a label on it helped immensely, but I'm also trying out some of the standard anxiety-relieving things, deep breathing, that sort of thing.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:51 PM on September 7, 2007

I get it too, and I really cannot agree that it's any kind of medical problem.

I think it just has to do with being a conflict-averse person who's suddenly involved in a conflict. It's a fight-or-flight response, and your system gets flooded with chemicals you can't do anything with. For instance, I know my heartrate spikes up the wazoo, even though I'm just having a conversation with someone about a dry-cleaning mishap.

Over time, I have been able to - to an extent - convince my brain that a conflict situation is not going to kill me, and I'm able to control some of the outward signs. But I've also learned that, you know, this is just how I am. I don't like conflict, and I'm never going to, and it's easier for me to arrange my life in a way that avoids conflict situations as much as possible than it is for me to get into situations that flood my system with adrenaline.

Weirdly, in actual emergency situations, I am one of those very, very cool heads-- it's just conflict that does this to me. So I've decided to accept this as one of my many quirks and move on. I'll be monitoring this thread for any genius tips, though. :)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:53 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

These suggestions are great--breathing, meditation, etc. I think practice is the only way to get better at this. Unfortunately, when something makes you so anxious you experience a physical reaction, practice is a really unappealing prospect. An important (albeit longterm) goal to help this might be to begin unraveling what makes you so anxious in these situations, really getting to the root of it. (For example, do you fear their reaction, are you worried that you won't be able to get your point across, are you worried it might not get resolved, are you worried the person might say something really mean, etc. etc). That might help you understand it and overcome it. Something I do when I have a very harrowing interaction coming up-- I practice it with someone I trust. It's kind of like rehearsing. Sometimes, especially when you know the person you're confronting, you can anticipate (generally) what their reactions might be and where the conversation might go, which can help with a practice run. Rehearsing beforehand just takes some of my anxiety away. For me, overcoming anxiety is a combination of short term plan to get through the situation, to longterm strategies to overcome it completely.
posted by sneakin at 2:53 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I get this, and I file it under "fear of confrontation." For me it's an insecurity thing. (So it would also apply to a first date, even though that's not quite "confrontation.") I'm smart, but not always the quickest thinker on my feet. So if I know I'm going to get into it with someone who I may KNOW is wrong and I may KNOW isn't even that smart but I also know is one of those proven people-persons who is highly skilled in the art of making friends and influencing people (i.e. manipulation), I'll get highly nervous about it. It's worse when I also turn red in the face. It's not exactly rage I feel. Actually it's not rage at all. It's more like fear.

I should say I used to get this. I don't so much anymore. Part of it is that I just don't let things get to me like they used to. I used to have more of a, "OH MY GOD this person thinks she's going to get AWAY with this tripe!" response and immediately feel taken advantage of, or similar. But now it's more of a, "oh, that person is an idiot and is always doing crap like that. I'm going to go discuss it with her and I'm sure we can reach a mutual understanding." There was a recent askme question about how to deal with a coworker who was always e-mailing her to "come see me" (i.e. manipulating) and it's really possible that she has no idea she's doing it. Or if she is, she needs to be taken down a notch, and it doesn't have to be a confrontation, it can be, "well, why don't you talk to me about this when you drop off those papers at my desk instead." Not that big a deal.

So basically, it comes down to taking a deep breath and taking control of your emotions, and it also takes some practice. Talk to as many people as possible in as wide a variety of situations as you can. That's what it came down to for me, anyway.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2007 overcome it completely.

Or at least to keep it in check. Many anxieties stay with you, I guess.
posted by sneakin at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2007

I have the exact same symptoms as you, Anon. One thing I've found that helps is to keep being in the situation. Wacky logic, but bear with me. I have lots of irate customers in the job I do, and the majority of them are in person. I've found that after going through the traumatic situation (because that's what it is - traumatic!) a few times, the symptoms decrease. I figure that my brain/body gets used to the feeling, and stops reacting to them.
posted by Solomon at 2:58 PM on September 7, 2007

Do you get enough exercise?
Muscles are stronger and faster after you prime them a bit. This is why felines shake their rears before pursuing prey, and also why charlatans can convince you that you are stronger after sampling their magic powder than you were on their first strength test.
You, physiologically, are just getting ready to pound them. Now, in polite society we aren't supposed to pound people who annoy or challenge us, but if you have a well-developed system informed by millennia of that tactic being successful, you might shake when angry or threatened. I have had similar responses, and after some analysis I found that regular exercise seemed to ameliorate or dampen this response somewhat, in my experience.
posted by Anisoptera at 4:05 PM on September 7, 2007

Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to stay relaxed in any situation.

The principle is to breath with your diaphragm, rather than your rib cage (preferably through the nose). You can practise by concentrating on holding your chest still, while allowing your stomach/lower body area to expand and contract as you breathe. You may find it helpful to put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach at first, to get a feel for the movements and help you be aware of your breathing.

The best way to develop is not to rush yourself, don't force it, don't overdo it. Try and stay firmly within your comfort zone, and practise whenever you get the chance, or feel yourself becoming tense.

You can do this sitting or lying down. A good way to begin is practising 5-10 minutes before sleep, and continue by practising when you're sitting down watching tv, or on a bus, or in a meeting or something.

It may seem odd at first, but start gently, and as you get used to it you should find it a great, natural way to keep calm in any situation. It's also good for general health, good for the heart (if i remember correctly, no cite), and great for falling asleep.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:05 PM on September 7, 2007

Tough call here; my father had essential tremors, and I have it a bit; yet, when I'm stressed (good or bad) I shake like this, and it's not quite the same as when I shake from the essential tremors (which are quite random.)

Personally, I find the only thing that helps is to *be* less stressed, and in those situations in which I can't avoid the stress I need to be *doing* something.

So let's say I'm going to perform on stage, and I'm excited and nervous (in a good way.) Tons of shaking, right? But as soon as I start DOING something (ie performing) the shakes go away. Step off stage, and a few minutes later back come the tremors (because I'm still stressed, albeit positively, about what I've just done, but now I'm not doing anything.)

The same is true in reverse; I had a kitchen remodel issue to deal with today, and even though I wasn't particularly stressed about it, the mere act of having to wait for half an hour to deal with it made me shake like crazy. As soon as I started talking to someone about the problem, away went the shaking.

So try that as a potential twofer of coping mechanisms; first, involve yourself in conflict more often so that you get used to it (and it stresses you less), and make sure that when you're going to be dealing with something stressful that it involves interaction rather than anticipation.
posted by davejay at 4:10 PM on September 7, 2007

I'm a martial artist, and have been training as close to every day as I can for most of my adult life. I'm no master, but I'd like to think that I have at least a rudimentary control over my reactions.

I still get this way in response to confrontations.

It's a biochemical response - you can get to a point where you operate despite it, and it becomes an aspect of yourself that is simply present, rather than being all-encompassing. Mental and physical discipline can help you to acknowledge its presence without becoming stuck on it.
posted by ellF at 4:17 PM on September 7, 2007

It's possible that the other person doesn't even notice the shaking. Either way, though, do you really want to keep working in a job that requires you to deal with people you hate on a constant basis? Certainly being in a rage that often isn't good for your health.
posted by puritycontrol at 4:20 PM on September 7, 2007

I get this. I used to use a rather unedifying coping mechanism: I depersonalized whoever I was talking to. I note you use the word 'despise', and this rings a bell for me, as I would frequently tell myself 'I don't care about this person; this person is contemptible', etc. This would work better if you were about to grab a rock and brain your co-worker. It does not lend itself to clarity of speech.

I now do three things. Firstly, I attempt to feel sympathy for my opponent. Sympathy can kill a fight or flight response dead.

Secondly, I exercise more, so the feeling of excitation isn't so foreign and unpleasant.

Thirdly, I make an occasional effort to have a friendly disagreement with someone, which is to say, a difference of opinions on a trivial matter that doesn't turn nasty. If you're rehearsing conversations in your head, you have a degree of fear that they'll turn out the wrong way. This is conjecture, but do you find that you try a bit harder to win an argument than most people? Try losing a few.
posted by topynate at 4:37 PM on September 7, 2007

Me too. Anyone have any idea what kind of evolutionary principals would cause so many of us to suffer from this. Perhaps a way for females to determine alpha from beta males. But, someone already said at least one woman suffers as well. Why does this happen????
posted by nintendo at 6:37 PM on September 7, 2007

I get this too. I have nothing material to add, except it's always reassuring to discover I am not the insane person I sometimes appear to be, or at least not the ONLY insane person. We should start a club.
posted by nax at 7:41 PM on September 7, 2007

The other suggestions in this thread are excellent.

I have had this problem as well, and it stems from anxiety.

Today I had to go somewhere where I was potentially going to encounter conflict (but I wasn't sure). So I did something completely different- I said to myself "No matter what happens, I'm going to do something I enjoy afterwards". For me, that was a creative activity- but you might like sports, reading, whatever. I figured, if the situation is stressful, the activity will comfort me. If the situation turns out well, then I'll be in a great mood, and my activity will be even more fun. Either way, you have something good to look forward to.

Hope this helps. Good luck. This can be debilitating and embarrassing.
posted by solongxenon at 7:59 PM on September 7, 2007

"Yoga" probably sounds like a New Age fruitcake suggestion here, but good yoga classes end up being all about "staying with your breath" while your body goes through stress. Good yoga teachers teach breathing techniques. And when I'm going to classes (which reminds me I should start going again), and then find myself in a stressful situation at work, I habitually revert to that breathing, and then my body feels reassured that despite all the stress chemicals, everything is fundamentally okay.
posted by salvia at 9:41 PM on September 7, 2007

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