Psychogenic Tremors (Anxiety)

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Practical Psychology

People often discuss mental health and physical health as if they are two separate things, but they’re not! Our mental health affects our physical health and vice versa. Some people may experience physical symptoms that simply cannot be explained by physical conditions. Some of these symptoms, like psychogenic tremors, are actually the cause of mental health conditions.

Are you curious about psychogenic tremors and what could be causing them? Read on! While studies have been done on this bizarre symptom of depression, PTSD, or other conditions, we still have a lot to learn. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing unwanted muscle movements.

What Are Psychogenic Tremors?

Psychogenic tremors are unwanted muscle movements caused by underlying psychological conditions. They usually take place when a person is under high stress and can disappear when the person gets distracted. Neurologists and medical professionals diagnose psychogenic tremors once other explanations for the movements are ruled out.

Psychogenic tremors are one type of psychogenic movement disorder. Psychogenic movement disorders vary widely and cause different degrees of unwanted movement throughout the body. 

What Do Psychogenic Tremors Look Like?

Tremors are defined as “oscillatory movement produced by rhythmic contractions of muscles.” What does this mean? Essentially, a person experiencing a tremor may notice that their hands are shaking or their body is moving in a rhythmic fashion. Tremors can spread to different parts of the body. People may even experience tremors in their voices.

Psychogenic tremors may vary in appearance, but typically start fast and end quickly. The best way to end a tremor is through distraction. This is the biggest difference between tremors and other conditions, like Parkinson’s disease. 

Not all tremors are psychogenic tremors. Neurological disorders may cause essential tremors. This video explains the difference between Parkinson’s and essential tremors. 

About Psychogenic Movement Disorders (PMDs) 

Here are some quick statistics about psychogenic tenors and PMDs: 

  • Psychogenic tremors are the most common psychogenic movement disorder
  • Up to 50% of PMD cases are psychogenic tremors 
  • Young women are most likely to be diagnosed with PMDs
  • People experiencing PMDs are more likely to have experienced childhood trauma 
  • PMDs are often linked to depression and PTSD

Types of Psychogenic Movement Disorders 

Although psychogenic tremors are the most common type of PMD, there are other types that differ slightly. Each type of movement disorder causes different involuntary movements. If you are experiencing unwanted movements, but wouldn’t call them “tremors,” you may still be experiencing a PMD. 

Psychogenic Dystonia

Psychogenic dystonia is a rather painful form of PMD, in which slow, involuntary muscle contractions force the body into strange positions or poses. Dystonia can also cause cramps or slow, rhythmic, twisting movements. 

Up to 5% of all dystonia cases are considered psychogenic dystonia. If you are experiencing these strange cramps, be sure to rule out all other causes of dystonia. 

Psychogenic Myoclonus 

Tremors look slightly different than ticks or twitches, which are quick movements. If you are experiencing this type of rapid movement, you may be experiencing psychogenic myoclonus. This condition may be linked to PTSD, as it can “trigger” fight-or-flight mode in the body quite easily. 

Psychogenic Parkinsonism

Psychogenic parkinsonism looks very similar to Parkinson’s disease. A person may experience shaking in the dominant hand, voice tremors, and other speech issues. If a person is displaying these symptoms but does not appear to have Parkinson’s, medical professionals may administer a placebo medication and treat the underlying causes of the disorder.

Psychogenic Gait Disturbances 

PMDs don’t just affect the hands or upper body. A person may feel that they’re going to fall or experience involuntary buckling in the knees. These symptoms, which also include a loss of balance, may be due to psychogenic gait disturbances. Again, a doctor will need to rule out problems with the inner ear or the brain before diagnosing a patient with a PMD. 

Are Psychogenic Tremors Permanent? 

Tremors may last up to a few minutes at a time, and they may not always be visible to witnesses who aren’t paying attention. 

Will You Always Have Psychogenic Tremors?

Because psychogenic tremors are caused by underlying mental health conditions, treating those conditions can reduce or eliminate tremors entirely. 

Reddit users in the YouShouldKnow subreddit left comments about their experiences with psychogenic tremors on a post. Many of these users only experienced tremors during the more stressful times of their lives: 

  • Had this happen to me a few years ago during a very stressful period. I started googling my symptoms and boy was that the wrong thing to do. I got everything from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, ALS… Worrying about all of this exacerbated the tremblings. At the time seeing a therapist was cheaper than running a series of tests with a doctor so I went to see one. They finally went away after a couple of weeks and haven’t come back since but it was terrifying.” 
  • Yep, can confirm. I experienced hand tremors at a previous job and had to go to therapy for PTSD after I finally escaped. It was a toxic and a terrible place to work. At least I wasn’t alone - a lot of people there were pushed to burnout and had breakdowns.”
  • “I saw so many damn doctors over a 2 year period but no one could give me a diagnosis. I chewed hydrocodone like it was candy, but it barely helped. I finally got better when I got adequate psychological treatment for the first time in years. About 6 months into treatment I mentioned that I felt physically well for the first time in 3 years. Psychologist said it was definitely a psychosomatic reaction to depression. The better I got mentally, the better I was physically. It's a few years later now and I've been symptom free.” 

How to Treat Psychogenic Tremors 

Since psychogenic tremors are caused by changes to mental health, addressing the mind is the best way to reduce or eliminate these tremors. Studies on psychogenic tremors show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can have a positive impact and reduce tremors. CBT allows people experiencing tremors to tap into their thought patterns and identify stressful thoughts or behaviors that may be linked to tremors. 

If you are experiencing tremors, talk to a doctor. Tremors may be psychogenic, but they could also be a sign of other physical health issues. Remember, psychogenic movement disorders are given this name because there are no other explanations for the movement. Before you speak to your doctor, rule out causes like: 

  • Fever
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Low blood sugar
  • Medication side effects
  • Neurological disorders

Likely, if you are experiencing tremors, your doctor will send you to a neurologist before you receive a diagnosis. If you believe that your tremors are due to stress or mental health, look for ways to reduce stress as medical professionals reach your diagnosis. 

Ways to Reduce Stress 

Looking for ways to reduce stress and the resulting physical symptoms? You can make positive changes throughout your day, for free, right where you are! 

Practice breathing, yoga, or meditation. Stress-relieving practices encourage you to take deep breaths and tell the body that you are safe. Even if yoga or meditation are not your preferred ways to relax, you can take some deep breaths to de-stress right now! Take a slow, deep breath while counting to five. Hold it for five, and then exhale slowly for a count of five. Hold it for five, and repeat. Try this 10 times in a row, with your eyes closed or focused on a certain point in the room. You’ll feel more relaxed! 

Get some sleep. The more sleep you get, the more your body will prepare for tomorrow. The less sleep you get, the more stressed you will become. It’s simple. Go to sleep! 

Journal about your experiences. What is stressing you out? Journaling can help you pinpoint the source of your stress. Take some time to write about how you are feeling and what is going on in your life. As you continue to journal, you may notice patterns that illuminate what is causing your stress. 
Talk to a mental health professional. A therapist can help you determine what is causing you stress and give you tools to reduce that stress. Whether you are stressed out by the weight of the world, disagreements with your family, or traumatic memories from the past, a mental health professional can help you work through what is going on in your life.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, October). Psychogenic Tremors (Anxiety). Retrieved from

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