While neurogenic tremor has been used in various therapeutic modalities for many years, including Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), Bioenergetic Analysis, Somatic Experience, and Fitzmaurice Voicework, and some research has been conducted in recent years, much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and effects of neurogenic tremor.
In order to become a licensed psychologist, Jonas Nordstrom, the creator of Wabing, is pursuing his second doctorate, this time in clinical psychology. In preparation for his dissertation, he wrote a literature synthesis of six scientific research articles on the effects of neurogenic tremor.
CLICK HERE to read the entire paper “Literature Synthesis on Neurogenic Tremor.”
Stress and the Autonomic Nervous System
Porges (2011, as cited in Thommesssen & Fougner, 2020) explains how stressful situations activate the autonomic nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze response. When this occurs, Berceli (2008, 2009) describes how the brain sends signals to the body, as a part of the startle response, to contract the various muscles involved in moving into a fight-or-flight position. For instance, this includes slightly bent knees, a tightened psoas muscle to facilitate hip flexion, and an activated trapezius muscle to protect the cervical spine. Collectively, this posture enables you to move more quickly and smoothly than you would if you attempted to move with your legs extended and no hip flexion.
Thommesssen and Fougner (2020) explain how unresolved stress can result in chronic tension that persists long after the stressful event has passed. According to Berceli (2008, 2009), this is because the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis remains activated, signaling to the brain that the threat or stress remains, causing the body to remain tense and alert.
Neurogenic tremor, according to trauma expert Dr. Robert Scaer (2001), is an automatic brainstem response triggered to complete and discharge the fight-flight-freeze mechanism. According to Kollwitz (2016), these tremors are generated by the Golgi tendon organ reflex, which works in conjunction with muscle spindles to inhibit and activate motor neurons. When the tendon becomes too tight, the Golgi receptors stop the spinal cord motor neurons, resulting in muscle relaxation.
Berceli (2008, 2009) and Scaer (2001) propose that nature evolved neurogenic tremor to deactivate the HPA axis, relieve tension, and restore the body and the nervous system to homeostasis. As evolution developed the fight-flight-freeze response to deal with stress and adversity, they argue nature should have evolved a function to calm the nervous system afterward, which they believe could be the neurogenic tremor.
Summary of the Findings from the Six Research Article
What appears to be consistent across all six articles, regardless of whether the findings are from a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed research study, is that participants who used neurogenic tremor appeared to progress from recovery to resilience, and as self-awareness increased, largely as a result of initiating a recovery process, so did self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-compassion, as shown below.
Figure 1. From Recovery and increased Self-awareness to Resilience.
In terms of recovery, Heath and Beattie (2019), Kollwitz (2016), Lynning et al. (2021), and Talvinen (2017) demonstrate how neurogenic tremor reduces the nervous system’s stress response, resulting in participants feeling more relaxed, calm, and at ease, as well as improved sleep and digestion. While Heath and Beattie (2019) and Lynning et al. (2021) also discovered that participants felt less pain and discomfort, Heath and Beattie (2019) and Talvinen (2017) demonstrated improvement in trauma and PTSD healing.
It appears that a critical component of the recovery process, and a natural process as self-awareness grows, is that participants become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, as well as, in some cases, process unresolved past memories. Thommessen and Fougner (2020) and Kollwitz (2016), for example, reported increased self-awareness of the body and mind, including increased awareness of actions and thoughts, while Heath and Beattie (2019) described it as feeling more at ease and at home in one’s body.
As the recovery process progresses and self-awareness improves, Kollwitz (2016) and Thommessen and Fougner (2020) describe how neurogenic tremor helps people process and let go of emotional negativity such as fear and anxiety, which in turn also seems to improve their performance and sense of being prepared and in control. These factors, along with the report of better capacity to deal with adversity demonstrated by Berceli et al. (2014) and Kollwitz’s (2016) report of increased self-regulation, suggest that participants’ resilience is enhanced.
Hand in hand with resilience strengthening, self-esteem, self-compassion, and self-confidence also appear to improve. For instance, while Berceli et al. (2014) indicated that consistent use of neurogenic tremor leads to increased self-esteem and confidence in one’s ability to cope with stress, Talvinen (2017) showed that compassion for self and others increases, and Heath and Beattie (2019) noted that one also feels more self-sufficient and motivated.
Finally, Thommessen and Fougner (2020) demonstrated that neurogenic tremor can improve not only performance under pressure, but also the quality and efficiency of skills training. This is also supported by Kollwitz’s (2016) findings, which indicate that participants’ reduction in performance anxiety enhances both performance and performance enjoyment.
Berceli, D. (2008). The revolutionary trauma release process: transcend your toughest times. Canada: Namaste Publishers.
Berceli, D. (2009). Evaluating the effects of stress reduction exercises employing mild tremors: a pilot study [dissertation]. Arizona State University.
Berceli, D., Salmon, M., Bonifas, R., & Ndefo, N. (2014). Effects of self-induced unclassified therapeutic tremors on quality of life among non-professional caregivers: A pilot study. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 3(5), 45-48. 10.7453/gahmj.2014.032
Heath, R, & Beattie, J. (2019). Case report of a former soldier using TRE (Tension/Trauma Releasing Exercises) for post-traumatic stress disorder self-care. Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health.
Kollwitz, M. (2016). Breath, tremoring, and performance anxiety: How can Fitzmaurice Voicework’s Destructuring address performance anxiety in undergraduate acting training? Voice & amp; Speech Review, 10(2-3), 100-120. 10.1080/23268263.2016.1349726
Lynning, M., Svane, C., Westergaard, K., Bergien, S. O., Gunnersen, S. R., & Skovgaard, L. (2021). Tension and trauma releasing exercises for people with multiple sclerosis – An exploratory pilot study. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 11(5), 383-389. 10.1016/j.jtcme.2021.02.003
Scaer, R. (2001). The body bears the burden: trauma, dissociation and disease. New York: Hawthorn Press.
Talvinen, H. (2017). The effects of TRE-method on stress relief. Pilot study for employees of psychiatric work at Kuopio Psychiatric Center and Julkula Hospital (translated via Google Translate). Savonia University of Applied Sciences.
Thommessen, C. S., & Fougner, M. (2020). Body awareness in acting – a case study of TRE as a supporting tool for drama students’ personal and professional development. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 11(4), 434-452. 10.1080/19443927.2019.1694971
Torres de Almeida, J., & Rodrigues, G. O. (2021). The TRE process improves HRV and psychophysiological stress in university students. Unpublished manuscript.