Performing a surgery or extracting tissue from your experimental animal, when you are a beginner, can set you off with involuntary trembling. Strong dyskinesia symptoms appear out of nowhere. The shaking can hinder your otherwise flawless execution of the task. And yes, it’s irritating that it occurs precisely at the moment when you need your fine motor skills the most.
If you’re one of us, the shaky scientists, keep on reading.
You’re not alone. Many facing this kind of procedure have gone through this experience, at least I certainly have. Keep in mind that these task-specific tremors are the result of the adrenaline talking. Stressful situations trigger adrenaline release as part of the “fight or flight” response: even though you’re not running for your life, your body seems to think otherwise, pumping blood to your extremities and increasing your heart rate.
So, what can be done to tackle this challenge and not let the jitters demoralize you?
Learn about your model
Take the time to study your animal model. Get familiar with its biology and habits to make the interaction easier. Deeper knowledge of its behavior will sharpen your ability to detect and act in certain situations. This will also increase your self-confidence.
Internalize your protocol
Read and study your protocol beforehand. It might sound silly, but remember that, during stressful situations, the most obvious steps and movements are easily blurred.
Visualize and rehearse
Recreate the scenario. Imagining yourself doing the task before you actually do it will prepare you mentally and physically for the procedure. You will react faster and it will make your movements easier when you have your hands on the bench. This visualization technique has also improved athletes’ performance!
Be rested, hydrated, and eat well. Have a good night’s sleep and, although you might lose your appetite due to anxiety, provide your body with the necessary fuel to run through the task without entering an emergency state. Remember that dehydration can facilitate the appearance of tremors and cramps. Coffee? Yes, it is every scientist’s best friend, but overdosing can increase shakiness.
Get the material ready
Minimize the wrong type of improvisation. Prepare your tools, solutions and working space in advance. Label clearly whatever needs to be labeled; you can color-code to make the handling easier. Check for any equipment malfunctions to avoid unpleasant surprises. Problem anticipation will reduce stress levels during the procedure.
Organize your tools
Arrange and sort your tools out in a logical order before you start the procedure. By placing them at comfortable, reachable distances, you will reduce unnecessary movements and distractions. This will save you time and will make it easier for you to concentrate only on your performance.
Find your own way to relax. How to lower your anxiety levels “on the spot” is very personal; you should find what works best for you. Some people find it useful to jog in place, others sing or listen to music. In any case, stop the ongoing hyperventilation process by taking long and deep breaths.
Practice, practice, practice
If you’re lucky, the tremor will go away after repeating the procedure a few times. If not, it will definitely decrease over time by practicing. You will learn to control shakiness during the crucial steps, and might even learn to take advantage of it!
Don’t think about it!
Finally, thinking about shaking will just make you shakier. Try to focus on something pleasant – you can even try a short visit to your “happy place” before you start.