Living Well with Parkinsons Disease

Dancing in the Rain: Lessons Learned on my Personal Journey with PD (more at Copyright 2013-20 Sheryl Jedlinski

Stress aggravates Parkinson’s symptoms

Woman - Worried 3

By Sheryl Jedlinski

Coming to grips with the last months of my Dad’s life and struggling to accept the loss of all that he meant to me left me feeling like I’d been run over by a convoy of trucks. While the death of a parent is a major stressor in anyone’s life, it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for those already struggling with the day-to-day challenges of a progressive, incurable disease, like Parkinson’s.

Emotionally and physically exhausted, I wept on and off for weeks, causing me to wonder whether the excessive loss of fluid could precipitate dehydration. A quick check with the all-knowing Dr. Google and I was able to strike this worry from my list, although I immediately replaced it with another after reading that migraines and tension headaches may be triggered by crying caused by sadness and stress.

Keeping up with my exercise plan, eating right, and getting enough sleep became impossible, weakening my ability to fight off the ravages of stress, anxiety, and depression. My Parkinson’s motor symptoms– normally under control –­ worsened daily. Often my meds lasted less than half the usual time, forcing me to trade in my walking sticks for a wheelchair for a few hours at a time.

All I could think about was what if my heightened stress levels permanently accelerated my disease progression, and made my symptoms irreversible. Knowing that exercise has been shown to improve Parkinson’s symptoms, mood, and quality of life should have been enough to silence these thoughts, but it was not. I finally called my movement disorders specialist (MDS) to be the arbiter of reason. She promised that my symptoms would return to normal when I reduced my anxiety and got back into my regular exercise and sleep routines. She had me stay the course with my drug regimen and allow the passage of time to drive the healing process. Although I had my doubts, I am slowly but surely regaining my balance, leg strength, and walking abilities.

Just as we all have our unique set of Parkinson’s symptoms, we all cope with stress in our own ways. As issues arise that increase stress and anxiety, you will need to experiment to determine what works best for you. Here are some things you can try:

  • Stay involved with friends and family. This can help you maintain a positive attitude, which influences Parkinson’s effect on you.
  • Pursue fun activities to distract you from thinking about your illness.
  • Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. This can help you continue to enhance your enjoyment and quality of life.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself. Laughter has been shown to release chemicals in the brain which help lift spirits.
  • Participate in support groups to share feelings with people you know and trust.
  • Try Tai Chi and yoga to learn techniques (i.e. controlled breathing) to manage stress.
  • Find things to be grateful for each day instead of dwelling on losses in your life.


7 comments on “Stress aggravates Parkinson’s symptoms

  1. Karen Handler
    June 25, 2018

    God bless that positive attitude!

  2. Suzi
    June 25, 2018

    Your strength amazes me…. after losing my dad it was a difficult thing to go through and I wasn’t even sick ! Blessings to you my cousin … I hope the boys are having fun up in heaven!

  3. Ed Miville
    June 26, 2018

    Thank you Sheryl for what to me is a timely post. I have been dealing with the negative effects of stress on my Parkinson’s symptoms for months while only recently connecting the two. The identification of an external factor, stress, on my day to day fluctuations of balance, freezing gait, falls, dyskinesias, and on-off periods gives me hope that I can devise strategies to combat these bothersome symptoms.

  4. Louis Guagenti
    June 26, 2018

    I am grateful for you and the advice you provide. My RLS symptoms increase with stress, which causes me to shun excercise which increases the symptoms and stress more, which makes the whole treacherous cycle gain strength like a negative hurricane.

  5. Stacey
    June 28, 2018

    I lost my 20 year old son and brother in Dec/Jan. Its been a real struggle however your story gives me hope. Thank You

    • mydancingintherain
      June 28, 2018

      So very sorry for your loss. Our children are not supposed to go before us, but sometimes they do. It is best not to look for answers where there are none, but to carry on our good works in their name. I wish you peaceful thoughts, my friend, as we make our way out of the darkness.

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