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.

For me this means focusing on the promise of new life, as I await the birth of my second grandchild, while enjoying watching my first come into her own. This motivates me to do all I can to stay in the best condition possible so I can be part of their lives. My Dad would expect nothing less of me.

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Read more of Sheryl’s humorous stories and helpful tips at

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