Stress Management for Living Better With PD
Someone once uttered the maxim, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” If we apply that notion to stress we could say, “Everybody talks about stress, but nobody seems to do anything about it.” This seems particularly true when Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients and their caregivers experience stress.
Stress is about more than wanting to escape the torment of a chronic illness. So often, I’ve wanted to yell at everyone because of the stress the illness places on just simply living in peace. Any internal or external event that triggers a shift away from my homeostasis can cause stress.
My book, “Possibilities with Parkinson’s: A Fresh Look,” was written from our perspectives on how to manage PD. In that book, I propose the idea of a Parkinson’s spectrum that includes homeostasis dysregulation, and avoid the outdated classic presentation of doom that progression will always lead to the end of a good life.
In the book, I propose the idea that improved self-management of stress with PD is possible. Parkinson’s stress is more than a fight or flight response because of the role the second dopamine center plays in moderating homeostasis.
The concept of homeostasis dysregulation can help us identify — and manage — the stressors that we experience with PD. The “flicker effect” can indicate that homeostasis is malfunctioning and may be the early biofeedback that stress is starting to take a toll. Scientific and medical research is ongoing and seems to support these ideas. Much of my writing cites these studies and discoveries as shifts in perspectives on how to think about stress and PD.
A study of 5,000 patients published in npj Parkinson’s Disease identified that people with PD experience more stress than those without this disease. High stress levels associate with a worsening of symptoms, and affect quality of life and self-compassion with the patient experiencing depression and continuously thinking about sad thoughts. Cognitive and communication difficulties, and heightened emotional symptoms such as anxiety, display more acutely under stress.
Stress is everywhere. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. The world is full of contagious drama. Relationships can become toxic with real or perceived unmet expectations. Toxic relationship fumes flood our lives and PD seems to tear off our protection, like a gas mask being ripped away. So many times we feel powerless to stop the external stressors, and we equate that powerlessness with not being able to do anything about its effects on a life with PD.
There are so many stress management techniques that nearly everyone should be able to find something to fit their needs. One helpful solution could be the relationship between PD patients and their support partnerships.
The support partnership is a crucial part of stress management. Mrs. Dr. C. and I have often explored the question, “How can we manage the stress in our lives?”
Managing stress is not about chasing those temporary feel-good sensations or experiences. Instead, it is about working as a team to find an answer. We spend time most every day checking in with each other, being available for each other, and staying focused on managing both of the lives that are under stress.
It has taken us years of stress management practice to shape a new way to live better with PD. It’s difficult to show up every hour of every day to do the mental, physical, and relationship work necessary to adapt to this disease. When one partner has PD, the other partner in the support relationship must manage the impact of those symptoms on two lives. It takes courage, determination, patience, and compassion to help maintain equilibrium.
We can’t avoid stress – though it would be wonderful if we could. Everyday life can be strained by both external and internal events. We can’t change the water heater that suddenly breaks, or overcome fatigue that drains our ability to attend to everything, or be OK about a sudden change in a schedule because something else demands our attention. All that stress is normal for most people and difficult for those of us with PD.
With a shift in perspective and new self-management tools, it is possible to manage stress better. The benefits of adapting and managing stress are as therapeutic for PD patients as any other treatment. We need our individualized approach to help us as patients (and our caregivers) manage those moments. And perhaps slow the progression of PD.
We still have days that are challenging, despite all the hard work. But we can see small improvements and that gives us hope.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.