7 ways Parkinson’s patients and caregivers can reduce stress

Stress management is key to avoiding an exacerbation of Parkinson's symptoms

Jamie Askari avatar

by Jamie Askari |

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Stress! Life is full of it, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Although stress is our body’s natural reaction to dealing with a difficult situation, it doesn’t feel very natural.

There are many types of stress that we encounter daily. Some stressors are considered big, such as a move, a death in the family, surgery, or a new job or school. Smaller stressors may include a rude interaction with a stranger, an extended wait time at the doctor’s office, or even the wait on hold to speak to a human. (Unfortunately, we’ve all been there!)

Stress and Parkinson’s disease are not a great combination; think oil and water. I know this firsthand, as my husband, Arman, was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease at age 38. During times of stress, big or small, his symptoms are exacerbated, and he’s more fatigued than usual.

Not only can stress aggravate symptoms, but some researchers believe it may accelerate disease progression. Since his diagnosis in 2009, for example, Arman has had several surgeries, which I consider major stressors. Looking back at his rotator cuff surgery, Duopa (carbidopa and levodopa) PEG-J tube placement, and deep brain stimulation surgeries, I realize he’s experienced subtle increases and changes in his symptoms after each one.

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Mental health is as important as physical health in your care plan

Stress management with Parkinson’s

But how can we eliminate stress from our lives? Is that even an attainable goal? For some, it might be. (Lucky you!) But for the majority of us, it’s truly an impossibility.

So how can I reduce my stress as a caregiver? How can I help reduce my husband’s stress? Following are seven easy strategies that have worked for us.

1. We try to stay active, both together and apart. Arman does his afternoon workout while I cook dinner. I enjoy my Pilates classes several times weekly. Together, we walk in the park near our home.

2. We laugh often. We laugh at Parkinson’s, at old movies, with our kids, with our siblings and parents, and at ourselves. Laughter is so important!

3. We look for joy in the small things. I highly recommend this column for ideas!

4. We learned about the importance of a good night’s sleep when our children were babies. A predictable sleep schedule is essential to the body and mind.

5. We simplify life. “A cluttered home is a cluttered mind,” my mom taught me as a child. I strive to keep our home a tidy place where Arman can maneuver safely.

6. We practice deep breathing. I use the box breathing technique, which involves four steps of breath, each to a count of four: one step is breathing in, another is holding your breath, another is exhaling, and another is holding your breath again. I’ve found this technique works quickly when I feel overwhelmed.

7. We limit stressful encounters. It’s not always easy, but I do my best to minimize time spent in overwhelming situations.

In our family, I do my best to ease my husband’s stress by taking it on myself. I often say, “It’s Arman’s world; I just live in it.” I try to bear the weight as much as possible so he can relax and not worry. I also depend on our friends and family to help lessen the stress we face. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by people who actively try to make our lives easier.

Whether your stressors are big, small, or both, they tend to be magnified when you add chronic illness to the mix. Finding ways to reduce and manage stress is crucial. Perhaps practicing box breathing a few times a day is all you need to take the edge off. Happy breathing!

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.


Sheila levine avatar

Sheila levine

Tried this breathing suggestion and have found it helps. Thank you

Jamie Askari avatar

Jamie Askari

Hi Sheila! I am glad that you have found success with the breathing, I find it very helpful as well. Thanks for reading!

Jeff Hill avatar

Jeff Hill

This is so true. At the time of diagnosis in 2016 my greatest sources of stress came from work. Mind you, prior to Parkinson's I found work stress to be positive. I viewed it as a challenge to overcome, a problem to be solved, and felt rewarded when successful. However with Parkinson's the feelings changed. I felt over-whelmed, debilitated and heavily fatigued. I engaged my employer to develop a long term plan to find my successor, and transitioned to retirement in 2019. Retirement is way less stressful, and I'm happy with how it's all worked out.

Jamie Askari avatar

Jamie Askari

Hi Jeff! I am glad that you were able to receive some of your stress by retiring. Adding PD to a stressful career can be a real challenge. Thank you for reading!

Joseph Joe Saxman avatar

Joseph Joe Saxman

It feels like there are as many stressor's as there are ideas. I find it difficult to identify only a couple, as I have many stressors in my life. My primary stress comes from my physical health. Up to the point of being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, I had the run of the mill problems, knee surgery both knees, too much softball, every day ache and pains, nothing significant. Since my diagnosis of PD (2014), it seems like my whole body is coming apart. I have had to have my neck fused with screws and other hardware from my 2nd cervical vertebrae to the 1st Thoracic vertebrae. Two lumbar spine surgeries; my COPD which I have had for a number of years (even though I quit smoking) went from a Category 2 to a category 5 now after a stint in a hotel hot tub. Seems the hot tub wasn't properly cleaned and it harbored a virus, which I got. My PTSD from Southeast Asia has become difficult to manage all of a sudden. A pulmonologist put Zephyr Valves in my lungs last year to help with my breathing. Since January of this year, I have had hemoptysis. I have had every type of x-ray including an MRI with contrast (dye injected into your veins)in March of this year(surgery to remove the valves is scheduled). In April I developed irregular heart rhythm which ended up in getting a pacemaker. I also herniated my back this year. Those are my stressors and I am still trying to figure out what is the best therapy for me. Every Dr. wants to push drugs, and I don't care for that. My PTSD medication is enough to choke a horse. If I have a saving grace, it is my belief in the Lord. He is always there when I need Him the most. When my anxiety gets the best of me I focus on my breathing. I am just now getting to not having anxiety reactions when my wife has to take me to town, this has been a positive step to say the least. And yes, depression is also a problem. But at 76, what do you have to look forward too?

Jamie Askari avatar

Jamie Askari

Hi Joseph! It sounds like you have had a significant amount of stress and medical issues to contend with. I hope you find some stress relief soon! Thanks for sharing, and I appreciate you reading!


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