Managing Stress by Expecting the Unexpected

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by Dr. C |

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Travel beyond our homes is eerie right now with the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic. We feel as if we’re living a dystopian sci-fi film, with people in masks and gloves waving apocalyptic messages from the World Health Organization and U.S. federal and state governments.

My immune system isn’t like it was when I was younger. I wear gloves for every outing. I wash my hands and apply antibacterial solutions. But you just can’t prepare for every possibility when traveling halfway across the continent. Expect the unexpected and the stress is more manageable.

Sitting for more than two hours is difficult for me. My muscles become rigid and painful. I resemble the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” Changing positions and making slight movements can ease the discomfort.

The first leg of our flight was great. I had lots of room due to a shortage of passengers. After switching planes for the second leg of the trip, I was in the middle seat. Despite the availability of other seating accommodations, a very large person decided to sit next to me in the aisle seat.

I ended up draping myself over my partner. I focused on a lot of calming breath work. It’s not like I can spend weeks in an airplane cabin simulator learning how to be at peace with a body that makes a lot of noise. Expect the unexpected.

I’m approved for medical marijuana use by my providers at home. I find it useful for pain management as it helps to reduce rigidity and addresses pain receptors. When deciding to relocate, we chose the Illinois side of the St. Louis metropolitan area because marijuana is legal there for both medical and recreational purposes.

Recreational access was important because it will take time to get approved for medical marijuana after I establish residency. Federal law says I can’t transport this medication across state borders — even for medical purposes. So, we had to find a dispensary in Illinois during our house-hunting trip.

Because we had made our plans and reservations two months in advance, we anticipated the weather would be warmer there as it usually is this time of year. We thought the dispensary “experience” would allow access quickly and efficiently, much as we have back home.

Instead, it was a four-hour wait in 40-degree weather with a brisk wind and only two fleece jackets for outerwear. That was my partner handling the unexpected — waiting in line, surrounded by a hundred other folks.

Back in the car, I was battling pain surges — sternocleidomastoid attacks — every five to 10 minutes over those four hours. Then, in the middle of that, I really, really had to find a restroom. I didn’t know where I was, had never been there before, and felt like roadkill.

Looking out the car window across the parking lot, I saw a big sign: “Gateway Convention Center.” Should be a restroom there, I surmised. I found one women’s restroom, then two more women’s restrooms down the hall. I said to myself, “What? Where’s the men’s restroom?”

I’m all for what architects identify as “potty parity” in their design elements. Potty parity is calculating the number of available restrooms by anticipating how many women and men will access public facilities. I know the number of women in most public accommodations greatly outnumber the men. But there is a time when a man needs to do what a man needs to do!

Parkinson’s patients should not postpone their use of the restroom because of the additional discomfort that can happen when one tries to “hold it back for too long.” I was quickly approaching that critical impasse as I found three women’s restrooms and no men’s restrooms. Doubled over and dashing at the same time (quite a sight), I saw a male custodian and thought, “Please, let him know where the men’s room is.” He did.

There is no way to prepare for this sequence of events. The unexpected will happen. The best we can do is embrace the unexpected, as well as the challenges and the opportunities that come with adapting to new situations.

Studies have shown that people who experience anticipated stressors have fewer physiological reactions to those stressors than people who experience unanticipated stressors. For example, receiving electric shocks but not knowing when the shocks will be delivered will increase the stress reactions. The unexpected can ignite our fight-or-flight chemical maelstrom, pushing us close to the threshold.

The unexpected carries with it the unknown, a “cloud of unknowing,” a dissonance that drives demons into our desperation. Embracing the unexpected without a fear-based focus can decrease the effects of stress and shift the balance toward well-being and a positive outcome.

A positive outcome from our cross-country efforts: We found a home we really like. It was stressful but made easier by practicing brain therapy, including embracing the unexpected.


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 Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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