Avoidable Stress Can Worsen Dad’s Parkinson’s Symptoms

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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While I was home last Christmas, I had an argument with a loved one that caused tensions in the household to rise. The disagreement wasn’t with my dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. But I realized later, after speaking to him, that the situation had negatively affected him, too.

In fact, Dad often tells me about the negative impact that stress has on his Parkinson’s symptoms, which is one of the reasons he decided to retire from working in real estate. He doesn’t want to make the journey through Parkinson’s any harder than it already is.

Dad struggles with many life-altering symptoms, and escalating his stress intensifies that strife. For example, if a deal was going poorly, his tremors would worsen. If there’s unrest in the household, it isn’t long before he’ll have heart palpitations. His freezing episodes might worsen, and he could have trouble sleeping. Heaven knows, he hardly sleeps now!

Managing symptoms

Although stress is a common part of life, Parkinson’s patients say their symptoms worsen while under stress, according to the American Parkinson Disease Association. Symptoms include a fast heart rate, tremors, stiffness, and more. It’s no wonder that family tiffs have a big impact on my dad.

I’ve noticed that one reason Dad feels most comfortable in his home is because it causes the least amount of stress. He knows where everything is. He’s comfortable making his way to the living room as his medications wear off because he’s confident in his ability to predict what he might be able to lean on.

Additionally, COVID-19 is throwing a wrench in the lives of many Parkinson’s patients. In response, telemedicine is improving medical accessibility for many. But pandemic-related stress and anxiety remain high.

Contributing to the stress

I often feel helpless when it comes to easing my dad’s suffering. I offer him my shoulder when we need to walk across the house, and I volunteer to carry his coffee from the kitchen to the dining room. But until last Christmas, I hadn’t thought about how I might also be contributing to his stress.

Is it better to find ways to protect my dad from potential headaches? Or is it better to navigate my feelings with honesty every time? When I struggle at home, is there a way to leave him out of it? Or will he always receive the ripples of my experience?

These are the questions I ask myself when my dad tells me he’s stressed out. And I don’t know the answers. I do know that I’m always on the lookout for the easiest way to move forward in life. And if I can support him through this process, I will.

Navigating the suffering

According to an old Buddhist saying made popular by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” While exploring the impact of stress on the level of my dad’s suffering, I can’t help but wonder if there are things I could do differently to increase his quality of life. Is letting go of the suffering process part of that shift?


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.


Patricia avatar


Stress is a big factor in worsening symptoms even temporarily, I agree. But one of the challenges I find is to develop a mindful unattachment, let go, take a few deep breaths and let them out closely when tensions begins to build. It’s not easy because once the stress has taken hold it is extremely difficult to get back to some level of peace. Does he practice qigong, or tai chi? That helps me immensely.

Christine avatar


Stress seems to increase my husbands tremors and cause break through off-times. Getting ready to go somewhere, arguments, or impatience all seem to contributes to worsening symptoms.


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