Stress is defined as a state of emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Being diagnosed with a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease certainly lends itself to those circumstances. But in order to optimize our quality of life, we must learn techniques whereby we are able to cope with the stress that we face on a daily basis.
Try and identify specific stressors. Parkinson’s disease is a pervasive illness, manifests in many ways, is complicated in its treatment and affects many aspects of life. Therefore it is important to identify what aspect of the Parkinson’s experience is causing the most distress. You’re feeling stressed but is it your PD symptoms that are causing you to feel unwell or the side effects of your treatment or a decline in your physical or emotional state that is impacting your independence, occupation or relationships. More than likely it is multifactorial in nature but it is important to reflect and identify specifically what the source of your stress is. Once you are able to identify how this complex disease is affecting you then you are able to develop and implement appropriate solutions with the guidance and involvement of your medical team.
Practice extreme self-care to try and maintain a stress-free state of mind. Essentially this means leading a healthy lifestyle. Even if you don’t have control over your diagnosis, optimizing your health in all ways can increase your ability to cope with stress that the daily challenges that Parkinson’s disease presents. Exercise regularly as it helps to prevent stress and also reduce the levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) when they are released. Eat a healthy diet which helps maintain your weight, heart and lung health and bone density. Maximize your sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep routine and time, creating a space of relaxation and avoiding caffeine and exercise too close to bedtime.
Try to change your perspective. Sometimes life brings challenges that you may not be able to easily change such as your diagnosis. This sense of lack of control can bring a significant amount of stress unless you are able to accept the fact that although you may not have a choice in certain obstacles that present themselves, how you face those challenges is within your control. Ultimately you have the ability to choose how you are going to react to any situation. Being optimistic in the face of a chronic degenerative illness is not an easy choice but it truly is a choice nevertheless – a choice that will improve your life experience. Recognizing that often times we create a certain degree of internal stress because of how we view a situation, and that we therefore have the ability to determine our life experience through a change in perspective, can move us from a position of helplessness to one of true personal empowerment.
Seek medical attention if necessary. In some instances, the stress of chronic illness can cause significant physical and emotional difficulties. The fact is that depression and anxiety are far more common in the Parkinson’s population and you or your loved ones may notice that your anxiety level becomes overwhelming or your mood depressed. If this occurs it would be wise to consult a medical professional because there may exist an underlying clinical depression or anxiety disorder that could be exacerbating your reaction to the situation, not just stress alone. A clinically significant mood disorder may be best managed through appropriate medical intervention which may involve appropriate medications, cognitive or behavioral therapy or other types of professional counseling.
Learn healthy ways of coping with your stress. It is only natural to feel stressed with an illness that challenges you everyday so you must find ways to cope. There are many healthy options when it comes to stress management. Expend your pent up frustration through physical activities you enjoy such as walking, biking and so forth. Explore resources to help you develop coping strategies that are available to you – books, blogs, support groups either in person or virtual. There is a real comfort when you are able to share your concerns with others with the same life experience, who understand the difficulties that you have to deal with. Chronicle your frustrations in a diary. The process of writing can be cathartic and may put your issues into better perspective. And don’t forget to breathe. When you are stressed, the natural response is to hold your breath. Instead when you find yourself in that state of mind, focus on your breathing. This awareness is the basis of many relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, tai chi and yoga.