Just as there are things we should do to help us manage the stress that a diagnosis such as Parkinson’s disease or any other chronic illness brings, there are behaviors that we need to avoid.
Avoid self-destructive ways of reducing stress. Sometimes it is easy to find yourself turning to negative habits when faced with a stressful situation. Smoking, alcohol, drugs both prescribed and recreational may provide short-term relief but they only serve to mask feelings of distress and don’t allow one to face problems with a clear and focused mind. Unfortunately this type of addictive behavior is also a potential side effect of dopamine agonists, a group of medications commonly used to treat PD. There is always a high risk that ultimately using these outlets may lead to dependence and addiction which then adds another set of issues that must be addressed and overcome.
Avoid allowing stressful circumstance to affect your self-identity. Know that you are so much more than your disease. You are not defined by your circumstances, your disease, your relationship or your finances. You are a parent, a spouse, a friend, a confidante. You have so much more to offer the world and so much more to be grateful for – focus on those positive aspects of life. Internalizing and defining yourself by your disease will not allow you to effectively deal with the situation. It also leads to a lot of negative internal dialogue and poor self-esteem.
Avoid distracting yourself with busyness. We sometimes overschedule ourselves in an effort to avoid dealing with our diagnosis finding it easier drowning ourselves in work or family responsibilities than facing the reality of our disease. But sometimes the best way to face the stress that life can bring is not to busy ourselves but to counteract it with activities that bring you peace of mind. Do what you enjoy on a regular basis – read, listen to music, take a walk, garden, watch a movie, spend time with friends and family or whatever else brings you joy. By scheduling some sort of relaxing activity into your daily schedule, you will have a greater sense of well - being and will be better able to cope with stressful situations.
Don’t isolate yourself. For some it is a natural reaction to shut down and build up a wall as a defense mechanism but this can be self-destructive. Of course everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to disclosure and only you know when is the right time to tell those in your support system - sharing your burden with friends, co-workers and family that you trust. But when you are ready, this can serve a number of purposes. Venting to someone understanding can often release a certain amount of mental tension that you’ve otherwise internalized. In fact you may find that what you see as an insurmountable problem is actually not as unique as you believe it to be and that you may be able to learn from others’ similar life experiences. Finally conversations and the company of others may help distract from the problems at hand for a short time until you are ready to deal with those issues.
Don’t add to your stress. This disease, its progressive nature, symptoms and difficulties with treatment are stressful enough. And since stress worsens our symptoms, initiating a vicious cycle, avoiding other known stressful situations is the best approach. Of course one cannot completely avoid it but there are ways of minimizing your exposure. First of all learn what your limitations are and don’t take on more projects or responsibilities than you can handle from a commitment point of view. Also if there are certain people that only bring negative energy into your life, perhaps are not understanding of your situation and that you find yourself feeling anxious around, then minimize the time you spend with them or avoid them entirely if possible. Try and steer clear also of topics or situations that you know stress you out. And keep your daily responsibilities at home, work and socially as balanced as possible.