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.
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.