Managing stress is an important part of living with Parkinson's Disease. Many people with PD notice that motor symptoms worsen during stress. Acute stress in people with PD may worsen motor symptoms such as freezing of gait, dyskinesias, and tremor. Chronic stress can increase the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.
A study published (by npj Parkinson’s Disease online journal) in 2019 titled “Stress and mindfulness in Parkinson’s disease — A survey in 5,000 patients”, examined which personal and disease characteristics are associated with perceived stress in PD, which PD symptoms are sensitive to stress, and self-reported benefits of stress-reducing strategies such as mindfulness.
The study found that stress ratings were correlated with increased rumination, lower quality of life, lower self-compassion, and lower dispositional mindfulness. Subjects perceived that stress significantly worsened both motor symptoms – especially tremor – and non-motor symptoms. Physical exercise was most frequently used to reduce stress (over 80%). Mindfulness practice was reported by 38.7% of PD respondents, who experienced improvement in both their motor and non-motor symptoms.
The study concludes that people with PD report greater levels of stress than controls, and that stress worsens both motor and non-motor symptoms. Mindfulness may improve PD symptom severity, with the strongest effects on anxiety and depressed mood.
What are the study take aways?
Mindfulness practice is an important tool for managing stress and is a strategy used by people with Parkinson’s disease to support daily function and improve mood.
Looking for simple mindfulness practices to help with stress?
Next time you find your mind racing with stress, try the acronym STOP:
S – Stop what you are doing, put things down for a minute.
T – Take a breath. Breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in and of your nose. Say to yourself “in” as you’re breathing in and “out” as you’re breathing out to help focus on the moment.
O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You can reflect about what is on your mind and also notice that thoughts are not facts and that they are not permanent. If a thought arises, just notice the thought, let it be, and return to focus on breathing. Notice any emotions that are there and just name them.
P – Proceed with something that will support you in the moment.
If you are experiencing difficult feelings and emotions, try the acronym RAIN:
Recognize what is going on
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is
Investigate with kindness
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience
Click here to learn more about RAIN meditation.