Stress & Parkinson’s Disease: How Mindfulness Can Help

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Parkinson’s Awareness Month is observed worldwide in the month of April. World Parkinson’s Day is on April 11th and commemorates the birth of James Parkinson in 1755 (267 years ago!). April is also National Stress Awareness Month and has been recognized since 1992.  

How might stress impact Parkinson’s Disease?

While the cause of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is largely unknown, increasing evidence points to stress as a possible risk factor in the development of the disease. It’s been postulated that prolonged emotional stress can trigger PD with increased loss of brain cells (neurons) in some brain regions. Although this idea has been contested, many authors of recent scientific publications have pointed to extreme psychological stress, emotional shock, and prolonged anxiety as risk factors in PD. It’s also been reported in the literature that it may not be the major life events themselves, but rather the individual’s coping mechanisms that play a role in how the stress may trigger symptoms. 

People who have high-stress jobs may have a greater risk for PD. Aside from the job titles that immediately come to mind, such as emergency workers and military, other jobs also carry high-stress. Those that work in jobs where the demands and stakes are high but where they have little control over how the job is carried out, also suffer from higher levels of stress as compared to high demand jobs with some control over the job processes and satisfactory or adequate input and support.

It is now generally accepted that stress has an impact on the symptoms of PD.

Health care providers have long suspected that stress worsens the symptoms of PD based on the reports of their patients. People with Parkinson’s report increased tremor, dyskinesia (uncontrolled movement), motor-off or freezing, and anxiety, among others. And recent published studies have confirmed that people with Parkinson’s report worsening symptoms under stress.

Mindfulness Can Help

Research shows that mindfulness practice is an effective coping skill for decreasing stress and evidence suggests that mindfulness as a complementary therapy may be effective in relieving some of the symptoms of PD.

Resilience to stress and the development of coping mechanisms are linked to less disability in PD and to a better-reported quality of life. 

At the Center For Mindfulness in Grand Rapids, Mindfulness training is offered in a group setting for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers. This setting provides a shared space of social support while we learn mindfulness skills and practice together.

We’d love to have you join us for the next 8-Week Mindfulness for Parkinson’s and Caregivers program on Mondays, April 18 – June 13 at 9:30 – 11:00 a.m. EST, Live on Zoom.

Our hope is that all people with Parkinson’s Disease are able to access these kinds of practices and find relief in symptoms and improved quality of life. It is a great joy to witness such a process in those we have worked with. 

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