a veteran is receiving therapy for parkinson's

I Feel Anxious ... Is That a Parkinson’s Symptom?

I feel anxious almost all the time and occasionally have anxiety attacks. Does Parkinson’s have anything to do with anxiety?

According to Johns Hopkins, "Research shows that up to 40 percent of Parkinson’s patients have anxiety. This is greater than the rate in people of the same age who don’t have Parkinson’s."1

The National Institute of Mental Health says, "An estimated 19.1 percent of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year ... An estimated 31.1 percent of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives."2

My anxiety was increasing

I have anxiety and it’s probably related to my having Parkinson’s. As I age and Parkinson’s progresses, I notice the anxious feelings occurring more frequently and lasting longer.

It’s a terrible feeling and I finally decided to try to ameliorate the impact on my quality of life. (Actually, I probably would have muddled on without the gentle pushing of my primary care physician and my family.)

Consulting a therapist

Therapy and medication are often prescribed for depression and anxiety.

I already take 13 different prescriptions that have to be closely monitored for interactions. More drugs was not an attractive proposition. Not the best decision process but ... I decided to consult a psychologist.

I’ve never been involved in therapy before and found the process rather fascinating. I’d always thought therapy would involve trolling around in my past and things that happened in my formative years.

Instead, I found myself in a Veterans Administration program aimed at changing how anxiety affects me and how I deal with it. (The same type of programs are available in the civilian world.)

I’ve always felt my parents expectations of a perfection level that I never could attain was a source of my depression and anxiety. That seemed to be a logical starting point to me but my therapist asked me to hold that thought for later.

Diary keeping and discussion

I won’t bore you with specifics. The long and short of the process was keeping a diary of my unhealthy thoughts and identifying the type of thoughts (a handout helped).

The process then turned to ways to, once you you could see your negative thoughts, try out various coping mechanisms to either stop the negative thoughts or to lessen their duration and impact.

A major factor in depression and anxiety is too much time playing "shoulda/wooda/couldas." My way of changing those thoughts was to acknowledge that you can’t change the past, but you can use the past as a way to look at how you would, based on what you did or didn’t do, change your future actions.

The next process was talking through how to view negative thoughts as an avenue to find positive actions. Easier said than done! A work in progress!

Trying out coping skills

The next part of the process was to try out various coping skills that break negative thinking. For example, take 3 or 4 deep breaths. Deep breathing is not an autonomous action.  You have to think about doing it. That thought can stop the negative thoughts. If that doesn’t work, try a cycle of tensing each muscle and relaxing it.

My therapeutic path has been a little like learning to ride a tricycle then graduating to learning how to ride a bicycle with training wheels and then ride the bike. The time between sessions gradually increased until we agreed not to have anymore scheduled sessions but with the proviso that I can always call for a tune up.

Remember that parental perfection expectations thing? With my new bag of coping skills and understanding this thing I’ve been dragging around forever is no longer relevant, I’m comfortable relegating perfection to the back burner.

Is my anxiety completely gone? No, but I now have the tools to deal with it. Time will tell.

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