Emotional and spiritual wellbeing

Parkinson’s is generally thought of as a physical condition but it commonly affects the mind and emotional wellbeing too.

Mood changes are thought to affect around 50% of people with Parkinson’s, in particular anxiety and depression. There is increasing acceptance that your state of mind and how you feel will influence how Parkinson’s affects you, including the severity of symptoms. Stress for example is directly related to tremor – if you are stressed tremor tends to worsen whereas if you are relaxed it generally reduces.

Feeling down, anxious or depressed can certainly affect quality of life so keeping a positive attitude and finding ways to cope with such feelings will play a big part in how you live well with Parkinson’s. Whilst it is easy to feel overwhelmed and simply accept the way you feel, there are lots of things you can do to take control of your feelings, look after your emotional wellbeing and influence how Parkinson’s affects you.

How can I maintain emotional wellbeing?

The most important thing is to try to stay positive and there are lots of things you can do to help with this:

  • Educate yourself about Parkinson’s, its cause and treatment. Being informed generally helps you to feel more in control.
  • Take an active role in managing your condition.
  • Keep doing the activities you enjoy if possible. Research has shown that keeping active can improve mood.
  • Exercise regularly as this too improves mood. Swimming, walking and cycling are low-impact sports that can be done alone or with a friend.
  • Try to ensure you get enough sleep – for tips on good sleep hygiene see Sleep.
  • Pace yourself – know and accept your limitations and accept that these may change over time.
  • Try to stay relaxed. Complementary therapies such as yoga, Tai Chi or meditation may help.
  • Learn to recognise triggers that negatively impact your mood – alcohol and caffeine are often culprits
  • Accept help when you need it.
  • Contact your local Parkinson’s organisation or other support groups.

There are also many techniques and treatments available to support emotional wellbeing. Each person will respond to these in different ways so talk with your doctor if you think you need help and he or she will be able to advise.

Relaxation

Relaxation techniques can be very effective in freeing the mind of unhelpful emotions and keeping a positive mood. These include therapies such as massage, meditation, acupuncture, breathing techniques, yoga, aromatherapy and Tai Chi. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new therapy to make sure that it is safe for you to do so. For more information on these see Complementary Therapies.

Counselling

Talking about your worries with close friends or family will often help to overcome negative feelings. You will be able to share experiences and feelings, and explore solutions.

If you prefer to talk to a professional counsellor, discuss this with your doctor. Individual counselling can help you recognise worries and underlying issues, and work out a strategy to deal with them. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a counsellor, psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist. Sometimes it may be useful if your partner or carer is included in consultations.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), either in a group or individually, may help. This therapy confronts thoughts or behaviours that negatively affect emotional wellbeing. Your therapist will help you learn to change such thoughts or behaviours so that they are no longer ‘unhelpful’.

Medication and mood

If you experience mood swings then talk to your doctor as these may be related to your medication. Altering your medication regime may help.

Your doctor may also discuss whether antidepressant medications might help. A wide range are available, and the choice will depend on their benefits and side effects, how they interact with other medications and your individual needs. Always follow the advice your doctor gives you with regard to antidepressants.

Click on the following links for information and suggestions on how to overcome common Parkinson’s symptoms that are directly related to emotional wellbeing:

Spiritual wellbeing

Spirituality is a very personal matter and something we each feel differently about.

There are many definitions of spirituality. In broad terms spirituality is to do with deep feelings and beliefs – both religious and non-religious – and often this involves questions about who we are and why we exist, or the meaning and purpose of life. It involves many factors such as morals and principles, ethics and values, one’s connection to others or relationships with them, and a sense of belonging. It is believed that when we are spiritually healthy our inner selves can be in harmony with the world around us, even when we are under emotional, mental or physical stress. 

Often ‘spirituality’ is confused with the structures of formal, organised religion. Whilst ‘spirituality’ is central to a wide range of faiths, it is not found exclusively within faith communities. It extends across all faiths and creeds and is at the same time a deeply personal matter. It can be a part of everyone, irrespective of whether or not they believe in God or a higher power.

Why are spirituality and spiritual wellbeing important?

Spirituality is of increasing interest to psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals because of the potential health benefits spiritual wellbeing can bring. 

By spiritual wellbeing we generally mean 'a sense of good health as a whole person and as a unique individual'. This is a process of growth and development, often over a long period of time, as we learn to feel at ease with who we are and to fulfil our potential as individuals, as human beings. Good spiritual health can bring with it a sense of inner peace and comfort.

There are a wide range of spiritual practices and activities which can promote and enhance wellbeing, such as belonging to a faith community, symbolic or ritual practices, meditation, prayer, retreat, pilgrimage, reading scripture, playing or listening to sacred music, Tai Chi, yoga, group activities which involve the fellowship of participants, and engaging with and enjoying the arts and nature. 

Some of the recognised benefits of engaging in such practices are:

  • an awareness and fostering of values such as patience, honesty, kindness, hope, wisdom, joy and creativity
  • enhanced confidence and self-esteem
  • improved relationships
  • a new sense of optimism about life, together with a sense of inner peace and acceptance of problems we face in life
  • faster recovery from illness or bereavement.

Spirituality and Parkinson’s

Being diagnosed with an illness such as Parkinson’s can understandably challenge values and beliefs and affect our spiritual wellbeing. Such a life changing event can deepen or alter spiritual beliefs, as familiar pillars in our everyday life may no longer be the same and a period of readjustment can be required.

Spiritual strength can help provide a sense of hope for the future and a means of adapting to the way ahead. It can also help you to feel at ease with yourself, give you a new understanding of who you are, as well as the meaning and purpose of life and the world in which we live. 

You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings with others, so that they can help by listening, sharing thoughts and supporting you. Such support can strengthen you spiritually and can reinforce the relationships you have.

Who can help and how can I help myself?

Finding time for yourself is a very important aspect of emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Make sure that you have regular quiet time to contemplate, reflect and relax. Friends, family and your care team will provide important support, so talk to them.

There are many organisations that can help support you spiritually and emotionally, such as self-help groups, counsellors and religious organisations. Ask your care team for suggestions or you can look on the Internet or in your local library.

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