Anxiety is a very common Parkinson's symptom caused by chemical changes in the brain. It is more common in Parkinson's than any other neurological disease. About 50% of people living with PD will experience some level of anxiety at some point. The most common type of anxiety problem that PD patients have is GAD, also called "overanxious disorder."
Anxiety generally presents as jitteriness, nervousness, or worry. Feelings of panic, fear, tension, or feeling keyed up are also signs of anxiety. Worry is common, especially for those newly diagnosed, but anxiety generally impacts your ability to function or complete daily activities.
Medication is generally the most common treatment and can significantly minimize the symptoms of anxiety. Not treating anxiety makes many of the other symptoms related to Parkinson's even more severe. This can have a domino effect for any other symptoms, including depression, tremor, and overall well-being.
According to John M. Vine, author of A Parkinson's Primer, "Anxiety encompasses feelings that range from the feeling that something will go wrong (a mild form of anxiety) to a phobia or a panic attach (an acute form of anxiety) that causes the patient to have a rapid heartbeat, to tremble, and to perspire. Parkinson's patients often find that they are anxious, nervous, or agitated in situations that would not have bothered them before they were diagnosed. Anxiety is almost as prevalent as depression among Parkinson's patients. It is estimated that 25% to 40% of Parkinson's patients have, at some point during the course of the disease, significant anxiety disorders, such as phobias about going out in public or being in crowded places."
In addition to medication, there are also other strategies to consider when trying to manage anxiety. They include:
Practicing Relaxation Techniques - such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or listening to music/nature sounds - whatever brings you relaxation.
Reduce TV/Violent Video Games/Negative News - watching events that bring you angst can create tension and worry. Choose what you watch on TV or social media carefully, consider reading a book or playing a game.
Laugh - Laughter really can be the "best medicine." What makes you laugh? Watch funny videos or read comical books. Engage with friends and family that make you laugh!
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that individuals with anxiety hold distorted thoughts. CBT aims to provide a structured approach to help people identify the thoughts that contribute to emotional discomfort and replace them with more empowering choices.
Nutrition: How we eat and making smart nutritional choices has been proven to impact anxiety. Proper nutrition impacts the effectiveness of medication. It alleviates symptoms of Parkinson's by helping your body more efficiently, giving you more energy, therefore countering anxiety and increasing overall well-being.
Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's. Every Victory Counts, Your Go-To-Resource of Essential Information and Inspiration for Living Well with Parkinson's. Pages 59-60. "Manual." Sixth Edition, 2021.
Vine, John M. A Parkinson's Primer: An Indispensable Guide to Parkinson's Disease for Patients and Their Families. Anxiety. Pages 38-39. Paul Dry Books. 2017.