Updated: Feb 12
About 40% of people with Parkinson’s disease have been diagnosed with Anxiety. Anxiety and depression are thought to be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease as much as 20 years before diagnosis. Anxiety in PD is even linked with increased mortality. There are a few theories of how someone with Parkinson’s disease can develop anxiety. One theory is that it comes from the same underlying changes in the brain circuitry. Another theory is that Parkinson’s disease and anxiety share a common genetic risk factor.
What is an anxiety attack?
Anxiety attacks are also known as panic attacks. They usually start suddenly with a sense of severe physical and emotional distress. Sometimes there may be a trigger, specifically with Parkinson's disease medication "off" times. This could happen due to the chemical changes during your off time or the worry of not being able to function independently when your medication is not being effective. Anxiety attacks can last for a few minutes to an hour.
What does an anxiety attack feel like?
Common symptoms include:
Urge of overwhelming panic.
Heart palpitations or chest pain.
Feeling faint or dizzy like you are going to pass out.
Trouble breathing or tightness in your chest.
Hot flashes or chills.
Trembling or shaking.
Nausea or stomach cramps.
How to deal with anxiety attacks:
There are two main forms of treatment: Pharmacological and Non-Pharmacological.
Two common drugs prescribed are benzodiazepines and SSRIs.
Benzodiazepines can be helpful for people with anxiety, insomnia, or rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. Long-term use, especially in those that are elderly and frail is associated with negative side effects on alertness changes, cognition changes, gait changes, and an increased risk of falls. Benzodiazepines are not recommended for the elderly.
SSRIs are described by many people as “turning the volume down” on their anxious thoughts. They have been thought to help people participate and engage more in cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness. Side effects such as agitation, restfulness, diarrhea, insomnia, nausea, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and drowsiness may occur. SSRIs may worsen tremor.
Make sure you talk with your Movement Disorder Specialist about which option is best for you!
There are many forms of exercise that have been shown to be helpful with anxiety such as yoga, resistance training, and Tai Chi.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a common type of talk therapy. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thoughts and improve the way you feel.
There are many excellent psycho-therapists in the Albany/New York Capital District area. Talk with your movement disorder specialist on who would be the best fit for you!
Music Therapy is the clinical use of music to accomplish individualized goals such as reducing stress, improving mood and self-expression.
Email findMT@musictherapy.org to find a Music Therapist near you or speak with your movement disorder specialist.
Mindfulness and breath work
Daily 5-minute breath work and mindfulness meditation improve mood and reduce anxiety. Check out the videos below on different breathing exercises that have been supported by research.
Even though anxiety is common, it is not something that should be ignored. There are tangible and effective options that you have to improve your anxiety. When you feel anxious or panicked, keep track of it. Write down the time of day and how long you felt anxious for. Keep track of any activities, foods, medications, or events that were happening at that time. This information is extremely valuable to your movement disorder specialist and therapist to help determine any possible triggers and what treatment options are the best for you!