Anxiety

People with Parkinson's may experience anxiety including feelings of unease, such as worry or fear. But there are lots of things that can help.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety from time to time. It’s a natural reaction to situations we find threatening or difficult, like moving to a new house or money problems. Usually anxiety disappears when the situation changes, or if we get used to the situation or can move away from it. But some people become anxious for long periods of time and for no clear reason. This can make life difficult and may affect your work and social life.

If you feel anxiety is affecting your daily life, it’s important to get support from others as well as find things you can do to manage your symptoms of anxiety effectively. 

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It’s important to be able to recognise the symptoms of anxiety, so it can be treated as soon as possible.

People with anxiety may feel some of the following:

  • a sense of dread
  • constant worry
  • difficulty concentrating

You may also experience physical symptoms if you’re feeling anxious. These can include:

  • sweating
  • a pounding or racing heart (palpitations)
  • tightness of the chest or feeling breathless 
  • dizziness
  • trembling
  • indigestion, nausea and stomach cramps
  • looking pale
  • a dry mouth
  • muscle pain
  • restless legs and difficulty maintaining restful sleep

When anxiety carries on for a long time you may have feelings of hopelessness. These feelings may affect your ability to carry out everyday activities. 

Sometimes, you may have symptoms of depression as well as anxiety. Depression is more than temporary feelings of unhappiness or frustration. It’s usually diagnosed when someone has lasting feelings of extreme sadness for days, weeks or months.

Find out more: see our information on depression and Parkinson's
 

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There are three main types of anxiety, though these can overlap. Many people will experience more than one type.

Generalised anxiety disorder

This is when you experience excessive and uncontrollable worrying most of the time about everyday events in your life.

Panic attacks

These are short periods of sudden, intense feelings of fear. They often happen in situations that are likely to make you feel anxious. You may also have a racing heart, sweating and shortness of breath. Some people think these symptoms are very serious, and they rush to the hospital for help. A panic attack may last between five and 20 minutes. 

Phobia

This is when you feel frightened of something that’s not dangerous and would not usually make other people feel scared. For example, agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.
 

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For people with and without Parkinson’s, anxiety 
is likely caused by a combination of several factors, including imbalances in brain chemicals, genetics 
and stressful life events.

Any concerns you have about living with a long-term condition, such as Parkinson’s, may also cause anxiety. 

Some people with Parkinson’s have anxiety that happens when they’re ‘off’. When a person takes their medication, their symptoms will improve. But these symptoms can sometimes come back before the next dose is due, causing a person’s condition to fluctuate. This is called ‘wearing off’.

If your anxiety symptoms increase when your medication is wearing off before the next dose 
is due, talk to your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. Changes to your medication regime may improve your symptoms.

If you go ‘off’ and have difficulties moving, it can also make you feel anxious. You may find that when your movement symptoms are better controlled by medication, your anxiety improves. 

Even if you don’t have ‘on’ and ‘off’ periods, you may still have generalised anxiety if your Parkinson’s symptoms aren’t properly treated. Again, changes to your medication may help. 

Always speak to your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about any adjustments to your Parkinson’s medication. Remember, don’t stop taking your medication without talking to a healthcare professional, as this can be dangerous.

It’s particularly important to talk to your healthcare professional about your anxiety as, in some cases, it may make other symptoms of Parkinson’s worse. But getting help early can give you more control.

Lorraine's experiences of anxiety

"I've become aware of certain triggers over time, but all too often there's no apparent reason and there's still no telling when anxiety might strike."

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How can I manage my anxiety?

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Simple things like making time to relax can be helpful. Try doing things you enjoy, such as reading 
a book or listening to music. 

Diet

Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet. It can also help to avoid too much caffeine (found in tea, coffee and some fizzy drinks), and alcohol, especially late in the evening. These can make some of the physical symptoms of anxiety worse.

Find out more: see our information on diet and Parkinson’s.

Exercise

You can help combat stress and release anxiety through regular exercise, such as walking 
or swimming.

Yoga

Yoga is a gentle exercise that aims to improve flexibility, strength, balance and breathing. There is some evidence that yoga could help with anxiety and stress.

Tai chi 

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that puts emphasis on balance and movement. It involves moving the body slowly and gently – there’s no physical contact. It may have psychological benefits, including reducing anxiety. 

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Complementary therapies

We hear from many people with Parkinson’s who find complementary therapies relaxing. 
These include: 

Massage

Many people find that having a massage helps them relax. A massage therapist may use various techniques, including stroking, kneading and rubbing, to manipulate the body using pressure. Massage isn’t suitable for people with certain medical conditions, such as a history of bleeding disorders. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves a therapist inserting thin needles at particular points on your body. Although the evidence that acupuncture can reduce anxiety is mixed, some people may find it helpful. 

If you want to take anything by mouth or apply it to your skin as a complementary therapy, check with your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse first.

Find out more: see our information on complementary therapies and Parkinson’s.

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Anti-anxiety medication, such as antidepressants and anxiolytics may help with anxiety if you have Parkinson’s, under certain circumstances. Long term use of anxiolytics are not generally recommended.

Speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about what may be best for you. They should also 
be able to advise you on how to take antidepressants alongside your Parkinson’s medication.

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Friendships and meeting others

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Sharing your worries and fears with a trusted friend or family member can help reduce anxiety. Talking to other people with Parkinson's can also help, as you can share your experiences and find out how others cope with similar problems. Parkinson’s UK has local groups across the UK. 

You can also call our helpline on l 0808 800 0303 or speak to other people with Parkinson's on our forum.

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Counselling

If you prefer to speak to a professionally trained counsellor, ask your GP for information (many surgeries have counsellors attached to their practice). There are also counselling organisations that can give you information and details of private counsellors, including the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (see the end of this information).

The mental health charity Mind has a guide, Making sense of talking treatments. The booklet explains the different types of talking therapies available, including counselling, how they can help and what they involve. You can also order a hard copy.

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Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

You may find cognitive behavioural therapy (sometimes called CBT) effective in dealing with anxiety. It works by changing ‘unhelpful’ everyday thoughts and behaviours that can lead to feelings of anxiety or make anxiety worse. 

CBT can take place in groups or individually with a therapist, who may be a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or specially trained nurse. It usually involves a course of weekly sessions. 

There are a number of self-help CBT books that are recommended by the NHS for people with anxiety. Many of these are available at your local library via the ‘Books on Prescription’ scheme. Again, ask your GP or Parkinson’s nurse for more advice. 

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Anxiety symptoms can hugely affect someone’s quality of life. If this happens, you should try to encourage the person affected to speak to their GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. They may be referred to a mental health specialist who can recommend treatment.

If you’re a carer, it’s completely natural for you to feel many of the same feelings as the person with Parkinson’s. These feelings may include anxiety, fear about the future, depression, fatigue and concern about any changes in your relationship.

With this in mind, you should also try to look after your own physical and mental health as much as you can. Taking care of yourself can be difficult, but it’s important. It will also help you be better able to care for your loved one.

Many carers find it helpful to join a support group where they can meet other people in a similar situation. Many Parkinson’s UK local groups have special activities for carers. 

Youc an also contact our helpline on 0808 800 0303. Carers UK and Carers Trust also run groups for carers. 

Find out more: see our information for carers. 
 

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Anxiety and Parkinson's (PDF, 168KB)

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Last updated October 2019. We review all our information within 3 years. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected].