4 Easy Ways to de- stress and Improve your Well-being while living with a chronic illness like PD: by Maria De Leon

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For those of us who live with a chronic illness like PD by now I am sure you have discovered as I have that stress whether physical, emotional, or physiological can have a detrimental effect on our mood and on our symptoms. It is for this reason that many people with PD feel as if they have fluctuating symptoms on a daily basis despite the fact that Parkinson’s is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease.
Learning to deal with stress and finding ways to prevent it in a healthy fun way can lead us to a happier more balanced life. Subsequently, by managing our stress we may be able to experience less ups and downs with our already complicated illness.

The first thing we can do to improve our tension levels is listening to music – but not just any music. A specific type of music like baroque which is characterized for the most part by 60 beat per minute tempo also known as ‘larghetto’ not too fast and not too slow – in fact just right.
This coincides with the rhythm of our hearts at a calm state because in fact some scientists believe that a heart rate of 75 and greater, which was considered within normal range in the past, carries a higher risk of having a heart attack.
Not only will this tempo relax us by calming and synchronizing our breathing with our heart rhythm but will also improve blood flow to our brains. Subsequently, this may be one of the reasons listening to this type of music increases our concentration. As we all know, poor concentration is a big issue in those of us with Parkinson’s – part of it could be that we are so run down we don’t even process the information around us. But being totally stressed can also play a major role. Multiple studies have shown that music with 60 beat per minute causes an immediate sense of well-being and even boosts our IQ levels. This was seen on subjects tested while listening to baroque music. Moreover, when we feel relaxed, we are more prone to have a positive outlook. A positive outlook on life is everything, I always say. When we have a bright outlook makes more likely to consider all the alternatives giving us more sound judgement avoiding rush decisions. I know personally when I am tired or in pain, I don’t want to be bothered with details or complex decisions. Sometimes when I find myself in these situation, I tend to rush to an answer without considering consequences fully leading to more problems down the road. I have learned not to make any important decisions including filling out paper work which is vital. However, if baroque music is not your cup of tea then find music that appeals to you but with similar tempo.music notes

Secondly, laughter is a great stress reliever. We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine. Not only does laughter strengthen our immune system but is a great coping mechanism to relieve pressure. I often say that I laugh because it beats the alternative. Because laughter plays such a crucial role in healing, many scientists have looked at laughter to assess its benefits and effects on tension. Interestingly, laughter decreases stress differently in men and women confirming once again that gender is a crucial topic we must take into account when prescribing treatments for various illnesses. In men laughing actually decreases the stress directly by dissipating the distress. However, this does not occur in women, rather by laughing we women gain insight into a situation which then helps us cope better with the stressful factors. Despite differing mechanisms, the end result is the same – we both feel better with a good laugh. Go ahead find some friends and laugh or simply learn to laugh at your own mishaps as I have. You will feel better, I guarantee.

Thirdly, painting– I have never been much of an artist. However, even though I still am far from considering myself as any good at painting I have discovered that you don’t have to be good at something to derive pleasure from it. You don’t even have to paint your own art work rather simply fill in the colors of someone else drawing to feel the benefits. I think that this is why coloring has become so popular. We remember the pleasure coloring as children, well as an adult I have regained that same sense of accomplishment when coloring a drawing turning into my own masterpiece. Art therapy in all is forms is something I have fully embraced over the last decade as a useful alternative therapy to dealing with neurological diseases for many reasons. One of which is a sense of empowerment one achieves through the use of colors, and creativity. Moreover, painting and other art therapy can not only provide a momentary distraction; but it also relaxes the mind when you set everything else aside and focus on the task at hand. Besides being fun, it is a great coping mechanism through which emotions can be effectively worked out releasing anger, anguish, and frustration with a few strokes.kandinsky21

Fourthly, enjoy nature / green – when I was a young girl living in Mexico, my grandmother always used to say to my grandfather that she needed to go out to the woods to look at the trees and the greenery around. She would get so excited every time she saw how green everything was. Well, it turns out my grandmother was wiser than most. Subconsciously, she knew that seeing green or being surrounded by nature provides an excellent calming effect on the brain and body. Since green is a color reminiscent of nature, spring, growth, peace, and financial prosperity is believed to diffuse anxiety and have a calming effect by producing a harmonious sense of well-being. Being surrounded by green forests, trees also improves concentration and clarity increasing creativity by actually improving our brain waves. Improves reading ability …perhaps that’s why I and many feel so alive in spring when everything is blooming. I guess, I inherited my grandmother’s intuition because my writing room is green (pale yellow greens and beige greens are the most soothing). In 2010, a study in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that a stroll in the woods versus the same time spent strolling in the city had a greater impact of decreasing stress hormones like cortisol and lowering blood pressure. This simple fact, maybe why I like Central Park strolls or near parks in the city and in the woods like my grandmother. nestledown

Go ahead start decluttering your life and getting rid of unwanted tensions and preventing worsening of symptoms due to stress by using one of these simple methods of relieving tension in your life. I have celebrated a huge milestone in my life this last week for which I am forever grateful to my God. As such, what better way to be reminded of His grace in my life than to feel His presence admiring the beauty of creation surrounded by thousands of giant sequoia trees.
These threes have not only stood the test of time but weathered many storms losing a branch here or there but never lose its hope it will stand for another 100 years.

Sources:

Stress relief from laughter- it’s no joke. Mayo clinic
psychological effects of forest walking in healthy adults

@copyright 2018
All rights reserved by Maria De Leon

Dealing with the 7 Invisible signs of living with chronic illnesses: By Maria De Leon

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“Love the people who see you when you are invisible to everyone else.”

We all know that having a chronic illness like Parkinson’s disease makes dealing with all other aspects of our lives much more complicated. Handling our personal, social, emotional and financial situations can turn into a bigger challenge, if we don’t learn to recognize and deal appropriately with the symptoms others can’t see like pain, anxiety, irritability, and depression. In turn these issues can lead to more serious problems of isolation, strained relationships and agoraphobia.

Learning to live and cope with all the ups and downs of a chronic illness takes skill and a great deal of support from our friends and loved ones. However, sometimes is the invisible symptoms which cause us a great deal of pain and hardship especially if we are not in tuned to these problems as a family or person living with PD.

I don’t know about you; but sometimes besides not feeling well physically I just wake up angry or sad for no apparent reason. When this happens not only is it tough to deal with being off mentally, but also having to act and carry on activities of daily living like nothing is wrong. So what happens? Either we take it out on our loved ones by becoming extremely irritable making it hard for others to get near us or being on edge and exploding at the slightest provocation. In this scenario everyone hurts and suffers. Best way I have found is to isolate myself for that time as to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Sometimes a good cry for us women is all it takes. But, in my experience, this is a sign that something is amiss with our bodies and brain function such as our levels of dopamine have faltered or we have an underlying problem such as a cold, urine infection or dehydration. Meditating, listening to happy tunes if sad and faking a smile till you feel it always works for me. Sleeping is also another wonderful remedy for when things are not going well or seem out of sorts. Once you wake up from a good nap, things always look brighter. Otherwise feeling irritable can create much friction especially if you have children or other people who depend on you for care. Hug your children, spouse and loved ones this also eases the irritability.

Other times irritability comes from being in pain. Sometimes we can barely stand being inside our own skin much less deal with any outside factors or demands. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor to provide adequate pain medication so it does not turn chronic. Many times increasing the levodopa is all that is needed to handle the pain. However, if pain is due from dyskinesia’s causing strain on your neck or back then the opposite is required with possible DBS and other treatments to manage symptoms.

If we are to avoid having strained relationships with those who matter most, we must learn to communicate our feelings without projecting on others our frustrations and disappointments. Since pain tends to color our perspective and alter the way we view things – we have to tell our loved ones “I am in pain right now and having trouble dealing could I have some time to myself or can we not make any major decisions at this moment.” Tell them you appreciate their concern but need alone time or time to heal without blaming them for what is going on your bodies. Unfortunately, many divorces and break ups have occurred because not only do we take out our frustrations on those closest to us when we hurt but we feel that they are not doing enough to help us. However, must remind everyone that it is about us not them. If you are honest and open they will understand and give you the space you need. If you do this and they still leave because you are not dedicating 100 percent of your life to them, then they do not belong in your life. Let it go and move on. Embrace the people who love you and stand by your side unconditionally.

The other thing that happens is that as we begin to have physical problems with PD like freezing resulting in falls and injuries, experience loss of conscious due to orthostatic hypotension, someone looks at you funny while on the floor rather than helping, or says something because you are too slow,or shaky making you feel no bigger than the size of an ant. instead of hiding from the world the rest of your life to avoid feeling this way again, let us find ways to improve the symptoms cause so much social anxiety which could lead to agoraphobia if not treated properly. This sometimes can be a subconscious reaction to having several bad or traumatizing experiences in public in which you felt publicly humiliated. So the mere thought of venturing out and having another episode occur in which you feel helpless induces anxiety and downright panic. I have had a mild experience with this early on when I was dealing with issues of orthostatic hypotension and disequilibrium. I fell down one too many times and was stuck unable to get myself off the floor when alone that for a while I would not phantom the possibility of going anywhere alone much less on a plane. this was devastating in so many levels. As with any fear, the key to conquering and overcoming is baby steps into that which causes the anxiety; sometimes medication is required and other times behavioral therapy might also be warranted. The main thing is not to let the fear and anxiety take over your life. Find a way to get back to doing the things you love independently or if needed a friend that will reassure you to continue being active.

Even though, most of us have experienced all or some of these at one point or another in our illness, the key is to recognize them, talk to your physicians about them asap and also with your loved ones to prevent them from robbing you of your happiness and peace of mind.

It’s time to remove our invisibility cloaks and be seen for the wonderful women and men that we are!

@copyright 2018
all rights reserved by Maria De Leon

Risk of Melanoma in PD in Women especially those of a Darker Hue. By Maria De León

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“The summer knows….”

In many parts of the world the heat index is beginning to rise making it feel like summer although summer is officially a few weeks away. Summer means freedom, happiness, ocean breeze, long days and sand between my toes. However, it also reminds me of the ways we must take care of ourselves to enjoy life to the fullest. Even though having sunshine is a great thing we must have balance like everything in our lives. Especially for those of us who have PD and are women are at higher risk by simple fact that not only PD increases risk of melanoma but melanoma is the second – most common form of cancer in women ages 15-29. Plus, according to some surveys it is increasing faster in our gender than in men of same age.

My very first experience as an intern of having to comfort someone with cancer diagnosis in their terminal stage was a young Hispanic man who was about to lose fiancée to metastatic melanoma. This was a devastating moment in my life as well since I had to pronounce dead someone who not only was Hispanic but of my same young age.
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Little did I know then that over the next few decades I would be diagnosed with melanoma a few times already? Fortunately, all 3 times have been caught in first stages where resection was all that was required. However, as a doctor I know that having a history of certain cancers like melanoma are always something to consider when new symptoms arise for these cancers re highly malignant and can spread to almost any part of the body particularly the nervous system.
Now that I have PD, the risk of developing melanoma is greater for me and all people with PD. but, especially for those who have family and personal history of the same. Sadly, for those of us who are Hispanic (who by the way have higher risk of PD) have a higher rate of developing melanoma than two decades ago. Apparently, those of us who have darker skin tone need better sunscreens or perhaps need to begin applying sunscreen. There might be a misconception in our culture that not having pale skin somehow protects us from skin cancers but nothing is further from the truth. Melanin does offer some protection but not nearly enough. IMG_0818

I for instance I don’t tan, I simply burn with minimal exposure to UV rays. I discovered this purely by serendipity one summer at the beach. I had applied sunscreen to my shoulders and face primarily, as most Hispanic women tend to do, but never reapplied by that evening I was swollen like a big toad primarily in my face with glistening puffy water filled bags under my eyes and swollen lips almost disfiguring. Never mind the pain, I was glowing like I had received some form of radiation where even my hair was three shades lighter with only a few hours of sun exposure. This is when I remembered how my grandfather always insisted I wear gloves, hat and long sleeves in the sun…why had I not listened this time? Too busy being young and carefree. For weeks later I simply peeled.
Now even though I love the sun and beach I make sure I use the necessary protection. However, many minority women have not taken heed of the dangers of sun exposure. Plus the fact that among Hispanics, blacks and Indian women melanomas tend to occur in inconspicuous places not usually exposed to the sun. As was my case 2 out of three were not in sun exposed regions of my body. I also lost an Indian friend at young age due to metastatic melanoma which had started in her groin area. Thus by time of detection it had already spread.

Subsequently according to the Journal of the American academy of Dermatology nearly half of black women and a third of Hispanics are diagnosed with this disease in late stages compare to less than a third in white women. Thus fatality is higher in these groups. The question remains is there a biological difference in genetics causing greater risk? Perhaps! But the presentation in soles, palms, and nail beds make it harder to detect, diagnose, and treat appropriately for many doctors might not think melanoma since not directly exposed to sun. Here again the question of healthcare disparity comes into play. Are they going longer without diagnosis because of poor access to care or physician bias? Much more research is needed in this area.

The truth is that we all need to remember to use sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays especially if you are in the minority groups.Perhaps using sunscreens that leave our skins white and pasty might not be an appealing thing rather serve as a deterrent to many since it is aesthetically unpleasing; especially for those of us who have darker skin. Of course the best sunscreen is one that is used regularly!
Fortunately, the cosmetic industry has taken notice of the need for diverse products which can be used by various groups. Besides sunscreens many cosmetics now have an SPF protection.

How to protect yourself and diminish risk of melanoma:

We may not be able to do anything to avoid getting PD or other chronic illnesses but we sure can do something to prevent skin cancer.IMG_0857

• Use Cosmetics with SPF protection
• Frequent skin checkups especially in winter and in the nude – whole body, if no insurance visit aad.org for list of free SPOTme skin cancer screenings in your state.
• Self-inspection especially of inconspicuous areas – ask partner to help
• Wear gloves if driving in sun
• Use SPF protective garments like bathing suits/hats
• Avoid shellac use of nails routinely because this is applying UV light
• Avoid sun tanning (tanning booths) use instead bronzers than can be sprayed or applied. Many cosmetic brand s offer great products
• Don’t forget your eyes? Wear shades with UV protection
• Apply sunscreen vigorously multiple times don’t forget toes, hands and feet. Must have one with zinc oxide, also avobenzone and oxybenzone but these can be greasy. Look at screen stars which can be friendlier to women of darker skin color
1. Apply one ounce of SPF 45or higher (minimum 30) enough to fill shot glass or golf ball size at least 30minutes before going outside or in the water
2. Reapply every 2 hours or immediately after heavy perspiration or swimming

• Use moisturizers like oil of Olay (my favorite) or Neutrogena both which have SPF.
• If you are a woman with dark skin watch out for sore that won’t heal, patches of rough and dry skin (sounds like I have to go to dermatologist asap), watch for dark lines around finger and toe nails, look for spots on hands, feet, lower legs, groin, mouth, lips buttocks and scalp.
• Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
After being in sun use some aloe Vera sap all over the exposed body this is soothing and healing.

Have a lovely summer! Soak up the sunshine but don’t forget to be good to yourself and your skin…you will be grateful you did.
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Source:
Douglas Deborah. (S.O.S) the Oprah magazine June 2018 9(6):109-113

@copyright 2018
All rights reserved by Maria De Leon