As the Holidays nears the stress sometimes can be overwhelming especially for those of us who live with Parkinson’s disease. As another amazing Parkinson’s woman recently wrote- “life with Parkinson’s is complicated,” to say the least. Trying to cook, entertain, decorate, while finding time to care for yourself can be difficult especially if you have a child whose birthday is around Christmas as I do. To make matters worse the Holiday season is also the time of increase hospitalizations due to strokes. We as women with PD are already predisposed to having a brain attack according to a data presented by Dr. Allison from the University of Pennsylvania, at the Women & PD Initiative Conference women with PD. The risk increases as PD progresses.
Therefore, this and every season we must remain extra vigilant guarding our health and taking time for ourselves. But, how do we do this since we barely have time to sleep or take care of our basic mandatory medical needs from a long to-do list which seems to get longer and longer each year as our disease robs us of our energy and strength at times.
This season, I recommend using aromatherapy from the smells of Christmas already all around you to help release the best known ‘happy’ hormone in our brain –endorphin a naturally occurring opioid which is produced from the anterior pituitary. This wonderful chemical helps relieve pain, fatigue, and gives us a lasting satisfaction providing a true sense of happiness. Although, we as PD patients experience a loss of smell, a small report showed that loss may be specific to foul, putrid odors while sweet and flowery may be preserved that combined with fact that most of us have a dysfunction rather than a complete loss of smell until disease is advance thus we can still use whatever portion is left to our advantage. Plus, since loss of smell is linked to depression, fatigue and memory loss perhaps boosting our olfactory nerves and stimulating them can makes us combat any Holiday blues while filling us with joy and energy.
As you go through the holidays, I recommend that you make a list of the things that are important, give yourself extra-time especially allotting time for naps or unexpected wearing “offs,” let others know you may require assistance and make sure you ask for help; but most importantly make time for yourself! Surround yourself with rich aromas that will help you relax and build beautiful new memories each time those same fragrances are encountered.
For instance, as you are in the kitchen cooking and preparing your Holiday/Christmas meal make sure you add some spices to titillate your senses. This is especially helpful for those of us with more severe olfactory loss (no smell). The spicier the food the more endorphins your brain will release, this may be the reason why I am always happier when I eat my mom’s cooking which is so much spicier than mine.
We know that a big part of the holiday season is baking as well as consuming a myriad of desserts and sweets. Chocolate my favorite substance in the entire world is by far the most complete substance in its ability to release several of the brain’s ‘happy’ hormones like dopamine, serotonin and beaucoup of endorphins. Go ahead bite into a nice warm chocolate cookie or a dark chocolate cake especially one infused with vanilla extract. If you are baking make sure to take a big whiff of the vanilla or the chocolate before adding to your cookies or cakes particularly if feeling anxious for this will help calm you down. In fact have a few vanilla scented candles or oils around the home to give you that calming effect.
Have some citrus foods (orange, lemons) around and peel if stressed, the odor which will linger in your hands will also help to uplift your spirits.
I also love the aroma of peppermint particularly on a cold crisp day it permeates throughout the house –boosting my spirits, and invigorating my spirits helping to stimulate my mind and yours if you try as well, you can either buy as an essential oil, candles, or wall plug ins. Of course what Holiday Party can do without candy canes!!
Lastly, for those of you who still love to enjoy the smell of a natural tree a pine or a cedar are the best ways to uplift and invigorate your spirits and your mind.
My hopes is that everyone has a wonderful healthy, happy, joyful Holiday season and keeps the Happy hormones all year long for a very prosperous New Year!
Enjoy the scents of this and every season of your life along with your loved ones!