How to Connect and Thrive (While Social Distancing) and Live Well with Parkinson’s

Authored by the Davis Phinney Foundation


Stay home.

In the time of a global pandemic, this directive makes sense. However, when two of the most essential actions taken to live well with Parkinson’s are to connect with others face-to-face and be physically active every day, telling someone to practice social distancing can feel like taking away a lifeline. 

In this post, we want to share 5 ways you can connect and thrive—even while practicing social distancing.

 

#1 – Spend time outside

There are many reasons why spending time outside is a good idea right now. Being in nature makes us happier, healthier, more creative, more empathetic, and more apt to have a positive outlook on life.

Furthermore, George MacKerron, an economist at the University of Sussex and developer of the Mappiness study, discovered through his work that one of the most significant variables that contribute to happiness is where you are. On average, people are happier outdoors in green and natural habitats than they are in outdoor urban environments. In other words, it may be worth it to surround yourself with green to the extent that it is possible to do so. Fortunately, outdoor exercise is still allowed during this time, provided local guidelines on social distancing are followed.

Here are a few ways to enjoy the great outdoors even now:

  • Spend an hour a day digging, planting, and weeding in your garden
  • Take your shoes off and let your feet touch the ground, the grass, the Earth
  • Practice yoga barefoot in the grass
  • Sit on a blanket in your backyard, on your balcony, or in your bedroom with all of the windows open (even if it’s cold) and enjoy a meal
  • Take a walk outside first thing in the morning and touch (or hug) a few trees
  • Read a book outside (If you want to be inspired by fabulous stories of the true power of nature, we suggest you consider reading “The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative” by Florence Williams)
  • If you want to learn more about walking outside, grab a cup of joe or tea and dig in to “In Praise of Walking: The new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us” by Shane O’Mara
  • Create a sacred outdoor space to call home – no matter how big or small - and return to it throughout this lockdown each time you need a “nature fix”
  • Stargaze while nestled in a blanket

 

#2 – Move every day

Unfortunately, Parkinson’s doesn’t take a break—and though many regular, in-person exercise classes have been cancelled, the need for exercise has not. That means that creativity is needed to make sure to fit in the type and intensity of exercise that helps reduce symptoms, sleep better, and improve mood every day.

If you’re the type of person who loves group exercise, or who shows up for class in large part because you know people are expecting you and counting on you, finding the motivation to get going on your own can be especially challenging. Fortunately, there are many people in the Parkinson’s community who are offering virtual exercise classes to make moving as easy as turning on a computer.

We’ve put together this list of online exercise classes to get you started.

If going it alone is more your style, don’t let this time get away from you. Walk, run, ride your bike, dance, or do anything else that moves you. Do it for a while. And do it every day.

 

#3 – Pick up the phone

Another thing that can be helpful is connecting with others over the phone. In the morning, identify two or three people you’d like to connect with and decide when to call them. Maybe you want to call someone from your boxing class. Perhaps you choose to call a new member of your Parkinson’s support group who seems overwhelmed by their recent diagnosis. Or maybe you want to call a friend or family member to tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life. 

If talking on the phone isn’t your thing, that’s okay. You can keep the call short and sweet. It doesn’t matter how long the call is; it just matters that you make it. And with each passing day of this pandemic, these daily gestures will add up not just for you but for everyone you call.

 

#4 – Schedule a virtual meeting with your Parkinson’s support group

Zoom is one of the most accessible tools available to bring people together online. There is a free version you can use to set up 45-minute video calls with your friends whenever you want. We’ve heard from some people who are organizing book clubs and movie watching sessions together on a weekly basis to stay connected.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to zoom.us and click, “Sign up, It’s free” under the Basic Plan. You can do this from your desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet. 
  2. Follow their set-up process and then schedule your first meeting. You can invite participants by emailing them the link Zoom gives you once you schedule and save your meeting.
  3. Once it’s time for your meeting, log back into Zoom, click meetings on the left-hand side of the dashboard, and click “start.”

Pretty soon, your screen will look like this. It’s not the same as meeting in person, but when it comes to connecting with people, it can feel just as fabulous.
 

image

 

#5 – Decide to stay committed to living well with Parkinson’s

One of the most common things we’re hearing from members of our community is that their anxiety is getting worse the longer this uncertainty goes on. They feel even more out of control than they usually do, and these feelings of helplessness are making living well a big challenge.

Well, it turns out, deciding to do something is a good strategy for reducing anxiety and worry—not just when receiving a Parkinson’s diagnosis but any time you are facing uncertainty in your life.

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.” - Alex Korb, from “The Upward Spiral: Using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression, once small change at a time.”

In other words, we get more benefit from actively deciding to do something than just letting things happen to us. And since we are able to control very little when it comes to COVID-19, taking control where we can-by taking decisive action in our life-can be a powerful way to help us live well.

One of the key things to remember when deciding to do something is that it has to be something you want to do. For example, if you make the decision that you’re going to wake up early every morning and hike or walk or ride your bike, but you’re doing it because you think you “should” do it, you won’t get those feel-good feelings. Instead, you’ll just feel more stressed. Make a decision to do something that fills you up each day. Not only will you get a pleasure boost from making that decision, but you’ll also get pleasure from engaging in an activity that means something to you.

Be well. Live well. And move.