Living with Parkinson’s Disease…One Breath at a Time

By: Zachary BB Pindar, OTS

Rigid joints, achy backs, tremoring fingers… health professionals typically ask individuals with Parkinson’s disease an endless list of questions concerning motor troubles. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what an individual with the disease typically experiences. Under the condition’s observable surface often exists an array of non-motor symptoms(1), such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Impulse control difficulties
  • Decreased stress tolerance
  • Troubled relationships with loved ones
  • The list goes on…

When these symptoms mix, it is highly understandable to feel overwhelmed and at one’s wit’s end. Thoughts and worries tend to swirl and fuel into each other, creating a fatiguing cycle of anxiety. How does one stop this cyclone of distress? One mindful breath at a time.

Research across the health disciplines continues to bolster the profound pros of mindfulness. The Oxford Living Dictionary(2) defines this buzzword as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness practices do not attempt to empty our minds from racing thoughts; rather, we are invited by these activities to allow thoughts and worries to travel through our minds unopposed, without attachment or judgment.

If you or a loved one find yourselves in the midst of non-stop apprehensions, take a moment or two to flip the circuit breaker of anxiety. Several supportive, restorative practices include:

  • Mindful Breathing
    • Box Breathing Technique(3)
      • Sit upright with a gentle, sturdy posture
      • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, counting from 1 to 4
      • Hold your breath for 4 seconds
      • Exhale slowly and controlled through the mouth, counting from 1 to 4
      • Hold your breath for 4 seconds
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation (4)
    • Notice where your muscles are tense
    • Squeeze those muscles for 5 seconds
    • Relax muscles and breathe out with control
  • Seated Guided/Non-guided Meditation
    • Tune into the present moment, allowing the breath to be your anchor to the here and now
    • If interested in meditation: explore these websites, which also are available as phone applications…
  • Walking Meditation(4)
    • Focus on the feeling of your heel striking the ground and rocking forward
    • Feel the breeze, see the natural world around you, be still
    • Tune into the sensation of each breath and footstep










With the addition of mindful practices, everyday worries may not seem as impossible to release. Every moment holds the possibility of connecting with the power of “just being.”

If you or a loved one are interested in pursuing mindfulness-based strategies to alleviate non-motor symptoms, contact your local occupational therapist, psychologist, or social worker to ask for guidance.





  1. Non-Motor Symptoms. (2017, September 27). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from
  2. Mindfulness | Definition of mindfulness in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from
  3. Gotter, A. (2017, March 23). Box Breathing. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from
  4. Segal, Z. (2016, June 02). 11 Steps Toward Daily Mindfulness. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from
  5. Picture retrieved from: Everyday Health: Trusted Medical Information, Expert Health Advice, News, Tools, and Resources. (2017, November 10). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from
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About the Author


Heather Simpson, OTR/L

Heather Simpson graduated with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Science with a minor in Early Education from the University of Florida in 2007. Following…

Read all articles by Heather Simpson, OTR/L