Let’s be honest, you probably didn’t plan on having epilepsy.
But here we are. And we all know that stress is #1 in the hit parade of seizure triggers.
And endless surveys prove the fact. Most people think of stress as being related only to unpleasant or sad times in their lives.
However, even “happy” stress can trigger seizures!
Sometimes, seizures occur immediately after a sudden and very stressful event.
Other times, there might be a delay of hours or days.
There are some people who have seizures when there is a release from stress that has been present for a long time.
For example, you might have a seizure on a Saturday or Sunday after a particularly stressful week.
(I used to have one every Friday night like clockwork after a week in the wonderful world of advertising.)
But most of us associate stress with negative feelings. Fear, worry, fright, anxiousness.
Tension, sadness, helplessness or feeling out of control.
There’s acute stress, like we experience when a family member dies or we are in an automobile accident.
Then there’s chronic stress, like we experience if we have financial problems, an unhappy marriage or a boss who is being unreasonable at work.
And Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures — (PNES). Caused by psychological trauma or conflict that impacts our state of mind.
(PNES is not to be simply brushed off. Because one in six of people with PNES have also had epileptic seizures.)
And then there’s the sheer anticipation of having a seizure!
“As a young person you don’t really know what it is, I was having a lot of tests, like the brain scans and consultations and people going, “Well is it her or is it something going on?”
My confidence went downhill completely ‘cos obviously when things are happening to you that you don’t know what on earth the hell is happening, then it’s very difficult.” — Carole
So, it becomes a vicious cycle. Seizures cause stress and stress results in more seizures.
Both mental and physical stress cause changes in the body, increasing the brain’s excitability and activity.
But the type of stress that triggers epileptic seizures most often is emotional stress.
How do these different types of stress affect us? The truth is, we don’t know.
But we DO know about the neurological reactions.
When you feel stressed, the limbic system — the portion of your brain that regulates emotion — goes into overdrive.
Your body responds with a “fight-or-flight” response.
An automatic alert system that, when triggered, affects every part of your body.
Interestingly, this may lead you to hyperventilate, exciting those neurons even more and triggering a seizure.
Particularly an absence seizure.
But whether you hyperventilate or not, this neuron distress causes your body to release cortisol, the number one stress hormone.
And it’s an uphill battle from there.
And here’s some real cheerful news…
Studies from Stanford University have shown that prolonged exposure to stress can potentially lead to brain damage.
However, there’s some promising news here, too…
Research carried out by Michael Privitera, MD, professor and director, Cincinnati Epilepsy Center, University of Cincinnati, and his colleagues, showed some interesting and positive results.
85% of the people studied, believed that chronic stress was a seizure trigger.
And 68% attributed acute stress as a trigger.
Here’s the good news…
57% of these same people used some type of relaxation or stress reduction treatment.
Of those, 88% thought it improved their seizures.
“What was really interesting was that these people have tried all kinds of stress reduction methods, and yoga was number one, which is surprising since this is Cincinnati, and not California, where such approaches might be more popular,” he said.
Patients also tried relaxation and other stress reduction techniques.
The 25% of people who did NOT attribute stress as a trigger for their seizures, tried relaxation or stress reduction and 71% of them thought their seizures improved as a result.
Now, researchers are carrying out a clinical trial of a stress reduction intervention (breathing exercises and other techniques) in drug-resistant people who believe their seizures are triggered by stress.
Asked to comment, Jane Allendorfer, PhD, instructor, University of Alabama at Birmingham, who has done research on the role of stress in seizures, said “It’s interesting, but not surprising, that patients who tried stress reduction techniques believed it reduced seizures.”
Mind over matter?
The best advice is to try to be pro-active and take care — or divert — your stress triggers.
(I know, easier said than done!)
Deep breathing works for me.
Others swear that music does it for them. (See articles below.)
For some, visualization or walking diffuses the stress.
Yet, just like seizures and meds, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But it sure is worth a try!
What works for you?
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Other articles of interest:
Epilepsy, Anxiety and Depression
10 Ways to Cope with Your Fear and Anxiety
Super Seizure De-Stressor
Breathing Your Stress Away…
Epilepsy Versus “Pseudo-Seizures”
How Music Soothes Your Seizures