Epilepsy Talk

Stress and Seizures | July 2, 2013

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?

To subscribe to Epilepsytalk.com and get the latest articles by email, simply go to the bottom box of the right column and click on “Sign me up!”

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














  1. Wife on kepra 500 mg extended release. Noticed pill coming out whole in stool. Any history or problems or research on this. Seems like then meds aren’t getting into body ????

    Sent from my iPhone


    Comment by Steve — July 14, 2013 @ 5:31 PM

  2. Wow! That’s a new one to me.

    Call the neuro ASAP and elaborate on what’s happening.

    He may want to test for other problems — like irritable bowel syndrome. (Yes, you can have both. I do.)

    If she’s eliminating the drug entirely though her stool, I think it’s indicitive of an additional problem.

    If she’s not metabolizxing Keppra, MAYBE another drug would work.

    But I think the problem lies beyond Keppra.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 14, 2013 @ 5:53 PM

  3. I went on liquid Keppra for a while. My liver enzymes were off. I would address it to the doctor. Med powder is seen in the toilet at times but if your wife is having seizure activity. Contact the physician about it. Have the liver enzymes checked. I had a little problem at the beginning and then I was fine.


    Comment by Toni Robison — July 15, 2013 @ 6:31 PM

  4. Thanks Toni. Another wonderful contribution.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 15, 2013 @ 7:17 PM

  5. Talk about happy stress, the week of Christmas i had 2 seizures. That’s very rare for me to have them that close together, normally they are spread out a month or so.


    Comment by Zolt — July 16, 2013 @ 1:31 PM

  6. You should try high cbd tinture.I had seizure at least twice a week, know its. Maybe twice a month.


    Comment by Chain Rain — August 27, 2013 @ 1:33 AM

  7. Hi Chain,

    Thanks for the tip but WHAT is cbc? Is it tincture of cannibus? (What do the initials stand for?)

    If so, is it any easier to get than the weed? Or do you have to live in a medically “legal” state and get it from a dispensary?

    Thanks again. Would love to hear from you. I’ve read and written lots about marijuana but know nothing about cbc!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 27, 2013 @ 7:37 AM

  8. Many of the meds also cause issues that can result in stress. Those are issues you can’t control unless you read up on them,share notes and understand


    Comment by Tony Murray — September 3, 2013 @ 11:03 PM

  9. Yup. You hit the nail on the head, Tony!

    Side-effects are random and no day at the beach. And often you have to do your own research and be your own advocate.

    We’re here to help each other, share knowledge, experiences and support one another.

    But, unfortunately, you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes.

    Every one is different.

    But you can give support and, when needed, comfort.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 4, 2013 @ 9:17 AM

  10. Keep in mind, many of the meds cause stress.


    Comment by Tony Murray — September 11, 2013 @ 6:05 PM

  11. lol there’s a sign of my memory. I forgot I posted already.


    Comment by Tony Murray — September 11, 2013 @ 6:06 PM

  12. No Tony, it just underscores how important the fact is. Meds cause stress and they muck with your memory!!!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 12, 2013 @ 9:07 AM

  13. stress is apart of my life because of school, don’t get me wrong i enjoy my education and being with other people, but i do get kind of stressed in my public speaking class when things go not according to my plans.


    Comment by Crystal Cahill — March 5, 2014 @ 7:28 PM

  14. Yes, I know that Crystal, but even bravery has its stresses. You’re doing what you love. Keep going!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 5, 2014 @ 10:37 PM

  15. speaking of stresses and being extremely scared at the same time, on the bus this morning, i rely on public transportation most of the time, a drunk crazy man had gotten on and started cussing and harassing me and a few other people, until i told the bus driver to pull over and he kicked the individual off the bus, and told his supervisor what happened, i was still kind of frightened about what happened and after my tutoring session i went and talked to my dsps adviser and told her what happened and she said that i did the right thing, by telling the bus driver because there were two girls, probably jr high or elementary school age, i could tell they were getting scared. end of rant for the day.


    Comment by Crystal Cahill — April 23, 2014 @ 3:42 PM

  16. That is NOT a rant. It’s something to be proud of.

    Instead of looking the other way, you stepped up to the plate and spoke up.

    Helping those other kids too!

    You’ve come a long way, Crystal!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 24, 2014 @ 9:13 AM

  17. Reblogged this on My random adventures in life and Epilepsy and commented:
    This is really helpful for me. I love it!


    Comment by Ginger Nicole — July 16, 2014 @ 4:13 PM

  18. Glad to be of help. I have 365 articles in Epilepsy Talk (and a very retarded search engine). So you can either do a search of key words, or if you can’t find what you’re looking for, email me: pfj@pfjohnson.com


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 16, 2014 @ 8:49 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I've also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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