Epilepsy Talk

Stress and Seizures… | July 23, 2018

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.

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).

It’s 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.

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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  1. I would like to know IF or HOW the body chemical PROGESTERONE in both MALES & FEMALES are affected if their level of progesterone affects the STRESS in a persons life, among other brain chemistry from glucose, serotonin, dopamine, gaba to glutamate. STRESS can affect it all, ( as I know females have more problems with low progesterone & seizures more so than men,,BUT,,,,, if 1 body chemical like progesterone can be a reason as WHY they rest of the neuro-brain chemistry gets out of balance for ANY OF US,,, then WE ALL need to get progesterone tests done annually like we can have EEG’s done more than we need that tells nobody nothing. Please Phyllis look into this for all of us. We who are at dead ends, should not be made to have EXPENSIVE OPTIONS be made to us for us to do, when maybe a simple LOW COST blood test could maybe explain more than what some doctors want us or them to know too, like if MORE progesterone could LOWER the number or STOP seizures.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by CD — July 23, 2018 @ 6:47 PM

    • That’s why you should insist on having a full thyroid panel of T4, T3 and TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone).

      Most docs will only test your TSH and tell you everything is ducky if you don’t spell out the full panel requested.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 23, 2018 @ 7:13 PM

  2. Xanax helps my stress.And I have seizure clusters.so I have to take antivan to stop my clusters.I’m also on keppra and lamictal

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Angela carter — July 23, 2018 @ 7:39 PM

    • Xanax also helps my stress. But luckily, I don’t have cluster seizures.

      That must be awful.

      But Lamictal has been very successful for me. No side-effects and 99% seizure-free for 10+ years!

      I only wish the same for you.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 23, 2018 @ 7:46 PM

      • im taking clonazepam ( revotril) with lamictal no seizures at awlll after the start of medicine but while trying to wean off revotril i always ended up with confusion n sometimes aura

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by ainee — August 3, 2018 @ 1:20 AM

      • Ainee, that’s pretty normal. Weaning off of a medicine is hard.

        Your brain is confused, so it’s presenting you with an aura.

        An aura is actually a small seizure itself — one that has not spread into an observable seizure that impairs consciousness and your ability to respond. You don’t lose consciousness.

        In other words, something is going on in your brain. But it isn’t spreading.

        Sometimes this abnormal electrical activity tapers off. At other times, it spreads and leads to severe seizures.

        Auras can occur as a warning that a bigger seizure is about to happen. And sometimes they can occur just by themselves.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 3, 2018 @ 8:52 AM

  3. I’ll tell you what the number #1 stress reducer is, and that is financially secured retirement, not rich, but secure. My major stress factor was work, so as soon as i was able to get out of there my seizures went way down. From having them once a months, to intervals of 1/2 years. My last seizures was on Mothers day and the one before that was 8 months before. The one before that was like 2 month before and the one before that my old previous record was for 6 months. Although I know not everyone can do this and also not everyone would want to do it since some people love there work environment and wouldn’t know what to do without it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Zolt — July 23, 2018 @ 7:51 PM

    • Zolt, I think any SECURE environment helps with stress — whether you’re retired, working on your own or in a workplace environment.

      My choice is working on my own, which is wonderful but, yes, a bit stressful. (I take Epilepsy Talk very seriously.)

      But for those who can find their place in the world — which fits THEM — that is, without doubt, a happy solution.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 23, 2018 @ 7:58 PM

      • That’s the key, ones own utopia. The hardest part is identifying it and then finding the means to get to it.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Zolt — July 24, 2018 @ 11:25 AM

      • Right on the mark Zolt, as always.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 24, 2018 @ 11:27 AM

  4. My sauna barn is my sanctuary from stress. I finish off my workweek there every friday and try to make a good relaxing start for the weekend. Ok, I´m Swedish but this really works for me. Sadly I had a big seizure there a couple of years ago when I just had finished a big project and was celebrating with a sauna. (Classical for me, that I get seizures in the relaxing phase after heavy stress) so my wife don´t want me to bath by my self after that. But taking a sauna with good friends is even better. The Swedish Sauna Association has as motto- In sauna veritas (in the sauna the truth rules) and that is really true. We have talked about everything in my sauna, me and my friends, about lifes ups and downs , alot of laughter and some tears to. The only thing I’ve banned is work talk, that doesn’t belong there. I don´t have any clocks on the walls there to. That place is for relaxing.
    This summer in Sweden is the warmest since they started measuring, 250 years ago and we have a lot of problems with forest firers. So to be honest I havent been in the sauna as much as normal but I try to relax in other ways.

    Thank you for this blogg. Its comforting…between my sauna visits.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by mattiasl1 — July 24, 2018 @ 5:53 AM

    • I tried a sauna several times. Three times after my father got his. Then three times when we got ours (for my husband’d health).

      I can’t say I had the same reaction. What you might consider a warm cocoon, to me was a claustrophobic wrap.

      But I can understand where you get your comfort and I think it must be a fantastic way to “let off steam” and relieve stress.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 24, 2018 @ 9:03 AM

  5. Sure, as a person with a roof over his head & a bed to sleep in, I can’t say much for the foods I can’t eat, that are toxic with MSG’s, ASPARTAME’s & alike that affects ALL brain health conditions, especially seizures/ epilepsy. Having all the money combined of the top 10 richest people will not change that, and just to be have enough to get by, will & does limit your choices of foods & drinks you do buy, so your abundance that you have, may not be there to tempt you to buy toxic foods you otherwise would not buy, that can give you a seizure you do not want. But to the food & medical worlds, this is all propaganda, as their lies are truth to them. Again I remind people,, in 1975 only 10 MILLION lived with Epilepsy, & now it is at least 65 MILLION who have it. What has been put in our foods & drinks over the last 43 years, & How are foods being produced today to feed the world ? This all started back in 1963 when CODEX ALIMENTARIUS & the WHO & NWO made up the laws then with the signature from LBJ to enforce it. Now in 2018 thanks to a signature of president OBAMA in 2016, we have THE DARK ACT, which is worse than what happened in 1963. Oh to have a government & a medical world like a NIH, FDA & CDC who cares for people. Yeah right. Please tell me why today there is DDT & other poisons, & toxic chemicals in our foods & drugs ?


    Comment by CD — July 24, 2018 @ 7:48 AM

  6. Phylis Feiner Johnson, I try to avoid stressful situations for the most part.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 24, 2018 @ 11:58 AM

  7. Risk is the reason for stress. No need to take risk if it affects your health. Seizures may be epileptic or may bit be epileotic. Every seizure is not linked to epilepsy. Avoid taking risk and work in risk free environment.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Yusuf — July 24, 2018 @ 12:04 PM

    • Of course, your’re right, Yusuf.

      Here is the explanation for “Pseudo Seizures”:

      Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures – (PNES)

      The first type of non-epileptic seizures, as defined by the Epilepsy Foundation, is psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. They’re seizures caused by psychological trauma or conflict that impacts the patient’s state of mind.

      The Epilepsy Foundation states that sexual or physical abuse is the leading cause of psychogenic seizures, where the abuse occurred during childhood or more recently: life changes, like death and divorce are another possible cause of a psychogenic seizures. This form of seizure often resembles a complex partial or tonic-clonic (grand-mal) seizure, with generalized convulsions, stiffening, jerking, falling, shaking and crying. Less often, a psychogenic seizure resembles a complex partial seizure, with a temporary loss of attention.

      Interestingly, about 1 in 6 of these patients either already has epileptic seizures or has had them. So different treatment is needed for each disorder. Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures are most often seen in adolescents and young adults, but they also can occur in children and the elderly. And they are three times more common in females!

      Doctors have identified certain kinds of movements and patterns that seem to be more common in psychogenic seizures than in seizures caused by epilepsy. Some of these patterns do occur occasionally in epileptic seizures however, so having one of them does not necessarily mean that the seizure was non-epileptic.

      Video-EEG monitoring is the most effective way of diagnosing non-epileptic seizures. The doctor may take steps to provoke a seizure and then ask a family member or friend of the patient to confirm that the event was the same as the usual kind.

      Although there is trauma involved, psychogenic non-epileptic seizures do not necessarily indicate that the person has a serious psychiatric disorder. But the problem does need to be addressed and many patients need treatment.

      Sometimes the episodes stop when the person learns that they are psychological. Some people have depression or anxiety disorders that can be helped by medication. Counseling for a limited time is often helpful. And the prognosis is good, with 60 to 70 percent of patients alleviated of seizure symptoms.

      Another possible way of coping is to reduce your stress, take time out, go for a walk, try deep breathing (but NOT hyperventilating!) music, meditation, muscle relaxation or even biofeedback.

      Physiologic Non-Epileptic Seizures (NES)

      A physiologic seizure is a temporary loss of control that is often accompanied by convulsions, unconsciousness, or both. Most common are seizures, which are caused by a sudden abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.

      Sometimes, and for lots of different reasons, one or another of these electrical discharges may grow and spread abnormally to other parts of the brain, which in turn generates their own abnormal discharges. This has a cascading effect, and within a few seconds, the entire cerebral cortex can be discharging at once.

      The resulting seizures most often imitate complex partial or tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. Full loss of consciousness, stiffening and jerking of all four limbs, plus a period of confusion often accompany the event.

      Examples of medical causes of physiologic seizures include hypoglycemia, hypoatremia, cardiac arrhythmia, brain lesions, syncopal episodes, migraines and transient ischemic attacks. The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke adds that narcolepsy and Tourette syndrome are other possible causes of physiologic seizures. Differentiating physiologic seizures and epileptic seizures can be difficult, so medical assessment and careful monitoring is needed.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 24, 2018 @ 1:47 PM

  8. Thank you, Phylis, for your insight into the topics you raise. It is stress-relieving to me that you take Epilepsy Talk seriously; it is so “real world” that I do not think that I am isolated as the only one who feels a certain way. I will try to be brief and wish to cause no bad feelings over my vocation. I am an Episcopal priest, who had his first seizure, in the pulpit while preaching. Preaching is a positive stress for me. There are other parts of ministry that are positive stressors too, but now people come to me for their neurological issues. I have taken a calculated risk to return to active ministry. It’s either a calculated risk, or as my spouse has told me, being miserable. I do reduce my stress naturally after four surgeries and rounds of medications did not work, though I am currently on 400 mg of Lamotrigine and .5 mg of Klonopin. Running gets me outside and helps me to exercise. Fishing is relaxing to me. Deep breathing while I am in traffic calms me down. (Yes, I am fortunate enough to drive.) Journaling, by writing in a sort of “stream of consciousness” manner, literally gets my stress out and puts it on paper. I hope that some other readers can relate to just a part of this. George

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by George — July 24, 2018 @ 12:47 PM

    • I’m on the same meds, but like everybody else, I am not stress-free.

      Your decision to keep on preaching is noble and I’m sure you help many people understand and cope, not to mention, giving them a source of comfort and solace.

      As for your physical de-stressors, I think it’s great that you do and CAN do all that you engage in.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 24, 2018 @ 1:55 PM

  9. Love your details. I have just been diagnosed as my thyroid may have cancer. I had a seizure out of the blue. Doc may have to take it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy Neiswinger — July 24, 2018 @ 3:27 PM

  10. Phylis Feiner Johnson, stress is obviously a part of life. However, my situation in 2015 was very stressful. If only I could turn back the hands of time and predict all of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 25, 2018 @ 4:51 PM

    • Wouldn’t we all like to turn back time.

      It’s a matter of exactly what we’d like to predict.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 25, 2018 @ 5:50 PM

      • Stress is my enemy for sure, i am awaiting a biopsy on my thyroid. Life is full of uncertainty. I have the best husband in the world. He is always there for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Kathy Neiswinger — July 26, 2018 @ 6:33 AM

      • I pray your results come out favorable.

        And yes, a supportive husband is a blessing.

        I know from personal experience!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 26, 2018 @ 11:38 AM

  11. Phylis Feiner Johnson, up until 2015, I had no broken bones of any kind.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 25, 2018 @ 8:19 PM

  12. I have a close friend that suffers from this and it was worse in college due to stress. Thankfully she graduates soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by rabidraspberry — July 30, 2018 @ 10:18 PM

  13. Musc seemsto help me focus on the quilting which I love. I have just found out, (test today); that my T3 and T 4 were found in my blood test. I have a needle test on my thyroid this morning. Found out that our thyroid cntrols the body. 67 years old, would have been nice to have known earlier. My family and husband are wonderful, I am blessed.
    Ilove finding out new things. Prayers for all of us who deal with the things that rob us of memories.
    Thanking all of those who deal with epilepsy day by day. Thank you for this group, and especially Phyliss.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy Neiswinger — August 1, 2018 @ 7:35 AM

  14. Phylis Feiner Johnson, in your opinion, if stress was the only real trigger for seizures, could medication dependency be limited otherwise? If yes, why? If not, why not?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — August 3, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

    • I can’t think of a life without stress for anyone, Jeffrey.

      But, I think in a perfect world — where there was no stress — the number of seizures would be reduced.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 3, 2018 @ 4:34 PM

  15. Good day I was for two weeks in HSP to see if I qualify for brain surgery to remove the epilypsy but it was unsuccessful and need to go back on meds. Can you give me guidance how to go about how to leave the work but you do get 1/3 of salary monthly till you die, cause its so tiring and stressful to work. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by leone — November 19, 2018 @ 3:33 AM

  16. I think you would qualify for SSI.

    Epilepsy — Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits — Straight from the Source


    Social Security Claims — Winning Secrets



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 19, 2018 @ 8:50 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I 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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    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I 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.

    View Full Profile →

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