Epilepsy Talk

Some Stress and Anxiety Solutions… | March 8, 2021

Sometimes my hands shake so much, I look like I’m leading a symphony. (Without a baton.) Legs too, I have to sit down.

Maybe you panic before a test, the very fear of having a seizure, social rejection, job anxieties, debt, fear of failure, an anticipated argument, holidays, fear of flying.

Or the daunting prospect of being alone without any support system. Or even death itself.

There are probably as many kinds of stress and panic attacks as there are those of us who suffer from them.

And behaviors: trembling, sweating, hyperventilating, breathlessness, feeling faint or light-headed, a sense of disorientation, cramping, nausea, your heart pounding like it’s going to explode from your chest, a fear of dying.

Or you’re just plain scared.

I could go on forever. And I’m sure you could, too.

It might be because your serotonin level is low, you’re feeling a sense of “fight or flight.”

But anxiety is actually related to epilepsy in more specific ways.

It can occur not only as a reaction, but also as a symptom and in some cases, as a side-effect of seizure medicines.

In some cases, stress and panic attacks have been misdiagnosed as epilepsy, and epilepsy has even been misdiagnosed as panic attacks!

For example, hyperventilation caused by anxiety can trigger a convulsion, which can further complicate the diagnosis.

A person can have a panic attack which may eventually turn to a seizure, or that seizure may be the result of stress.

The worst part is that neither just “goes away.”

But happily, there are some solutions…

1. Deep breathing. I breath in through my nostrils with pursed lips from the diaphragm. (Note: ribs rise as opposed to tummy.) Then exhale twice as long as inhaling. Ten times in a row is best. Or you can try more if you’re feeling really tense. If you’re having trouble relaxing before you go to bed, try 3-5 times. I try to make it a habit. The beauty of this is that you can do it any time, any where, and as long as you need to, until that nasty panic goes away.

2. Visualization. I think of a particular happy experience (or two) and sort of let it take over my body. Like watching the waves crash. Or eating a lobster roll in Maine.

3. Music. I take 30 minutes that’s just mine, get in a comfy chair, put on headphones and forget about the rest of the stuff. It’s so relaxing that sometimes I feel like I’m transported to another place. Away from my fears.

4. Walking a few miles or so, taking in my surroundings. Sometimes it’s the trees, a bird flying by, a beautiful sunset. Or maybe watching other people (I admit it, I’m an incurable people watcher), cloud formations. Whatever presents itself before me. Being in the moment.

5. I do run an epilepsy support group. (You could join one or start your own.) It’s helpful to hear other people’s fears and concerns and try to help each other. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, community, sharing and of course, making new friends. After all, aren’t we all in this together?

6. I try to do something new that’s creative. (Obviously, after 30+ years, it’s not writing.) Right now, I’m trying to learn more about my camera, so I can take some real pictures, other than just of my cat.

7. There’s meds (yup, that too) and cognitive therapy (which has done a world of good for me).

Add to that some more cerebral activities with which you might find the mind set that’s eluding you.

1. Take time to relax and calm down.

It feels impossible to think clearly when you’re flooded with fear and anxiety. A racing heart, muscle tension and difficulty thinking as your adrenaline surges. So, the first thing to do is take time out so you can physically calm down. Physical stress can make all the symptoms seem worse. And stress can increase cortisol, known as “the stress hormone” because cortisol is secreted in higher levels during the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress.

2. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

When you’re anxious about something, whether it’s work, a relationship or your health, it helps to think about the worst case scenario. Of course you’re overwhelmed and your thinking isn’t too rational, so that’s the time to turn to reality. Ask questions, do some research. Get some information. At the very least, it will divert you and you’ll be doing something pro-active, instead of freezing with panic. And you might find out that your fears aren’t realistic or it’s not as bad as it seems.

3. Face the fear — in a safe and controlled way.

Hiding your head in the sand isn’t going to make anything better. It will just perpetuate your feelings and fuel the fire. So look that fear straight in the face and go slowly towards your goal. Take baby steps…maybe one each day. Ask for help and support from your family and friends to guide you on this scary journey.

4. Welcome the worst.

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but each time you embrace your fears, it makes them easier to cope with the next time they strike. Sometimes when you imagine the worst, you realize the fear is scarier than the problem. The good news is that over time, they won’t be such a big deal. And you’ll have the necessary tools to deal with them.

5. Get real.

Fears tend to be much worse than reality. Often you’ll assume the worst without considering the possible outcome of the event. Think about it. Has this problem ever happened in the past? What did you do? What was the outcome? Does worrying actually help the situation? (No. But it sure makes you feel terrible.)

6. Don’t expect perfection.

Absolutely no one is perfect. And if you’re expecting perfection from yourself, you’re setting the stage for disappointment. Yes, you want to do the best job possible. (I have a friend who so wisely says: “Each to his own best ability.”) The main thing is you’re trying your best. And that’s what really matters. Yes, life is full of stresses. Bad days and setbacks will always happen. But it’s essential to remember — life is messy!

7. Improve communication skills.

Sharing fears takes away a lot of their scariness. Just saying them out loud and acknowledging them, dulls the panic. If you’ve got a family member, partner or friend you can talk with honestly and openly, speak to them. If the fear is too big to handle, consider finding a good therapist. It could make a world of difference. (I know it did for me.)

8. Take good care of yourself.

Of course others matter. But how can you be there for them if you don’t take care of yourself? That means getting a good night’s sleep, wholesome meals, and a good walk to clear your head and start the day. Put your best foot forward and then, if something is worrying you, take a break and do something you enjoy. Not only will it help you gain perspective, it will also help you relax, so that you can go on.

9. Reward yourself.

Finally, give yourself a treat. When the dreaded deed is done, celebrate. How about a massage, a movie, dinner out, a book you’ve been longing to read? Even a little “retail therapy”. Whatever little gift makes you happy. You deserve it!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela

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Resources:

With gratitude and thanks to Dr. Michelle Payne.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021

https://adaa.org/tips-manage-anxiety-and-stress

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-cloud9/201308/5-quick-tips-reduce-stress-and-stop-anxiety

https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/challenges-epilepsy/moods-and-behavior/mood-and-behavior-101/anxiety


26 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Disablities & Mental Health Issues.

    Like

    Comment by Kenneth — March 8, 2021 @ 11:44 AM

  2. Fear and anxiety, are some strong chemical reactions in the brain. I always say either you control your fears or they will control you. And the ways you mentioned are some of the best ways to take control. It’s like telling yourself there is no fear over and over and hopefully or eventually you will believe it. But all of this is drug related in the brain. And a lot of the time one can’t control it, because the ambilgota or whatever it is produces to much of the chemicals. The other day i had to deal with my fear of heights by going up a ladder in an old water tower to the roof. Near the top i started to get scared, since i needed to bend under a big cross beam, which made me a bit scared, so much so that the adrenaline or whatever chemical was sent to the legs that made them really stiff. When i came down my legs felt like they just climbed up mount Denali 🙂 I felt that stiffness for the a couple of days.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Zolt — March 8, 2021 @ 11:51 AM

  3. I think one of the most difficult things is to confront your fears face on and conquer them.

    There’s a wonderful saying “Fake it till you make it” which sometimes holds true for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 8, 2021 @ 11:59 AM

  4. All good points, Phylis, and my view from the other side of the fence is interesting, too. I may not have the fear of seizures right now but the stress and anxiety have stayed with me. At this point, I battle with a spinal issue and triple-A (Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm) and I feel the fear I used to have with seizures has made it harder to keep the blood pressure down when I think about the new problems or go in for treatments like I am right now.

    Right now I know how to turn an everyday problem into a disaster. I’m getting my lumbar injections for the spinal issue. I’ve kept my aorta at a 4.5 the last two years (5.5 means surgery). My biggest helper was getting involved with others in projects but with COVID, that’s hard to do right now. I just need a boost of confidence and I’m working on it. I do walk five times a week. I need to look at your checklist and figure out what I’m NOT doing when I should be.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Ed Lugge — March 8, 2021 @ 12:02 PM

    • Goodmorning Phylis and everyone. 😊. Wow I couldn’t agree with you more Ed!!!!! I found out I have arthritis in my neck and upper back. So now I have to go in and get injections in my neck (middle of my neck, which I end up fighting seizures like crazy for a day and then all good. Then I have another one two weeks later just between my shoulder blades. That one doesn’t bother me, but yes the pain and the fear of the headaches First and shot later are very surprising to me!! Right now the doctor is lowering my tegretol and it makes things even more tough when they mentioned the injections again (6 months later). The funny part is as much as I am scared as heck it’s more relieving to have the pain gone. The anxiety yes I agree it’s there but then dissipates once the pain is gone. My blood pressure on the other hand is backwards oddly. It’s drops instead of going higher. After what I’ve been through and the lowering of medications and retaining water it’s something I’m willing to do if that’s what it takes to get back to being able to climb ladders, mow my lawn and go on long walks and hopefully one day a bike ride 😘

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 10:27 AM

      • Well, Kathy, fortunately the pain is like a paycheck – it’s gone before you know it. I just finished a second 4-mile walk in the last two days and I feel fine. I just need to learn how to produce the “after” feeling even “before” the appointments and shots.

        Liked by 2 people

        Comment by Ed Lugge — March 10, 2021 @ 3:45 PM

      • Yes I agree!! I just suck it up and get through it (the injections and at this point the second vaccine). Oddly I just figure “please hurry up and let’s get this over”. And weirdly I’ve just never been good at letting the pain be known to many people. Plus oddly all I could see is YAY 😃 now I can do what I need and want to do!! 😃😃. But yes I completely agree with you. My husband, children and best friends say I have a “poker face” 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 4:34 PM

  5. I think your stress and anxiety is a mental or emotional hangover of your “last life”. Sometimes the memories we’d like to lose are the ones that persist.

    I can see how everyday becomes a physical disaster with all the pain and discomfort you must feel.

    But yes, helping others is a good “diversion” and makes yourself feel good. It’s that lovely shot in the arm or pat on the back.

    Meanwhile, try to stay as proactive as you can. I know you can beat your fear. I have faith in you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 8, 2021 @ 12:14 PM

    • Thank you, Phylis. I’m hoping my luck with winning battles will continue no matter how long it takes.

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Ed Lugge — March 8, 2021 @ 9:40 PM

      • You know Ed my problem ironically wasn’t so much the physical battles (they actually helped me to become physically stronger), but more my biological reproducer and aunties demeaning way of words, actions and their fears not mine. Weird hey? But I just keep making myself keep going. Lol it’s the rebel in me I guess 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 10:32 AM

    • You right about the “mental hangover”!! HOLY COW talk about tough. Lol 😂 it’s easier to get bucked off a horse or checked in the boards lol 😂.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 10:29 AM

  6. Imagine how scary it was for Columbus sailing towards the possibility of dropping off the edge of the world … and then he bumps into the new world and sceptics said that was easy, you couldn’t miss it you merely had to sail away from Europe…no big deal. In my experience anxiety is like that, once you get through it you look back and say wow that wasn’t so difficult. At yet at the time you might have wanted to die (think of the Meghan Harry interview on Oprah.)

    What do I mean? Well, I know that for me and probably for many others that exercise, mindfulness and a healthy diet was the cure for really scary anxiety and panic attacks that led to the emergency room. I also remember that it was not easy convincing myself to try diet and exercise both of which I detested. As for mindfulness, at the time I equated it with alchemy and astrology. Fast forward through the two year change over period and I lost 15% of my weight, and I cycle for up to two hours at least five days a week which is over 2,000 miles a year (which with Dilantin induced peripheral neuropathy and scoliosis is not easy.) I personally only do very short periods of mindful meditation (5-10 minutes a time) but it too really helps me relax.

    I don’t expect anyone in the grip of anxiety or depression to be persuaded…but…just try it… if it doesn’t work you will at least be a little lighter, a little fitter and a little better rested. And if it does work, well you will have located your New World, just like Columbus! A New World we all deserve.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by MICHAEL H — March 8, 2021 @ 12:40 PM

    • Michael, I think exercise is a form of mindfulness. You have to focus (and sometimes struggle) to get there, which requires full attention to the act itself.

      And of course, exercise encourages the releases of serotonin, another great benefit.

      Epilepsy and Exercise https://epilepsytalk.com/2020/09/24/epilepsy-and-exercise/

      Like

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 8, 2021 @ 1:05 PM

    • Yes you are right Michael!!!!! That’s why I used to bike everyday (with my little chihuahua 😘). My husband used to think I was crazy 😝. Even now he’ll look at me every once in a while and secretly sing to me “grandma’s don’t let you babies grow up to be cowgirls 😘”. My response to him was “suspicious minds” by Dwight Yoakum 😘 then leave the house with my little girl 😊🙏🏼🦬🦅❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 10:40 AM

  7. Yes Phylis exercise can be a form of mindfulness but not necessarily, see :

    https://www.verywellfit.com/mindfulness-during-exercise-1230998

    When I cycle I sometimes listen to music which is an example of not being mindful of the exercise, at other times I focus on the trees and the birds but on difficult terrain or when my back hurts I totally focus just on the mechanics of the cycling ( cadence, angle, power etc) which I regard as mindful cycling. On one occasion I was listening to the music so mindfully that I suddenly found myself off the trail drifting down the bank towards a little stream. Now this is West Florida and streams in my area have crocodiles … being mindful of where you are when cycling is recommended!

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by MICHAEL H — March 8, 2021 @ 1:28 PM

    • Oh well you see Michael, I’m a wuss. I only walk. So it is pleasant (and easy) to focus on my surroundings and take them in.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 8, 2021 @ 2:46 PM

    • Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Jackie — March 8, 2021 @ 6:32 PM

    • YIKES 😱!! Mine was oddly being screamed at or spoken down to and bossed around!! I would secretly stand up and shake my head a leave (unless you were my grandma or great grandparents and great aunties and uncles 🙏🏼🦬🦅❤️) then I would just go for a bike ride too 😊. Apparently I still do that, but I don’t ride bikes anymore because my husband and family are too scared for me to be alone. Between us I can feel the rebel in kicking in every once in a while still 😉.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 10:46 AM

  8. Yes I like to walk as well and take the surroundings in too. Maybe that’s why I like fishing so much 😘. It’s quiet and it’s brain food too!! 😊😉

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 10:48 AM

  9. May I please ask you Phylis how do we become a part of you online epilepsy group on fb or zoom or something to that effect? Thank you 🙏🏼 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kathy S.B — March 10, 2021 @ 11:16 AM

  10. On Facebook, I think you just look up Epilepsy Talk on the upper left search box and it should take you to the site. Or try this https://www.facebook.com/Epilepsy-Talk-166455593399909

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 10, 2021 @ 11:21 AM

  11. Thank you for this. Before I read this I believed that I was losing my mind but I am experiencing everything that you mentioned. I have been suffering from severe anxiety lately and although I’ve had epilepsy for longer than 20 years I was in denial about having anxiety. I went to my doctor recently and he confirmed that I do in fact have severe anxiety. It only started getting really bad about two months ago and now I am in constant pain, I have chest pain, muscle spasms, panic attacks, you name it. I’ve been on meds for almost three weeks now and am feeling much better, thank goodness. But until I read this I thought it was all self pity and my imagination. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Matty — March 11, 2021 @ 3:39 PM

  12. Denial can be just as anxiety provoking as anxiety itself!

    Like

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 11, 2021 @ 4:10 PM

  13. Great advice 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Barbara — March 26, 2021 @ 8:00 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 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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