Epilepsy Talk

Some Stress and Anxiety Solutions…  | March 17, 2022

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


10 Comments »

  1. Phylis, this is great advice. But Still very difficult to achieve some of these excellent pointers (I tend to get way over my head and being a perfectionist). But I’m so glad people take anxiety seriously. And It’s definitely a Good idea to Also talk to someone you can trust and express all your worries without feeling doubt that the person might not understand. Friend or a therapist are very helpful…trying any natural techniques and suggestions that don’t involve taking more meds than I already do. Thanks again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Kate — March 19, 2022 @ 12:18 AM

  2. Read the book A Symphony in the Brain by Jim Robbins, 2000, ISBN 0-8021-3819-5. use of neurofeedback in epilepsy and many other health conditions. Is there a source for current practitioners in the US and Europe?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by andy — March 20, 2022 @ 4:11 PM

  3. Anxiety is also a side effect with what we have – this disorder. Let me tell you of a couple of things I do each day to calm myself down each day. Well besides listening to music either Bach or the Temptations… sleep is very important so I started turning off the T.V. or computer 15 minutes before brushing my teeth before going to bed. After a couple of weeks with that practice I moved it up to a half an hour especially turning off the T.V. and now I don’t often use the computer after dinner. Now it’s always 2 hours before getting to bed. So those exciting and wild colors you see on the screen aren’t rushing through your mind as you drift off while inhaling through your nose.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by leonchavarria — March 23, 2022 @ 1:25 PM

  4. These are great tips. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Flower Roberts — March 24, 2022 @ 8:52 PM

  5. Hi, Phyllis, Any thoughts on using hypnosis to control anxiety?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Martha — April 5, 2022 @ 9:47 AM

    • Thanks, Phyllis. Some excellent suggestions in this article, and not difficult to make those changes.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Martha — April 6, 2022 @ 9:10 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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