Epilepsy Talk

Stress and seizures… | August 23, 2022

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. Is this PhilliesI have not have seizures but have been stressed out and nothing seems right My father died in June 

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by nacywalsh — August 23, 2022 @ 11:32 AM

  2. Reblogged this on Disablities & Mental Health Issues.


    Comment by Kenneth — August 23, 2022 @ 12:24 PM

  3. I have severe PTSD after living through the Irish violence, terrorism, epilepsy started 3,4 years after the PTSD started,. I’ve noticed that stress does affect the seizures, last week I had a terrifying incident when my oven nearly went on fire, I found it just in time, had a very bad panic attack and later one of my worst type of seizures

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Gail Barry — August 23, 2022 @ 12:35 PM

    • Oh Gail, I’m so sorry.

      There’s a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Forum online. Maybe it can help?

      Click on https://www.psychforums.com/post-traumatic-stress/

      There’s also the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Chat Room https://www.healthfulchat.org/ptsd-chat-room.html

      Sending you hugs.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 23, 2022 @ 12:45 PM

    • I know how the STRESS can add on to making the seizure happen quicker than usual, and when FOOD TOXINS & DRUG TOXINS are saturated in all brain chemistry, then STRESS just makes it all like 99% sure a seizure will happen, as if it is not enough for a 95% chances of seizures happening from all of the BAD FOODS & DRUGS, with MSG’s, ASPARTAME’s, NITRATES & NITRITES that brains absorbs daily when people never think of that causing seizures, headaches, MS attacks & whatever else where brain & HEART chemistry is effected. For those reasons I am NEVER going to be forced to get any needle jabs in my skin, for ANYTHING, when a SEIZURE is 99% chance of happening in my brain from all the EXCITOTOXINS you get with them, plus it is another reason why I never take GENERIC name drugs. So TEST your brain with all the junk foods, diet sodas, & whatever else tastes so good, and those PORK RINDS & other ham / pork foods, for me they all can never be trusted that I am going to NOT have a seizure if I am stupid enough to eat any of that. As I said for decades,, THE BRAIN NEVER LIES, and when you treat it with NO RESPECT, then it will never respect how YOU FEEL when it acts & fires up all brain chemistry from FOOD & DRUG TOXINS you feed into it. << That is FACT as only time will show and maybe on a VEEG as last year in AUG of 2021, I PROVED what I am saying here to my neurologist, who finally after years of seeing him, he SAW WHAT I HAVE BEEN TALKING A BOUT ON VIDEO, & he saw it by ME eating a CHIC-FIL chicken bun & a small personal pan pizza WITH pepperoni, plus i had a '''regular soda''' NO DIET because I wanted to survive that VEEG seizure & I did. That was my LAST SODA I ever had since.

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by James D — August 23, 2022 @ 9:13 PM

  4. Thank you Phylis for all the work you do. Your articles are always relevant and well researched. It is much appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Daniel — August 23, 2022 @ 2:34 PM

  5. This perfectly describes what I went through back in the days before my partial epilepsy was treated. Some seizures were random, but the absolute worst ones came after severe emotional distress. Then you go through the cycle of fearfully anticipating a seizure, which then triggers one.. I just thought I was panicking over panic attacks. I still feel trapped even now by the fear despite having taken medicine for several years. I don’t know how to ever get over the fear because I lived in it for so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Hetty Eliot — August 24, 2022 @ 1:06 AM

    • It’s like a storm cloud ready to burst. Or a circuit waiting to misfire.

      All of that waiting and fearing. The feelings are all too real.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 24, 2022 @ 10:26 AM

  6. Yesss, I worked in health care in a lab that did covid testing. One night we just couldn’t keep up, it was hot, I was sweaty, and thirsty, could hardly stop to take a drink of water. I delayed my Tegretol until I got home. Had a seizure driving home and immdeiately retired.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Sue — September 24, 2022 @ 10:29 AM

  7. 😥


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 24, 2022 @ 10:32 AM

  8. Stress does cause my PNES seizures. I grew up as a child in an alcoholic household. My mother was always trying to cover everything up. I did suffer from PTSD and was abused mentally and physically as a child. I recently started communicating with my mom and tried with my dad, but couldn’t. Now because of my therapy and my dad’s passing I can now try to have a relationship with my mom. I try to not bring up the past and just think positively with my mother. I take medications and have a VNS to control my epileptic seizures. So I understand how frustrating it is for those of us with both types of seizures. I try to stay active and exercise and try to think positively. I also have a therapist and Psychiatrist and take an antidepressant.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Michelle Fritsch — December 9, 2022 @ 4:48 PM

    • Michelle, we might as well have been separated at birth! Except I had a few marriages in the picture, too.

      I always marvel at the brave resilience of people like you.

      I still do not talk to my mother. After 50 years of competing with a vodka bottle, I gave up.

      But I’ve been lucky enough to have a good therapist and loving support from those around me. Which (I like to think), is why my seizures have been controlled for so many years.

      I wish the same for you.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — December 9, 2022 @ 6:46 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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