Stress and seizures: Why stress causes seizures and how to relax

  • June 5, 2020
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In this article
A stressed woman at her laptop

How does stress affect you? Some people struggle to sleep. Others feel tense. And, for some people with epilepsy, stress-induced seizures are a real concern. 

In surveys, people with epilepsy say that stress is the second most common cause of their seizures (after forgetting to take anti-epileptic medication). However, while many people feel there’s a link between their stress and seizures, scientists aren’t sure exactly why this happens. 

Here’s what we do know about stress induced seizures - and how you can manage it. 

What is stress?  

Stress is the way that our bodies respond to external pressures or tensions. It could be caused by things like problems at work, issues in our relationships, or exams at school. When we encounter stress, our bodies start to produce certain hormones (chemicals that affect how the body works). This can activate our immune systems and trigger the ‘flight or fight’ response. 

Small amounts of stress can be helpful - it can motivate you to work harder or concentrate. But if you feel stressed for a long time, it can be overwhelming and affect your health. 

Can stress cause seizures?

People with epilepsy often notice that they have more seizures when they’re feeling stressed. We still don’t know exactly why this is. But some possible explanations include:

  • Stress can disrupt your sleep - and feeling tired may be a seizure trigger.
  • Stress releases certain chemicals in your body that affect how the brain works. This may make you more likely to have seizures. 
  • The parts of the brain which deal with emotions around stress are also the same parts of the brain that are linked to some kinds of seizure activity.

Mental health: Let’s talk about epilepsy and depression

Can stress cause non-epileptic seizures?

Possibly. People who don’t have epilepsy can still experience seizure-like symptoms. These are called non-epileptic seizures. They include things like panic attacks and fainting. If you’re undergoing a lot of stress, you may experience these symptoms. While it is not epilepsy, these are serious issues and it’s worth seeking help if you’re experiencing them frequently. 

7 tips to avoid stress induced seizures

If you get stress seizures, there are plenty of things you can do to tackle the causes and symptoms of stress: 

  1. Take part in sport and safe exercises like yoga – working out can release endorphins that may relieve stress. Speak to your doctor about which activities you can do safely. 
  1. Deep breathing – sit somewhere peaceful, close your eyes and breathe deeply for five minutes. 
  1. Talk about it with a friend – simply talking about a problem with someone may help. A problem shared is a problem halved!
  1. Write it out – if you don’t want to talk about the problem aloud, writing how you feel may provide relief.
  1. Physically decompress – work out knots in your back with a tennis ball/foam roller or get a massage to relieve tension.
  1. Laugh and smile – laughing releases endorphins and may reduce stress; it might sound crazy, but making yourself laugh or smile can reduce stressful feelings fast!
  1. Body scan – a body scan is when you close your eyes and observe how every part of you is feeling. Start with your toes and try to relax every muscle all the way up to your head. 

Your wellbeing: Read our beginner’s guide to wellness

Dealing with stress seizures

For many people, the techniques listed above offer a quick and effective way of managing stress and seizures. However, if you’re struggling to cope, it might be worth speaking with your doctor for more help.

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