Causes and Signs of Stress


woman stressed sitting down

The causes of stress vary widely and are unique to each person. What causes stress for you may not affect someone else. In fact, people with the same stressor may respond completely different. For example, while some people do fine procrastinating before taking a test and cramming the night before, others need to plan far in advance or they go into a frenzy.

Stress also comes in different forms.

  • Acute stress- can be the result of a major life event, either positive (starting college, having a baby, or getting married) or negative (being in a car accident, the death of a loved one, or getting fired).
  • Chronic stress- can come from daily activities and pressures that build up and cause a person to react negatively. It can make a person angry or depressed. Examples include a challenging work situation, marital difficulties, financial problems, or having frequent seizures.  

Both chronic and acute stressors can trigger seizures in some people living with epilepsy.

Everyone – people living with epilepsy, family, friends, and other caregivers – should be aware of stress and its impact on their health. By knowing the warning signs of stress, you can begin to understand its effect on your body.

When you notice the signs of stress, talk with your healthcare team.

  • Not all signs are due to stress. Some signs may be related to seizures or side effects of medicines.
  • Other medical problems can lead to similar signs of stress. Your medical team may order tests to rule out other health conditions.
  • If the warning signs are stress related, your health care team can help develop a plan to manage your stress. 


  • Feel frustrated quickly
  • Anxious, tense, or nervous
  • Overworked and overwhelmed
  • Angry or irritable
  • Emotionally agitated
  • Over-reactive, excitable
  • Detached or unconcerned
  • Helpless and incompetent
  • Depressed and having little to feel happy about
  • Hopeless and unmotivated
  • A sense of loneliness
  • A negative attitude towards yourself and others


  • Restless or “hyper” 
  • Stomach aches, pains, digestive problems 
  • Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness 
  • Clenched jaw or grinding teeth 
  • Chest pains or shortness of breath 
  • Lack of energy or stamina 
  • Sleep problems (insomnia, restless sleep) 
  • Hyperventilating 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Difficulty swallowing, lump in your throat 
  • Muscle tension, back aches, muscle twitching 
  • Increased heart rate, high blood pressure


  • Withdrawing from normal activities 
  • Poor relationships, increased conflict with others 
  • Decreased sex drive and intimacy 
  • Excessive eating, lack of appetite 
  • Difficulties at work and with coworkers 
  • Not engaging in pleasurable activities 
  • Failing to relax or take time to gain perspective 
  • Always “on the go” and unable to slow down


  • Difficulty focusing and concentration 
  • Constant worry and anxiety 
  • Confusion, unable to prioritize or delegate 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Unable to problem solve effectively 
  • Racing thoughts or speech 
  • Unable to think logically 
  • Persistent negative thoughts 
  • Difficulty processing thoughts

Don’t assume the symptoms above are stress related. Some signs may be due to seizures or their after effects, medicine side effects, or other health problems. Check with your healthcare team about the signs and next steps.

Once you sort out possible causes, it’s time to think about how to manage the stress symptoms.

Authored By:

Susan Vosburgh MSW, LCSW-C, and Jenny LaBaw

on Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reviewed By:

David Taplinger MD

on Tuesday, August 15, 2017


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