What is stress?

In general, stress is a way of responding to any change in life, especially if it is related to a demand or a threat. It can come from environmental, physical, or emotional triggers.

Everyone – people living with epilepsy, family, friends, and other caregivers – feels stress at different times. Stress is a normal part of life and is often associated with

  • A busy schedule that leaves us with little time for rest or fun
  • Unrealistic expectations or too many demands
  • Feeling constantly hurried and overwhelmed
  • A difficult life situation, like a health challenge or a relationship conflict
  • Major life changes, such as moving or changing jobs
  • Not having the skills or ability to meet our responsibilities

Stress can help or harm us.

  • Stress can motivate a person to respond to normal life issues as well as dangerous or challenging situations.
  • Yet if a person has too much stress or doesn’t have the right tools to cope with it, they can easily be overwhelmed.
  • Having a health problem like epilepsy and unpredictable seizures can cause stress too.

What role does stress play in your life?

Stress can be good or bad. Stress is exciting during positive events, like the birth of a child or a job promotion. It creates energy for meeting challenges, such as starting a new job or moving to a new neighborhood. At times, stress can help a person focus and be motivating. It can propel a person to meet deadlines and complete important tasks. It can even help a person respond to danger.

While some stress can be helpful, it can be debilitating and cause your health to suffer. Stress produces mental, physical, or emotional reactions. It can challenge your sense of wellbeing and threaten important areas of your life like relationships. It also can cause you to feel inadequate and lower your self-esteem.

Can stress cause seizures?

For many people living with epilepsy, stress can trigger seizures. A recent review of stress in people with refractory epilepsy suggests that stress is the most frequently reported seizure trigger. Seizures may be more likely to happen at times of stress or may be worse or different than usual.

It is not known why stress can trigger a seizure. Is it the stress itself or the person’s reaction to the stress? There are also biological connections between the brain, our behavior, and mood.

What is known about stress?

How does your body react to stress?

When “stress” happens...

  • Your brain sets off an alarm to release hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) in your bloodstream.
  • These hormones travel throughout your body to protect you by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone
  • These increases provide a surge of energy and prepare your body to “jump into action” and help you respond to a threat.
  • They also help you think faster, making it easier for you to plan, strategize, and problem-solve.

In the short term, the hormone release is your body’s way of protecting itself. Once the stressors are gone, your body “calms down” and returns to normal function. However, when stressors are always present, that alarm system stays turned on and your body is exposed to too many of these stress hormones. If you are in a constant state of high stress, you will become anxious, tired, and more than likely depressed.

Does stress contribute to other health conditions?

Having too much stress can also lead to other health problems. Many people who see a doctor report stress-related complaints and illnesses.

Stress can have many effects on your body and lead to:

In fact, stress is linked to the leading causes of death:

  • Accidents
  • Cancer
  • Lung illnesses
  • Heart disease
  • Suicide

Stress is also expensive. It has been associated with decreased job productivity, workplace accidents, and high use of health services that lead to increased use of leave from work.


  1. Kotwas I, McGonigal A, Bastien-Toniazzo M,et al. Stress regulation in drug-resistant epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2017 Jun;71(Pt A):39-50.
  2. Lewis G. Psychological distress and death from cardiovascular disease. BMJ. 2012 Jul 31;345:e5177.
  3. Kalia M. Assessing the economic impact of stress--the modern day hidden epidemic. Metabolism. 2002 Jun;51(6 Suppl 1):49-53.
Authored By: 
Susan Vosburgh MSW, LCSW-C, and Jenny LaBaw
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
David Taplinger MD
Friday, August 4, 2017