Stress and Epilepsy
How often does stress trigger seizures?
It’s hard to know exactly how often stress triggers seizures, since stress means something different to everyone. It’s also hard to judge how much of an effect stress has on a person.
Stress comes in different forms and has a different meaning for everyone. It can come from a major life event or from more everyday activities that can potentially put us in a bad mood. Some studies have found that major life stressors, either good or bad, could affect seizures. Others have found that a build up of ‘daily hassles’ or stress seems to be more important. Since people are very different, it’s likely that stress can affect people in different ways at different times of their life.
VIDEO: Dr. Michael Privitera, MD talks about the relationship of stress and epilepsy, and an innovative new study to explore how stress reduction may also reduce seizures.
How does stress trigger seizures?
We aren’t sure just why stress may trigger a seizure. Stress is an expected and unavoidable part of life. It is our body's reaction to any change that requires a physical and emotional response. Stress is known to cause worry, depression, frustration and even anger. Stress may affect people in many ways. Consider the following:
- Stress makes or releases certain hormones related to the nervous system that can impact the brain.
- Areas of the brain important for some types of seizures, for example partial seizures, are the same areas of the brain involved in emotions and responding to stress.
- Stress can cause problems sleeping which is also a seizure trigger.
- Chronic stress can lead to anxiety or depression. Sleep problems are symptoms of these mood problems. Being anxious and depressed can also worsen stress, causing a vicious cycle with more seizures and mood problems.
What can I do to manage stress and prevent seizures?
While there is no definite evidence that reducing stress help seizures, a recent study showed that nearly 9 in 10 people who actively managed their stress believed it reduced their risk of seizures. Common sense tells us that if something is bothering you, see what you can do to avoid it or make it better.
Managing stress is very personal and specific to your situation; however, there are some universal activities and recommendations.
- Use a diary and write down what’s likely to cause stress for you.
- Try to avoid stressful situations if it makes sense to do so, and if you can avoid it! If you can’t avoid it, can you let go of the worry it’s causing you?
- When a stressful situation is unavoidable, make sure you are doing your best to get enough sleep and take your seizure medications on time.
- Find ways to diffuse a situation. Avoid people who cause anger and anxiety if you can. Try to approach them differently – it may help calm down the stressful situation.
- Exercise regularly. Lots of research has shown the exercise helps lower stress.
- Do your best to relax. Try exercise, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, a massage, cat naps, or relaxation and controlled breathing techniques.
- Limit long naps during the day. Sleeping during the day will cause sleep problems at night and make people feel worse.
- Keep to a daily routine. Pace yourself and take frequent breaks.
- Set priorities for what is important in your life and let the rest go.
- Seek help. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or counselor. Let them know what’s bothering you.
- Make sure the epilepsy team knows that stress is affecting your seizures.
- Seek counseling or psychotherapy. If you think you may have anxiety or depression, talk to you doctor about treatment options.
- Join a support group or online support community. Reach out to the Epilepsy Foundation affiliate near you.
Learn More:Contact Our Helpline
Epilepsy centers provide you with a team of specialists to help you diagnose your epilepsy and explore treatment options.
Find in-depth information on anti-seizure medications so you know what to ask your doctor.
Epilepsy and Seizures 24/7 Helpline
Call our Epilepsy and Seizures 24/7 Helpline and talk with an epilepsy information specialist or submit a question online.
Tools & Forms
Download our seizure tracking app, print out seizure action plans, or explore other educational materials.