Stress and the Holidays

The holiday season is a busy time of the year! You spend time shopping for presents, decorating your home, attending holiday parties, and socializing with friends and family. Stress is generally part of the season. You may feel stress from trying to complete all the tasks involved in the season—even if they are enjoyable! You also may feel emotional about the past death of a loved family member or about a troubled relationship. You may even worry about whether the season will affect your seizures.

This is not a needless worry. Most doctors and nurses feel that stress can cause greater seizure activity, even though scientists have had difficulty in proving exactly how that relationship works. Stress is known to cause worry, depression, frustration, and even anger. It affects your sleep cycle and may cause you to develop a tension headache. Not all patients with epilepsy report increased seizure activity when they are under stress, but stress does affect seizure activity for many people. The stress of the holiday season could cause you to experience an increased number of complex partial seizures or may even provoke a tonic-clonic seizure that is usually controlled by your seizure medicine. If your seizures are sensitive to stress, it is recommended that you identify sources of stress and develop stress management techniques to have better control over situations that may influence your seizures.

One technique for reducing stress in the holiday season is better time management. Don't wait until the day before your holiday to do gift shopping and wrapping. Staying up late the night before the holiday may increase your risk of having a seizure at your holiday dinner. It's a good idea to do some shopping and wrapping every week in December—or even earlier. Shopping in August might be your plan for stress reduction next year!

Getting enough rest is another way of reducing stress. Don't burn the candle at both ends! Sleep deprivation decreases your tolerance for stressful situations and places you at greater risk for seizures. Pick and choose the parties that are most important to you. Attending parties during the workweek or even on the weekend cuts into the number of hours you're able to sleep. Plan your time to include a nap before the party, take a day off from work, or limit after-party activities so you can get enough sleep.

Keep an eye on your alcohol use. Holiday celebrations generally include drinking alcohol, and for many people drinking a glass of wine is very relaxing and reduces their feeling of stress. Studies have shown that most adults with epilepsy can drink one or two alcoholic beverages a day without worsening seizures. But some individuals (and most people with certain epilepsy syndromes) are more sensitive to alcohol than others. If you are sensitive to alcohol or if you are feeling any stress or worry about the holidays or about your seizure activity, the safest strategy is to limit your alcohol use during the holiday season.

Exercise is good for stress reduction. It has been found to have both physical and emotional benefits, and it also can effectively distract you from the stressful events of the season. A brisk walk, yoga, tai chi, or even an aerobics class is a great way for you to relax. Fitting exercise into your busy schedule may seem difficult and you may even think of it as being self-centered. Why not think of setting aside time for exercise as your holiday gift to yourself?

The holidays are here for you to enjoy. Manage your time so you don't get stressed out. Be religious about taking your seizure medicines. Spend time with people you love and make sure you do something nice for yourself during the season. And have a wonderful holiday!

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The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives.

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