Stress, Mood, and Seizures


Although seizures can't always be predicted or controlled, there are things you can do to lower the chances of having one. Your actions also have the power to increase your chance of having a seizure.

Many people with epilepsy say that sleep deprivation, increased alcohol consumption, and menstrual changes lead to an increase in seizure frequency. You probably already knew that. What you may want to know is why. The reason is that all of these situations change your brain's excitability. Your brain is very sensitive to these changes, and if there is a big enough change from normal, you may begin to have a seizure.

Emotional stress also can lead to seizures. Emotional stress is usually related to a situation or event that has personal meaning to you. It may be a situation in which you feel a loss of control. In particular, the kind of emotional stress that leads to most seizures is worry or fear. One study found that in some patients, anxiety—another term for worry and fear—led to hyperventilation (overbreathing) and an increase in abnormal brain activity and seizures. Other emotions that have been linked with stress and seizures are frustration and anger. Sometimes the stress is a 'major' event, but most often people report a build up of daily hassles or stress.

Regardless of the cause, probably the best way to decrease your seizure frequency is to follow your medication schedule very closely.  The number one reported cause of increased seizures was missed medications. When you don't take your seizure medicine or take less than you should, the levels of medication in your body and brain fall. Your brain may begin to show unusual activity, which can lead to seizures.

When stress or worry is a trigger, there are a number of things you could do to lessen the chance of a seizure. 

  • First, look at how stress is affecting you and how you are coping. Is there a way to lessen it's impact on you? Are there ways to manage stress better? 
  • Are you having sleep problems? Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of stress and mood problems. Since sleep deprivation is a common seizure trigger, it's important to pay attention to sleep at these times. 
  • Are you eating normally? Eating habits often get disrupted when people are feeling stress. Some people eat more, others don't eat or have poor eating habits. Some people find they have more seizures when not eating well or going long periods without eating. Maybe you are drinking too much coffee or caffeinated beverages? This can worsen seizures by disrupting your sleep? 
  • Is alcohol or using 'recreational' drugs a problem? Sometimes substance use or abuse is a problem when people have mood problems or are feeling stressed. Not a good idea if you have seizures. Some people are more likely to have seizures during or after alcohol use and many 'recreational' drugs can worsen seizures. 

Identify possible triggers and consider what you can do to modify or change your lifestyle or behaviors. The goal is lessen your chance of seizures.  Look at self-management strategies to manage triggers of seizures. (link to managing my epilepsy). Here's just a few ideas. 

  • Start (and continue) a regular sleep pattern. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to a few (or no) drinks, and don't drink too often.
  • Find an outlet to help you deal with anger, frustration, and worries in your life. Exercise, music, or conversation works for many people.

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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