We all experience stress from time to time, whether it’s caused by work, relationships, or even a sports team that never seems to win. But when you experience high levels of stress, this can have a serious negative impact on your body.
Stress can affect your musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. When stress levels are particularly high, they can even lead to seizures.
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While seizures are not categorized as specific stress-induced seizure types, we do know that stress can contribute to triggering a seizure.
Because of the personal and self-reported nature of stress, it can be hard to precisely measure its effects. Research¹ has found, however, that stressors can affect seizure occurrence and severity. These can be major stressors, like a breakup or redundancy, but could also be a build-up of small daily stressors.
Seizures can occur for several reasons, but what exactly do they look like? The common symptoms of seizures include:
Uncontrolled arm and leg movements, often violent and jerking
Feelings of confusion
Staring into space
Loss of consciousness or awareness
Emotional responses, e.g., fear, anxiety, deja vu.
Seizures result from electrical disturbances in the brain, causing the uncontrolled movements and behaviors we see in seizure patients.
Seizures can be classified into two main types - partial (focal) and generalized seizures. Partial seizures occur in only one hemisphere of your brain and can happen while conscious or unconscious.
Generalized seizures occur in both hemispheres of the brain and include the following types:
Tonic and Clonic
There is another type of seizure, called psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES), previously known as pseudoseizures. Unlike partial and generalized seizures, PNES do not involve any electrical disturbances.
PNES symptoms are very similar to other seizure conditions but result from a psychological disorder. The symptoms of PNES may be challenging to differentiate from the symptoms of epilepsy.
Stress can play a significant role in the onset of PNES symptoms.
Stress can take a lot of different forms. These are some behaviors that may indicate that you’re experiencing high-stress levels.
Drug and/or alcohol use - Drug and alcohol use can be stressors themselves but are also often indicative of underlying high-stress levels.
Sleep problems - Stress often has an impact on our sleep schedules. If you’re experiencing disrupted sleep patterns or are generally having trouble sleeping, you might be struggling with stress.
Disrupted eating patterns - Our eating habits are strongly tied to our emotions and stress levels. If you find yourself over or undereating (compared to your normal habits), you might be experiencing higher than normal stress levels.
Some of the stressors that can contribute to your overall stress levels include:
Pressure at work
An upcoming big event
Major life change, e.g., moving
Overwhelming personal responsibilities
Health issues (yours or a loved one's).
Stress can play a significant role in seizure frequency and severity, so it’s essential that you get your stress levels under control if you suffer from a seizure disorder. To reduce stress in your life, try:
Meditation and/or yoga
Incorporating a regular exercise routine
Maintaining a healthy and normal sleep routine
Eating healthily and to a regular schedule
Reducing alcohol and drug consumption
Talking to a therapist
Fostering healthy relationships with friends, family, and loved ones
Having a daily routine
Participating in activities you enjoy, e.g., team sports and music.
If you’re struggling with stress and seizures, you must talk to your doctor and adhere to your medication routine.
Stress can contribute to seizure occurrence and impact the severity of seizure conditions. While we don’t know exactly how stress affects seizures, we do know that it plays an important role. Therefore, reducing stress can have benefits on your overall well-being.
Stress can be a trigger for all types of seizures. We do know that stress is one of the most frequently self-identified triggers for patients with epilepsy and significantly contributes to psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES).
We aren’t sure exactly how stress can trigger seizures, but we do know that it can have a significant impact on various systems in the brain, activating receptors and influencing neurotransmitter production.
Stress effects on the body | American Psychological Association
Stress, mood, and seizures | Epilepsy Foundation