Stress is a relative term that can be different for each person. For some people, it can be as a result of emotional trauma, and for others it could be a tough week at work. Epilepsy and seizures can also affect each person differently. There are a lot of correlations between stress and seizure activity, but can we say definitively that it’s a trigger?
Stress as a Seizure Trigger
We might not be able to say definitively that stress is or is not a trigger for seizures, the current research is simply inconclusive. However, there is a wealth of anecdotal accounts that lend credibility to the theory that stress can be a common seizure trigger.
Whilst research might not have a definitive answer, previous studies have shown that stress is one of the most common self reported triggers. That is to say that people who have epilepsy often cite being stressed as a precursor to a seizure. A recent study also showed that 9 out of 10 people believed that controlling their stress led to fewer seizures.
Is There Any Scientific Basis?
Whilst conclusive evidence may be lacking, there is still scientific basis in the form of theories that lend some credibility. Stress is known to release certain hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can affect the brain, which could conceivably also affect seizure activity,
There are areas of the brain that are closely aligned with emotion, such as the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is also the area of the brain that’s associated with some seizure types, including partial/focal seizures. Again, although not proven, it’s probable that any strong emotion could elicit a response in the same area of the brain that’s responsible for a person’s seizures.
Finally, the solution could be far simpler. Stress can affect many things that are known seizure triggers, including sleep deprivation. If a person is stressed and not getting as much sleep as they usually would, it could quite easily result in increased seizures. Similarly, chronic stress can lead to depression and anxiety, which can compound sleep problems and create a vicious cycle.
How to Manage Stress
As previously mentioned, stress is a relative term that’s different for everyone. It’s also an unfortunate and unavoidable fact of life for most people. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t manage stress in the hopes that it could help to reduce seizure frequency.
What managing stress looks like for you may be very different to someone else. It really does depend on your situation, but there are a few things that everyone can do:
- Include stressful situations in a seizure diary to see if there is any correlation between feeling stressed and seizures.
- Once stressful situations have been identified, find ways to avoid them or deal with them in a more productive way.
- Ensure that you prioritise sleep as much as possible and ensure that your seizure medications are always taken on time.
- Exercise regularly as this has been found as one of the most effective ways to lower stress levels and release ‘feel good’ endorphins. Yoga, tai chi and pilates are all great ways to get some more exercise and relax.
- Take regular breaks and make sure you prioritise time for yourself to explore your hobbies and interests.
- Ensure you’re maintaining a healthy diet to contribute to your overall health
- If you are feeling chronic stress and don’t feel like there’s a way out, seek the help of a professional who may be able to help you explore the root cause.
- Make sure your epilepsy team is also aware that you feel stress is affecting your seizures, they may be able to help.
There are many ways that you can reduce stress (and hopefully seizures as a result). Finding what works for you may be trial and error, but actively taking measures to do so is the first step.