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Is There a Connection Between Epilepsy and Anxiety?

July 08, 2023

If you have epilepsy, the fear of having a seizure might trigger anxiety, or feeling too much anxiety can prompt a seizure.

So what can be done to manage both conditions?

The key to living with epilepsy and anxiety is self-management, says Novelette Spence, LCSW, a social worker with the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute.

But what does that look like?

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Epilepsy can have psychological effects.

First, you need to understand your condition.

Epilepsy is the excessive misfiring of neurons in the brain that can cause seizures of varying severity. But it isn’t just about defining the disorder – it’s also about the co-existing emotional conditions. Anxiety and depression are up to three times more prevalent in patients with epilepsy, Spence notes.

“Anxiety is a natural reaction for everyone in certain situations,” Spence continues. “It’s when it interrupts our daily life that we need to act.”

For someone with epilepsy, anxiety centers on fear of:

  • Having another epileptic attack
  • Losing your job
  • Being judged
  • Frightening others with your seizure
  • Facing stigma
  • Losing independence

One study reported that about 40% of patients reported feeling agoraphobic after a seizure – “afraid to leave their house in case they have another seizure event,” Spence says.

> Related: 4 Tips for Managing Your Epilepsy

But there are options to manage epilepsy related anxiety.

There are forms of self-management you can practice, including:

  1. Taking your medication. This includes anything prescribed to control your seizures and ease anxiety.
  2. Finding and avoiding your triggers. Being sleep deprived triggers epileptic seizures in some people, while drinking too much alcohol can for others.
  3. Keeping a journal. Track seizure events to understand frequency, duration, patterns or new and existing triggers. Elevated emotions – even positive emotions like being overly excited – can trigger seizures. Try using deep breathing techniques to manage your emotions.
  4. Developing healthy coping skills. Keep your anxiety under control by talking with a therapist or someone in your support system. Keep yourself distracted with exercise, music or a book.
  5. Try positive self-talk. This helps you reframe negative thinking to change your reactions to the way you think about seizures. “How you think is how you behave,” Spence says.

“For many people, epilepsy becomes their identity. They don’t remember there are other facets of themselves,” she says. “I help them reframe that thought process and set goals. It’s important to know that managing the epilepsy is not only about the seizures, but also about psychiatric symptoms to maximize quality of life.”