Rethinking Seizure Care Blog

How Stress Management May Reduce Epileptic Seizures

Posted by RSC Diagnostics on Jan 6, 2022

Stressed businessman with head in hands at office

How often do we hear that one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to learn how to better manage our stress? Whether it is the TV expert saying that stress management is the key to improved mental clarity, the fitness instructor saying that exercise is a great form of stress management, or the physician advising us to eliminate stress to improve health; it is a common bit of advice.

A February 2018 report from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) explained that "Learning techniques to help manage stress may help people with epilepsy reduce how often they have seizures", too.

Beyond Pharmaceuticals

Though medical experts have long recognized the amazing benefits of pharmaceutical treatments for people dealing with epilepsy and seizures, it is also known that drugs are not effective for some. In fact, it is estimated that at least 1/3 of people with epilepsy still have seizures even after pharmaceutical treatment.

That is why researchers started to look at the most common triggers of seizure activity as another way to remedy the situation. As Sheryl Haut, who led the study explained, "Since stress is the most common seizure trigger reported by patients, research into reducing stress could be valuable."

More than 60 patients participated in the study. All were on AED regimens and yet also had experienced at least four seizures in the two months prior to the study beginning. The study involved a 90-day period in which all participants met with a psychologist to learn specific techniques for reducing stress. They were also given audio recordings of instructions. In their instructions, they were told to use the techniques they had studied with the psychologist if they felt they might experience a seizure.

The Techniques Varied Between Two Styles:

One was a "method where each muscle set is tensed and relaxed, along with breathing techniques" while the other was called focused attention. They did similar movements as the other group, but without the muscle relaxation, plus other tasks focusing on attention, such as writing down their activities from the day before."

All participants used electronic diaries and were asked to track stress levels, sleep, mood, and seizure activity.

The Results

The researchers used classic scientific method and hypothesized that it would be the first group - the muscle relaxing group - that would gain the greatest outcomes. Yet, in the end, it was revealed that both groups fared almost identically. Additionally, all groups benefited from the relaxation techniques.

The first group had almost 30% fewer seizures and the second group had around 25% fewer seizures throughout the study. Though the study was of a limited size, and typical influential factors could have caused variations in outcomes, the results are promising. One key to success, say the researchers, was that their participants were incredibly motivated and that around 85% were extremely loyal to their diary activities and visits with psychologists.

Still, the researchers see their results as a sign that further such studies are warranted. Indicating that larger groups of participants and additional techniques could prove very fruitful. Suggesting mindfulness and cognitive therapies, they strongly believe that relaxation and stress management techniques should be integrated into all epilepsy treatment programs.

What does this mean to someone living with epilepsy? Well, the results speak for themselves and prove that there are measurable benefits to finding ways to learn the techniques used in the study and practice them on a regular basis. Though they may not prevent seizures from occurring, this research did prove that such techniques can reduce them significantly.




Topics: Managing Your Epilepsy