Can Anxiety Cause Seizures?

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated June 1, 2022

Can anxiety cause seizures?

Can anxiety cause seizures?

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, can trigger epileptic seizures, Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES - previously known as pseudoseizures), and seizure-like episodes.

Epilepsy

If you’ve been diagnosed with epilepsy, anxiety and stress are known epileptic seizure triggers.[1]

Epilepsy is thought to be a central nervous system (neurological) disorder caused by abnormal brain activity.

Epileptic symptoms include:

  • Staring spell
  • Blank look
  • Stiff muscles
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Out-of-body sensation
  • Uncontrollable muscle spasms
  • Drooling, frothing at the mouth
  • Odd taste in the mouth
  • Clenching teeth
  • Biting tongue
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Making unusual noises (grunting, etc.)
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Sudden and uncontrollable mood changes
  • Headache
  • Falling
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements in the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Fear, anxiety, déjà vu

Reducing anxiety and stress can reduce epileptic seizures for those people who have seizures triggered by them.

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Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES)

Anxiety and stress are also known triggers of Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES).[2]

PNES can look and feel like epileptic seizures, but current thinking suggests they aren’t caused by a change in electrical impulses in the brain like epileptic seizures.

PNES are thought to be caused by psychological or psychiatric reasons for some people.

So, yes, hyperstimulation, including the hyperstimulation caused by overly anxious behavior, can trigger PNES for some people.

PNES symptoms include:

  • Suddenly becoming unresponsive
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Shaking
  • Pelvic thrusting or leg movements like riding a bicycle
  • Moving the head from side to side
  • Eyelids closed tight
  • Jaw or mouth clenching
  • Staring into space spells
  • Thrashing around
  • Stuttering
  • Shouting phases
  • Startle easily
  • Brief loss of awareness
  • Concentration and memory problems

Here again, reducing anxiety and stress can reduce Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures for those people who have seizures triggered by them.

Addressing your mental health issues with a mental health professional, such as our recommended therapists, is the most effective way to succeed.

Anxiety

Anxiety and the stress it causes (acute and chronic) can cause seizure-like episodes that aren’t epileptic or Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures.

So, yes, anxiety can cause seizure-like episodes with symptoms like PNES.

Common anxiety seizure-like episode symptoms include:

To name a few. You can read more about each of these symptoms in the Anxiety Symptom section.

Even though anxiety seizure-like episodes can feel like epileptic and Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, they aren’t. These seizure-like episodes are caused by how the body and nervous system respond to high degrees of acute and chronic stress (hyperstimulation), especially high to very high degrees.

For instance, high degrees of stress (acute and chronic) can increase nervous system activity and blood flow to the brain so much that some people have seizure-like episodes, as described.

Much like how a blender increases its speed when you turn up the voltage, stress can increase the electrical activity in the nervous system (which includes the brain) so much that it triggers seizure-like episodes for some people.

Generally, these episodes are short – a few moments to minutes – and subside with calming the body and nervous system, such as stress reduction, rest, and regular good sleep.

You can reduce and eliminate incidences of PNES and anxiety-caused seizure-like episodes by reducing and eliminating anxious behavior and stress.

While attaining Level One recovery success can temporarily eliminate anxiety seizure-like episodes, attaining Level Two recovery success can permanently eliminate them.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder, hyperstimulation, and their acute and chronic symptoms.

For more information, Recovery Support members can visit the “Seizure-like Episodes” anxiety symptom in the Symptoms section (chapter 9).

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including: Can Anxiety Cause Seizures?

References

1. "Epilepsy." American Association of Neurological Surgeons, retrieved 30 May 2022.

2. Johnson, Jon. "What are psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES)?" MedicalNewsToday, 3 Oct 2021.