Psychogenic non epileptic seizures flare up even when good things happen: does that make any sense?

It does actually. The idea for today’s blog post came to me after one of my patients had several episodes right after getting some very good news. She was confused as was her family about why this happened. This led to our talking about different kinds of stress and we were able to make sense of it. So, I thought it would be useful to share with all of you as well.
To understand it we need to talk about stress, distress and something also known as positive stress or eustress.
Stress happens when a force is exerted against something and produces pressure that strains that object. If the force is sufficient, the object may break. Sometimes we hear after a bridge collapses that they found “stress fractures” thought to have led to the collapse, for example.
Distress: is a psychological term in which the force is something seen as potentially toxic or bad (e.g. loss of job, breaking up, debt collectors calling at all hours, etc.); it presses against someone causing unhappiness and negative tension. If the force is sufficient, the person may become sick and/or have a non-epileptic event.
Eustress: is a very interesting psychological concept. The force is again an event that is seen as potentially positive and good but also strains the person who is trying to adjust to it and can lead to anxiety and tension.
This explains why sometimes a “good” thing (i.e. a promotion, getting a date with the girl of your dreams, getting a raise, etc.) may still be intensely stressful resulting in anxiety, psychological tension and a non-epileptic event.
The key is to have the knowledge (like you now do about eustress, for example) and to be aware and connected to your body and mind. Are you at rest and yet your muscles are tense, you’re breathing, short/shallow breaths, you’re sweaty, your heart rate is up? Connecting what you know about eustress and your body’s messages will allow you to process this before it grows into a full blown non-epileptic episode.

6 thoughts on “Psychogenic non epileptic seizures flare up even when good things happen: does that make any sense?”

  1. Hello Dr. Lorna Myers,

    My husband has requested an appt. to meet with you for I just found out yesterday that I have PNES…Besides having been ill for 18 years with a number of kinds of illnesses, also a very troubled childhood and teenage life that you only see in the movies causing me to have PNES I have noticed for quite a number of years when my confidence level went down as time went on being ill which leads me to believe that I am not good enough anymore and I don’t have the brains or strength to accomplish it. I joined a Photography Club back in Fall 2011 and was very happy to meet new friends and also to get out of the house and be apart of something I love to do with other people. This club also has monthly competitions and I got a new large format printer and also trying to learn Photoshop to edit my photos and than handing them in to be judged and while I am doing all this I look at my photos and say well is this worthy enough and then when I hand them in and found out that a few of my photographs have gotten an 8 score next to a 9 score which is an award where is is Honorary Mention and that one of the judges said that I should sell one of my photos I am very excited and want to show it off to the world but at the same time I feel this nervous tension, anxiety and I feel and know that my family and friends don’t really appreciate photography and arts like I do and I come home and I don’t have any friends here in SI, NY to share with my enjoyment. You see I used to live in Bayridge, Bklyn and moved to Staten Island 6yrs ago and I had alot of friends in Bklyn and when I used to Decoupage how I mad many friends and talked about it and had commissions but since I moved here I feel alone. Anyway, I hope to see you soon and you will be able to direct me in the right direction for living with PNES and having my boys and my husband having to watch me suffer since last Feb. 2011 is no joke and I am tired myself where it was looking bleak until yesterday and now have new hope that I am not crazy. Thank you, Andrea :0)

  2. Hi Andrea, Getting the right diagnosis is excellent. What you are mentioning about your history, low self esteem, feeling lonely and just how hard it is to have PNES (it is absolutely not a joke) are all real issues. If you read through the blog you’ll be able to see these topics and more. You may also want to join the facebook page called psychological non epileptic seizures. There are many people on there who have this very same diagnosis and are a wonderful support system. And you may also want to go to the information section in and the links section if you want to read up even more. These are all good places to start. Hope to see you soon.

  3. Hi I have experinced eustress. Its very confusind. I had applyed for a up grade with my DLA and after waiting three months
    I was sure I would only get the same award as I had 3 years running. I was getting only low rate care. My condition had worsen and I also have funtional weakness in both legs. The new award came back with middle rate care and high rate mobility. After reading the paper work I had a sezuire.
    The next time was went to collect the mobility car. Waiting for the keys and paper work I had a sezuire. I have a mobility care. My hubby is my payed carer but now I stress just incase with the new system starting. I will loose all I have just received. Its a catch. 22. Just thought I would share

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  5. hi my son has been diagnosed with pnes he is 12 and has seizures every day and night terrors it affects his memory and causes confusion , he is coreently home schooled as he cant cope in school nd I have been turned down by dla , has anyone else had an experience like this ?
    many thanks

    1. My son is 15 and has just started having nonepileptic seizures. He has had them for three months now and has not been able to attend school. He is also having to be homeschooled. Before starting the seizures he was puking 4 to 5 times a day and night for about six weeks. Then it turned into the seizures. We have been to G.I. specialist and to epilepsy specialist who both say that he has nothing physically wrong with him. We are waiting for an appointment to a psychiatrist intwo weeks. We have been shuffled back-and-forth in between doctors for the last three months and it is very frustrating! Don’t know anything this kid could be stressed about. He is a relatively happy kid makes good grades in school play sports. What is going on? He has the seizures at night in his sleep along with night terrors and 2 to 3 times a day lasting 2 to 3 hours each time it is affecting his memory he acts as if he is drunk during the time he has hadthem. He doesn’t remember anything about it once he comes out of it. He just snaps out of it and it’s fine until he has the next one. I have never seen anything like this! Is this what is happening to your son?

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