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Can Anxiety Cause Brain Zaps?


Brain zaps, or the feeling that your brain’s had an electric shock or tremor can be very disconcerting, after all our brain is one of our most important and precious organs. Although not a massively common symptom, it has been linked with sufferers of anxiety, particularly those on anti-anxiety medication or SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors).


Why Can Anxiety Cause Brain Zaps?

Honestly, we’re not completely sure why brain zaps happen. It is listed as a side effect of many anxiety and depression medications, and there are theories that it happens when we experience low levels of serotonin or GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), both of which help to regulate our mood and relaxation levels – however none of this evidence appears to be conclusive.


Another theory is that when we’re anxious and go into fight, flight or freeze mode, our primordial survival response, our body becomes hyperstimulated and the electrical activity in our brain increases, so any small sensation in our body becomes amplified. This may explain why it feels like an electric shock in our brain, when in reality there’s just more activity and we’re more sensitive to the sensation.


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

There are a few things to consider here. If you think your medication might be causing this and it’s distressing you, please talk with your doctor about your options as there might be alternative medication you can take. As always, don’t discontinue your medication without speaking to your doctor first as this might cause more damage in the long run. 


With the hyperstimulation theory, as this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our system to desensitize and return to our natural balanced state, or homeostasis. 


Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.