What Are Brain Zaps? (Anxiety Symptoms)

Brain zaps may sound like something you would expect to see on a cartoon. In reality, they are believed to be a side effect of suddenly reducing or stopping antidepressants and are a common symptom of anxiety.

They have been variously described as feeling as though your head has suddenly received a jolt of electricity to it, as if you have had a sudden shiver in the brain and like a tremor in the head.

There is no rhyme or reason with brain zaps. To some people, it can occur only in the brain. To others, it can feel as though their whole head is affected. Still others report experiencing the sensation across their whole body.

Some people can experience brain zaps only in the brain on one occasion and then in the whole head the next. Generally, there is no prior warning before a brain zap occurs, although they are known to pre-empt, accompany and follow periods of anxiety, fear and depression.

Brain zaps can also occur in a variety of intensities. Some people may only experience very mild zaps. In others, they will be more moderate. It is not uncommon for some to experience very severe brain zaps and for others to experience mild, moderate or severe zaps on different days.

It is important to stress that brain zaps are not harmful and will cause no damage to your brain. Nevertheless, they can be bothersome and disturb your sleep pattern. They are commonly associated with antidepressants and coming off them. You should always work with your GP to wean yourself off antidepressants as abruptly stopping them will increase the likelihood of you experiencing brain zaps.

Once your body has adjusted to the reduced level of antidepressants, and eventually to not having any level at all, the brain zaps and other symptoms will decrease and eventually stop altogether.

Apart from antidepressants, brain zaps are commonly associated with chronic stress. One theory as to how they occur in this context concerns the effects stress has on the nervous system. In this hypothesis, the neurotransmitter and neurons in the body are adversely affected and any further hyperstimulation can induce in them an overexcitation similar to that which causes seizures, albeit on a much smaller scale.

If stress is the cause of your head zaps, you need to take steps to reduce your stress levels. There are a number of ways you can do this. If you are overworking yourself, you should make time for regular rest breaks. Regular, moderate exercise is also a great way of relieving stress, as is spending time in nature.

If you are struggling to calm down, you should consider whether deep-breathing exercises and forms of meditation will help to relax you and enable you to think more logically. Depending on how severe your stress is, you may find therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy helpful.

Brain zaps can be annoying and sometimes frightening, but there are ways of dealing with them. It’s a matter of determining which approach is the right one for you.


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