December 7, 2021

robertlpham

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How a Smartphone Can Help You Cope With Epilepsy

As vaccination rates rise and municipalities begin to reopen, remembering simple social behaviors—like making small talk with co-workers or hugging a parent hello—is suddenly baffling. For people with chronic illness like me, I need a refresher on how to manage it in the “real” world. Fortunately, my strategies are one touch away on my smartphone.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 32, and it surprised me to learn that epilepsy is more complicated than treating seizures. It’s a fickle condition because seizures and their triggers are individual and inconsistent, prompting me to continuously monitor my daily activities, emotions, and anti-epileptic medications.

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Under pandemic restrictions, my personal epilepsy guidelines slowly blurred. It only took one “normal” weekend and the seizure that came with it for my memory to snap back. Dating and family gatherings require more monitoring when they happen in-person instead of the computer screen from my couch.

Like many health conditions, epilepsy makes me feel a loss of control. Over the past four years, I’ve cultivated strategies to mitigate seizure frequency, care for myself when they occur, and cope with epilepsy’s daily challenges. To find empowerment, I just have to pick up my phone.

Ready, Set, Stop

Staying mentally balanced is important for everyone, but especially for those with epilepsy, as anti-epileptic drugs and seizures are both energy drainers. One simple tip is to take frequent breaks throughout the day.

It’s counterintuitive that pausing brain activity improves cognitive function. A break sounds simple enough, like regular exercise or meditation, but it requires accountability to make it happen.

I use my phone to set an alarm 20 to 45 minutes from the time I sit down at my desk. There’s something jarring about hearing the same sound that wakes you up in the morning while you’re in the middle of writing an email. Just like I do when I wake up, I hit the snooze button twice before begrudgingly getting up from my desk to pick up a magazine, grab a snack, or step outside for a few minutes.

University of Chicago neurologist Richard Kraig explains the importance of breaks for a healthy brain. “Environmental enrichment such as increased intellectual, social, and physical activity can reduce subsequent neurological disease by half, including epilepsy, as well as help restore brain and mental health after the onset of injury,” says Kraig. “For people this can be as simple as periodically taking a casual walk in nature and daydreaming.”

Despite my initial irritation at the interruption, I come back to my desk feeling refreshed with renewed energy.

An Easy Escape

Because stress is a common trigger for seizures, sometimes we need more than a break—we need an immediate escape. This is when I pull out Wordscapes, a friendly crossword app, and immerse myself.

Creating words from a handful of letters, along with the app’s outdoor scenes, grounds me. Word games require mental engagement without emotional attachment. Whether on a crowded bus or fretting over an upcoming meeting, the problem-solving aspect of Wordscapes immediately takes my focus off the stressor. The app exudes positivity with its bright color palette and encouraging messaging.

Word gaming isn’t appealing to everyone, but there are other stress-relieving game apps to check out. I encourage you to find an app that requires focus while providing positive energy.

The Seizure Diaries

Keeping a record of seizures is important for diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle. There are nearly 100 different seizure tracking apps, making it daunting to find the right one. After testing several, I’m partial to SeizAlarm due to its simplicity.

The diary portion of the app, where I log my seizures, is simple and free. SeizAlarm provides sections to detail the seizure type, emotional state, potential triggers, description of the seizure, and post-seizure description. Each section has a menu of options to choose from. For example, the “Potential Triggers” section lists 10 selections, such as “Stress” and “Hormonal fluctuations” and includes a space to add details.