Depression Treatment Brain Zaps After Stopping Antidepressants: What You Should Know By Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons. Learn about our editorial process Published on February 20, 2023 Print gorodenkoff/iStock/Getty Images Plus Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Causes Brain Zaps? How Do Brain Zaps Feel? How to Get Rid of Brain Zaps Getting Help Frequently Asked Questions Brain zaps are electric-like sensations in the brain that happen when someone is weaning from an antidepressant. It’s a term that likely originated on internet discussion boards among people who were describing their experiences after discontinuing antidepressants. Brain zaps are one of several physical sensations experienced during antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, a condition common among people who are tapering off antidepressants. The 5 Types of Antidepressants What Causes Brain Zaps? Although the term “brain zaps” may be used to describe a variety of experiences—including the physical sensations associated with anxiety, or the experience of taking the drug ecstasy—the term is most closely associated with discontinuing antidepressants, and has been studied as a symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. According to a 2017 study published in CMAJ, roughly 20% of people develop antidepressant discontinuation syndrome after ending the use of antidepressant medication. The syndrome is most likely to happen when going “cold turkey” or reducing your medication intake substantially in a short period of time. Experts aren’t entirely sure why weaning from antidepressants can cause unpleasant bodily sensations for some people. According to a 2018 study, it might have something to do with the reduction of serotonin receptors that happens when you stop taking an antidepressant, and the impact this has on neurotransmitters. Additionally, certain people may just be more sensitive to the effects of stopping antidepressants, the researchers suspect. Symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome are usually experienced about 2-4 days after the tapering off process starts, and can last several weeks or longer. Symptoms can resolve sooner if you go back on your medication or take a new, similar antidepressant. Besides “brain zaps,” antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can cause: Flu-type symptoms, such as feeling overheated and exhausted, and having headaches and muscle achesTrouble sleeping, including nightmaresNausea and vomitingDizzinessTingling and burning sensationsFeeling anxious and “on edge”Feeling manicFeeling angry and agitated The Pros and Cons of Antidepressants How Do Brain Zaps Feel? Everybody experiences brain zaps a little differently. But in a nutshell, they are usually described as an electric-like sensation felt in the brain. They have also been described by some people as tingling, shock-like, and burning. Researchers looked at almost 600 online posts between 2014 and 2016 by users describing their experience with brain zaps. These findings were shared in the study published in The Primary Care Companion For CNS Disorders. Here’s what they found: Most described brain zaps as lasting a second or two, rarely longer The majority described brain zaps as “electric shocks” Many people felt like they blacked out for a second during a brain zap Many people felt like brain zaps were like the brain “rebooting” Some people shared that brain zaps were more likely to happen when they moved their head side to side Some people felt or heard buzzing Some people felt pain during the brain zap Some people had several zaps in a row A small number of people described brain zaps as “like seizures” A small number of people described brain zaps as similar to an orgasm Can Stress Cause Seizures? How to Get Rid of Brain Zaps In most cases, brain zaps, along with other symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome will go away within a week or so. For people who have mild, temporary symptoms, the “wait it out” approach works fine. But for some people, brain zaps and other sensations are extremely uncomfortable and disturbing, and may last for longer periods. These people may be looking for relief. Thankfully, you are not helpless when it comes to managing your symptoms. There are things that can be done to treat, prevent, and cope with brain zaps. Here’s what to know. Treatment If you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms after stopping antidepressants, you should contact your healthcare provider. They can discuss how quickly you have tapered off your medication, whether you should wean from the medication at a slower pace, and whether substituting a different medication while you wean may be appropriate. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to tapering off an antidepressant: It may be more possible to wean faster if you have been taking the antidepressant for less than four weeks—longer durations may require slower weaning If your antidepressant has a short half-life, you will need to wean more gradually It can be helpful to keep in mind that the symptoms you are experiencing are temporary and won’t affect your long-term health For some people, switching to a medication like fluoxetine (Prozac) can be helpful for a short period after you’ve stopped your antidepressant If your symptoms are extreme, you may need to start taking your medication again, and then do a slower tapering off period in the future Coping People who are stopping antidepressant and experience uncomfortable symptoms need support. Research published in Psychiatry Online surveyed 250 people who had discontinued their antidepressant. The researchers looked at what support helped the most. Here’s what they found: Self Education: 76% of people found that self-education on the topic of discontinuing medication was very helpful; this included reading books and doing web research on the subject Self-Care: Spending time outdoors, sharing how you feel with others, exercise, and spending time with pets all were helpful when it came to coping with medication discontinuation Social Support: More than half of respondents said that having at least one trusted support person was important, and having a support person who had experienced mediation discontinuation themselves and could empathize was more important than anything else. Prevention Not all instances of brain zaps can be prevented, but having a solid plan for how to taper off your medication and doing so gradually can prevent many cases of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome or at least lessen your symptoms. Reducing the risk of brain zaps starts with having a detailed discussion with your provider or psychiatrist before stopping your antidepressant. Not all antidepressants are the same, and your provider can tell you what the best schedule is for weaning off your particular antidepressant. In some cases, it may take 6-8 weeks to wean off an antidepressant to minimize side effects. Your provider may also suggest switching to a different antidepressant while you taper off. Prozac for Anxiety Disorders When to See a Healthcare Provider You should contact your healthcare provider before you begin the tapering off process, to get a healthy plan in place. But you should also contact your doctor if you are having challenging symptoms during the weaning process. Symptoms that are severe or that last more than one to two weeks should be reported to your doctor. You can also talk to them if you want alternative medications, a different weaning plan, or if you wish to go back to taking your old medication. Frequently Asked Questions Are brain zaps mini seizures? No, brain zaps are not the same as seizures or mini seizures. Although seizures have symptoms like bodily shaking, switching, or tingling, these do not happen during a brain zap, where the sensation is located in the brain and lasts for a few seconds. Talk to your physician immediately if you think you are having symptoms of a seizure. What does an anxiety brain zap feel like? Stress or anxiety can cause strong physical sensations, including symptoms like shivers and trembling. Some people may experience something like a brain zap during times of anxiety or panic, but there isn’t any published research about this. How common are brain zaps? There is no published data on how prevalent brain zaps are in particular. But many people experience withdrawal symptoms after coming off antidepressants. One study found that over 50% of people experience symptoms, and almost half rated them as severe. Long-Term Effects of Antidepressants 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Papp A, Onton JA. Brain Zaps: An Underappreciated Symptom of Antidepressant Discontinuation. Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. 2018;20(6):18m02311. Gabriel M, Sharma V. Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Canadian Medical Assocation Journal. 2017;189(21):E747. doi:10.1503/cmaj.160991 Ostrow L, Jessell L, Hurd M, et al. Discontinuing Psychiatric Medications: A Survey of Long-Term Users. Psychiatric Services. 2017;68(12):1232-1238. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201700070 National Health Service. Epilepsy Symptoms. Davies J, Read J. A systematic review into the incidence, severity and duration of antidepressant withdrawal effects: Are guidelines evidence-based? Addictive Behaviors. 2019;97:111-121. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.08.027 By Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.