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Understanding Brain Zaps: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Brain zaps, or brain shivers, are sudden jolts in the brain often linked to dizziness. They typically occur after stopping certain antidepressants. Follow along as we look into the reason why brain zaps happen, what they feel like, and strategies to help manage them.

Taylor Stranaghan By Taylor Stranaghan
Woman experiencing a brain zap.

Updated on May 23, 2024

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A zapping sensation in the brain can feel like a surprising and confusing experience.

Brain zaps are sensory disturbances that feel like a low dose of electric shock-like sensations inside the brain. They arise in people who abruptly stop, interrupt, or lower their prescription of antidepressant medication.

According to a 2018 study, the name emerged through online discussion boards regarding common symptoms caused by antidepressant discontinuation.

Although these sensations are described as being brief and often fleeting, they can become incredibly problematic without proper management.

Follow along as we look into the reason why brain zaps happen, what they feel like, and strategies to help manage them.

What are Brain Zaps?

Brain zaps, also known as electrical shocks or brain shivers, are short and sudden ‘zaps’, ‘jolts’ or ‘buzzes’ in the brain region. Often associated with feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness, they are unexpected, making them incredibly surprising for many individuals.

While the cause is not fully understood, they are most commonly associated with the sudden stoppage of certain antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

What Do Brain Zaps Feel Like?

Those who have experienced a brain zap can attest to the bizarre and often jarring nature of this phenomenon.

Though the intensity ranges, they are commonly described as a shock that reverberates through the skull. For others, they’re described as a sensation similar to a jolt of cold water splashing your skin or a bright flash of light in a dark room.

On occasion, they may also be accompanied by a short buzzing or vibration sensation.

Brain Zaps Symptoms

Similar to most medications, there is the potential for side effects. In this case, some of the more common side effects to be expected with antidepressants include dry mouth, dizziness, headaches, sexual disturbances, and restlessness.

It’s important to note that over 50% of individuals who take antidepressants report having side effects of some kind.

Symptoms of brain zaps can vary from person to person, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to significantly distressing. This sensory disturbance is described as a burning, tingling, and shock-like sensation.

Other common symptoms that may be tied to brain zaps include:

Many of these symptoms begin within the first few days and can persist for several months.

The Role of Antidepressants in Causing Brain Zaps

According to a 2020 study, antidepressants, which are used to manage and treat symptoms of depression, can play a central role in the manifestation of brain zaps.

The theory behind a brain zap and the relationship to antidepressants is that they may be associated with antidepressant withdrawal. Since antidepressants help balance neurotransmitters in the brain, it is possible that this medication inadvertently down-regulates serotonin receptors. When someone stops taking antidepressants abruptly, it can lead to more significant changes in serotonin levels, which can trigger a brain zap. With the guidance of a medical health professional, tapering off antidepressants can be accomplished by gradually reducing the dose of medication over a period of time.

How to Stop Brain Zaps

Despite brain zaps not being considered to be dangerous or harmful, they can significantly affect your daily life. Symptoms of anxiety, vertigo, and disorientation can impact various aspects of functioning, including work performance, social interactions, and overall well-being.

Management strategies can play a role in reducing the intensity of brain zaps or preventing their influence altogether.

Medical Interventions

With the supervision and guidance of a healthcare professional, antidepressant medications may be prescribed or adjusted to correct for the severity of side effects experienced.

Non-Pharmacological Approaches

There are plenty of simple and holistic lifestyle changes that can be implemented as an alternative approach to managing depression symptoms without the use of medication.

Exercise, particularly in the form of yoga, running, and strength training, is an effective treatment for depression. Additionally, adopting a balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins serves as valuable nutrients to support the brain and body.

Experts recommend considering specific supplements as supportive elements for managing depression symptoms, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin C, folate, zinc, and magnesium.

Similarly, prioritizing sleep, increasing your daily water intake, managing stress levels, and maintaining strong social support all play a protective role in our mental health.

The Role of Therapy in Managing Brain Zaps

Getting to the root cause of brain zaps requires a closer look at the mechanisms that cause it. In this case, it revolves around the usage of antidepressant medication.

Therapy plays a central role in managing and preventing by helping to treat symptoms of depression, resulting in enhanced quality of life and improved social functioning.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is shown to be an effective evidence-based psychological intervention used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, mood disturbances, and other mental health conditions. This 2020 study finds CBT to be significantly more effective in treating depression while also preventing relapse rates compared to antidepressants alone.

CBT can help individuals by:

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is another helpful therapeutic approach that combines elements of CBT with mindfulness practices.

MBCT helps individuals become more aware of their internal thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations to change the way they relate to themselves. According to Martinique Moron, a licenced clinical social worker (LCSW) with Grow Therapy, “Mindfulness exercises help us engage with our thoughts in non-judgmental ways and explore our feelings and emotions without guilt or shame.”

Studies have found MBCT to be beneficial in lowering negative cognitive patterns, such as rumination or overthinking, improving emotional regulation, boosting relaxation, and minimizing the risk of future relapse.

Integrative Approaches

Integration of treatment options, such as attending therapy while maintaining or decreasing the dose of antidepressants is another valuable option to address underlying depression.

Based on medical advice, a combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy is shown to be effective for mild, moderate, and severe depressive disorders.

The choice of antidepressant includes a history of interaction with medication, symptom severity, sleep or appetite changes, and current levels of agitation.

Similarly, the discussion of therapeutic options requires a consultation with a trained professional to learn about personal goals, address expectations, and collaborate on strategies that serve your well-being to the greatest extent.

Community and Support

Reaching out for support in your community can be an excellent opportunity to share experiences and exchange tips or resources with others affected by depression.

Online platforms like Reddit threads, mental health forums, and support forums can offer a sense of belonging by providing strength through mutual support and empathy with those in our community.

Professional support networks are another great resource to learn from mental health professionals, including licensed therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists to get concise medical guidance and tailored interventions to address depressive symptoms.

Prevention and Future Outlook

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for addressing brain zaps. Rather, a multifaceted approach that encompasses a range of prevention strategies and ongoing research efforts can help mitigate symptoms and enhance overall well-being.

With antidepressant medication, psychiatry experts suggest starting at a lower dose, as prescribed by a healthcare provider, and monitoring carefully. When complemented with therapeutic interventions, you may find a low dose manageable, potentially eliminating the need for higher doses in the future.


  • Brain zaps are described as brief and sudden shock-like sensations that happen seemingly out of nowhere within the head/brain region. While the intensity of the shock can vary, the zap itself only lasts for a fraction of a second.

  • No, brain zaps are not classified as mini seizures. They are thought to be related to changes in neurotransmitter levels or electrical activity in the brain caused by the withdrawal of antidepressant medication (i.e. SSRI and SNRI). Unlike seizures, brain zaps do not involve the loss of consciousness or fainting, abnormal muscle movements (stiffness or twitching), or breathing problems.

  • Along with the sensory disturbances that come with brain zaps, individuals may also experience symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome such as feeling under the weather, insomnia, nausea, dizziness, and hyperarousal.

  • There is no medical cure for brain zaps. However, gradual tapering of antidepressant medication is shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of this phenomenon. Therapy, healthy lifestyle changes, and practicing stress-reducing techniques such as mindfulness may also contribute to the recovery of brain zaps.

  • Therapists can offer support to individuals experiencing brain zaps through psychoeducation, coping mechanisms such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness practices, and a safe space to explore underlying fears or concerns related to stopping or withdrawing from antidepressant medication.

About the author
Taylor Stranaghan Taylor Stranaghan

Taylor is a spirited writer, dedicated to exploring various layers of mental wellness, mindfulness, and personal growth. With a background in clinical research and pursuit of a Master’s in Counselling Psychology, she is passionate about crafting engaging content to empower and uplift individuals navigating their unique mental health journeys.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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