How to Control Anxiety-Related Vertigo

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How to Control Anxiety-Related Vertigo

One of the hardest parts about controlling anxiety is that this disorder causes physical symptoms that lead to more anxiety. Many of those with anxiety worry excessively about their health because the symptoms can be so distressing and persistent that it's nearly impossible to simply talk oneself out of what one is feeling.

This is often the case with vertigo. Vertigo itself is not technically an anxiety symptom, but dizziness - which is often confused with the idea of vertigo - very much is, and it's actually a surprisingly common one.

Vertigo and Dizziness as a Health Symptom

If your vertigo and/or dizziness are causing you concern, talk to your doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your vertigo, and there are some very serious illnesses that are associated with vertigo and vertigo-like symptoms.

But when those have been ruled out, or your vertigo tends to come and go with intense anxiety, it may be a sign of panic disorder or a related anxiety problem.

The Difference Between Vertigo and Dizziness

Vertigo is actually a subtype of dizziness, and technically anxiety does not cause vertigo. Vertigo is the feeling that you're in motion (or the world's in motion) when you're actually stationary. It's "usually" long lasting, and often caused by an imbalance in your inner ear.

What anxiety causes is a combination of three different experiences that combined give the impression of vertigo:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea

Essentially, anxiety causes a feeling of vertigo based on the sum of its parts, rather than causing vertigo itself. Vertigo is one experience that causes its own symptoms, while anxiety is linked to multiple sensations that all resemble the experience of vertigo.

Anxiety and Vertigo Dizziness

The question, of course, is how anxiety causes that type of dizziness (and related symptoms) in the first place, and the answer to that is hyperventilation.

Many of the symptoms of anxiety attacks are caused by hyperventilation. During periods of stress and periods of intense anxiety, your breathing tends to become uneven, causing you to dispel too much carbon dioxide while simultaneously making you feel as though you're not getting enough oxygen.

It’s important that your levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide are balanced within your body. During hyperventilation, you don’t have enough carbon dioxide in the bloodstream which causes changes in your body. For example, your blood vessels constrict, your heart beats quickly, and you experience reduced blood flow to the brain. This can result in feelings of dizziness.

But dizziness is not the only symptom associated with anxiety and hyperventilation. Specifically, hyperventilation causes a host of other symptoms including:

  • Lightheadedness During periods of hyperventilation, it's not uncommon to feel light headed.
  • Trouble Thinking Because blood flow is reduced the brain, it can be hard to think or concentrate on what's in front of you.
  • Weak Limbs Hyperventilation also may cause temporary muscle weakness, making it harder to stand.

These symptoms are _also_ associated with two other problems for those who experience anxiety:

  • Over-sensitivity Those with anxiety attacks are prone to notice problems with their balance, dizziness, lightheadedness, and weak limbs more than someone without them.
  • Health Anxiety Those with anxiety attacks are also more prone to believing that something is wrong with their health, rather than simply suffering from a breathing problem.

When you combine all of these things together, you get a group of sensations that feel like vertigo, and often cause a significant amount of anxiety and distress.

Stopping That Feeling of Vertigo

Since vertigo-sensations in the case of anxiety are often caused by hyperventilation, the best way to stop this feeling is to make sure that you're not hyperventilating anymore.

Often this is easier said than done. In the middle of an anxiety attack, it's can be challenging to regain control of your breathing. But there are tricks that can make the process easier. The key is to remember the following:

  • Hyperventilation makes you feel like you need to breathe in more air, but in reality, you need to breathe out slower to regain the carbon dioxide-oxygen balance.
  • Hyperventilation isn't just breathing quickly. It also involves trying to inhale more air than your body needs. If you try to yawn or take deeper breaths, you'll continue to hyperventilate as long as you’re breathing rapidly.
  • Hyperventilation doesn't always go away quickly.

With that in mind, the idea is to simply slow down your breathing and try to resist the urge to force a deeper breath than you need or to take that deep breath too rapidly. You can do that by counting the seconds. Breathe in long enough to last about 5 seconds. Hold for a few seconds. Then breathe out at a pace that lasts about 7 seconds. Try not to be too concerned about how much air you’re getting - just keep to a natural, slow rhythm.

Hyperventilation disorder often causes many other symptoms, including chest pains. It's important that you remind yourself that hyperventilation can do this. If you’re fearful of these sensations - pains, lightheadedness, dizziness, and so on - you risk worsening your anxiety. This, in turn, increases your risk of hyperventilation.

Long Term Dizziness and Vertigo Solutions

While anxiety doesn’t cause vertigo, you are likely to experience anxiety as a result of vertigo. Furthermore, your anxiety can make your vertigo worse. A great way to reduce your likelihood of experiencing dizziness and associated symptoms is to reduce your anxiety. But to do that, you need to find ways of countering the hyperventilation that accompanies your anxiety. One way of doing this is through the breathing exercise that we have discussed in this article.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question


Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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