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How to Control Anxiety-Related Vertigo

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
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:

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:

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

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:

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.

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