One of the hardest parts about controlling anxiety is that severe anxiety can actually cause physical symptoms that lead to more anxiety. Many of those with anxiety start to worry about their health, because the symptoms can be so disabling that it's hard to convince your mind that anxiety could be causing them.
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.
Is Anxiety Making the Room Spin?
Vertigo can cause significant health scares, since it is associated with terrible conditions like multiple sclerosis. But in many cases, anxiety is to blame - especially if you have anxiety attacks. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your symptoms and learn more about your anxiety.
Vertigo and Dizziness as a Health Symptom
If your vertigo and dizziness is 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. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to get a better idea of your own anxiety symptoms.
The Difference Between Vertigo and Dizziness
Vertigo is actually a subtype of dizziness, and technically anxiety does not cause vertigo. Vertigo is the act of feeling as though you're in motion (or the world's in motion) when you're 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 multiple sensations that all resemble what would be caused by 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.
Carbon dioxide is incredibly important for your body. Without it, your blood vessels constrict, your heart beats quickly, and you experience an entire range of symptoms that are all related to too much oxygen and not enough Co2. One such symptom is dizziness.
But it's not the only symptom either. Dizziness alone would be upsetting, but probably manageable. Hyperventilation also 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_ combined with three other problems for those with anxiety attacks:
- Over-sensitivity Those with anxiety attacks are prone to notice problems with 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 is almost exclusively caused by hyperventilation, the best way to stop the feeling of having vertigo 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 very hard to re-gain control of your breathing. But there are tricks that 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 balance.
- Hyperventilation isn't just breathing quickly. It's also trying to breathe in more than your body needs. If you try to yawn or take deeper breaths, you'll continue to hyperventilate even if you don't breathe quickly.
- Hyperventilation doesn't go away rapidly.
With that in mind, the idea is to simply slow down your breathing and try to resist the urge to take a deep breath. 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.
Hyperventilation disorder causes a lot of other symptoms, including chest pains. It's important that you remind yourself that hyperventilation does this. If you allow yourself to succumb to fear over these pains, light headedness, dizziness, etc., you're going to increase the likelihood of having a severe panic attack, and severe panic attacks tend to make future hyperventilation problems worse.
Long Term Dizziness and Vertigo Solutions
At the heart of your vertigo is still anxiety, so the best way to reduce your likelihood of experiencing that dizziness is to reduce your anxiety. But to do that, you need to examine your symptoms and make sure that your anxiety is less prone to causing these hyperventilation episodes.
I have a free 7 minute anxiety test available that is designed specifically for this purpose.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.