Losing consciousness is one of the greatest fears that people have about their health. As long as you're alert you can make decisions and contact help if something is wrong. When you're unconscious, you're no longer in control. It's one of the most frightening things that can happen to someone.
So it's no wonder that feeling faint is one of the most frightening symptoms of anxiety. During anxiety - especially intense anxiety - it can feel as though you're about to pass out, and this can spark a fury of panic that is hard to stop.
Feeling Faint = Anxiety?
Fainting is a scary, and potentially dangerous sign of very serious diseases. But feeling faint is also a strange yet common symptom of anxiety disorders. It rarely occurs alone, so if you feel faint often, take my 7 minute anxiety test to get an idea of whether your anxiety is the culprit.
Fainting and Feeling Faint
Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your feeling faint. There are issues that can lead to fainting, such as a heart condition. If you actually faint for no apparent reason, seeing a doctor is a smart decision, even if you believe you have anxiety.
But feeling like you're going to faint is often a symptom of anxiety, especially if you suffer from panic attacks. If you haven't yet, take my 7 minute anxiety test. It's a great place to start to see if you have other anxiety symptoms as well, and compare them to others just like you.
What Causes Feeling Faint?
When you suffer from anxiety, feeling faint is almost exclusively caused by hyperventilation. Also known as "over-breathing," hyperventilation occurs when you breathe out too much carbon dioxide as a result of poor breathing habits.
Interestingly, hyperventilation feels like the exact opposite - when you're hyperventilating, it often feels as though you're not getting enough oxygen. So those that are hyperventilating have a tendency to try to take even deeper breaths - breathing in more oxygen to compensate.
This makes it worse. The abundance of oxygen and the depletion of CO2 causes your blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood flow to the brain. When your brain doesn't feel like it's getting enough blood, it prepares you for passing out, because the easiest way to make sure blood flow reaches your brain is when you're on the floor.
Feeling Faint Isn't Dangerous
Of course, when people hear that their brain isn't getting enough blood, they get worried. Rest assured that feeling faint isn't dangerous in the slightest, and can't cause any long term health issues. Fainting is not dangerous either, although fainting in dangerous places can put you at risk for hitting your head on sharp objects, and feeling faint while driving can impair driving ability.
Why Do You Hyperventilate?
Hyperventilation is caused by breathing changes - breathing changes that are extremely common in those with anxiety. The most well-known type of hyperventilating occurs during moments of intense panic, when you find yourself breathing in and out at a fast rate.
But that's not the only way that people hyperventilate. You may also simply be breathing at a rate that is too shallow. This is especially true of those that tend to breathe through their chests - a common issue with those that have anxiety.
Also, many people with anxiety think about their breathing. When you think about your breathing, it becomes under your control. Your body doesn't need that much oxygen, and often takes very small, slow breaths. So small and so slow that those that think about their breathing often take deeper breaths than they need. This also can cause hyperventilation.
Other Causes of Faint From Anxiety
Another cause of fainting comes from phobias. For example, there are those that faint at the sight of a needle or blood. This type of fainting is known as vasovagal syncope. This occurs because, in the presence of extreme fear, your brain exerts so much energy that it needs more blood as a result, and your heart can't meet those demands. The end result is that you fall to the ground so that your heart has an easier time reaching your brain and vital organs.
How to Stop Feeling Faint
It's not that common for those with non-phobia anxiety to actually faint. It's possible, and it does happen in cases of extreme hyperventilation, but it's fairly rare. If you faint without a clear medical cause, it may be due to some of the other causes of fainting:
- Overexertion from exercise.
- Overheating (hot showers after exertion can cause faint).
- Standing up too quickly (can cause low blood pressure to the brain).
Remember, there's no harm in seeing the doctor if you're concerned. Your doctor can easily rule out most of the dangerous causes of feeling faint. But it's such a common anxiety symptom, that if you have reason to believe you're suffering from anxiety, it's highly likely that your experience is the result of hyperventilation.
If you're feeling faint, the first step is to go against your instinct and try not to take in breaths that make your chest expand. You need to add more CO2 to your bloodstream. You can do this by taking slower breaths and trying to breathe in through your stomach, rather than your chest. Also, once you've breathed in, hold your breath for a few seconds before slowly exhaling.
Often you'll notice your feeling faint comes with other symptoms as well. All of these symptoms represent signals that your body is giving you about your anxiety.
To prevent this feeling of faint, take my 7 minute anxiety test. The free test is designed to gauge your anxiety and the symptoms you experience, so that you get a better treatment recommendation.
So take the test now, if you haven't yet.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.