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Lightheadedness is a Common (and Scary) Anxiety Symptom

One of the first signs of a serious health problem is a feeling as though your mind isn't working. It's as though your entire body is weak, as though feinting is imminent.

Unfortunately, lightheadedness is also one of the most common symptoms of anxiety, especially during anxiety attacks. What's causing this lightheadedness, and - perhaps more importantly - what can you do to stop it?

Anxiety Make You Lightheaded?

Lightheadedness is one of the most common anxiety symptoms, especially with severe anxiety and panic attacks. Take our free 7-minute anxiety test to score your anxiety symptoms, and learn more about lightheadedness and related symptoms.

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How to Tell if You Have Anxiety Lightheadedness

One of the problems with intense anxiety is that it can be hard to tell the difference between anxiety and a health condition. Unfortunately, the symptoms are identical, which is why only a doctor can diagnose your current health.

My free 7-minute anxiety test is an excellent place to see whether or not you have some of the other symptoms of anxiety, and what you can do to treat it. Lightheadedness can have a variety of causes, not all of them entirely clear.

Hyperventilation and Feeling Light Headed

The most common reason you feel light headed is the result of hyperventilation.

When your body experiences anxiety, it triggers the fight or flight system, which is the system designed to prepare your body for rapid movement. One of the symptoms is breathing quickly. It's not 100% clear why breathing fast is advantageous from a biological perspective, but the most likely reasons include:

  • Breathing quickly helps your heart move blood around the important muscles and organs.
  • Breathing quickly reduces carbon dioxide in the bloodstream so that when you start to run you can handle the creation of more Co2.

That latter point is important. Studies have shown that by hyperventilating and depleting yourself of carbon dioxide, you can do things like hold your breath for longer, and potentially run away from predators for longer. (Note: There are dangers to hyperventilating on purpose, so don't try it)

People often mistake hyperventilation for breathing too little oxygen. However, the opposite is true. In reality, hyperventilation is the act of breathing out too much carbon dioxide. Every time you exhale you breathe out Co2, and when you exhale too quickly, you breathe out more than you create. Eventually, your body is left with almost no carbon dioxide as a result of hyperventilation.

Your body needs carbon dioxide to work properly. Among many of the symptoms of overly oxygenated blood, low Co2 levels reduce blood flow to the brain and force the heart to work harder. This is one of the main reasons you start to feel light headed - because your body starts to feel as if it needs to fall to the ground to make sure that blood reaches your brain. Fainting is rare, because blood flow doesn't stop, but it does come close and causes your whole body to feel weak.

Other Causes of Lightheadedness

Lightheadedness may also be a perceived symptom. During anxiety attacks, weakness around the body is common, and it can be hard to hold on to thoughts. The body may also use up a lot of its energy and develop somewhat of a tunnel vision. All of these types of symptoms can create this feeling as though your body is getting ready to collapse.

Lightheadedness is a complicated feeling, and sometimes the causes aren't exactly clear. Even the reason that the human body hyperventilates when you experience anxiety isn't abundantly obvious, and the above ideas are just guesses. But lightheadedness is most certainly a common anxiety symptom.

Fear Compounding Fear

Making matters worse is that the feeling of lightheadedness can cause its fear. It's not uncommon during the height of anxiety when your heartbeat is beating quickly, and your mind is going a mile a minute to feel as though your lightheadedness is a sign that you're about to die, or at the very least that something terrible is in the process of happening to you.

This type of reaction can create even more fear, making it much harder to control your anxiety and prevent it from spiraling out of control.

Stop The Fear From Increasing

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How to Stop Lightheadedness

Seeing a doctor at least once is always a smart decision. That's not because anything is necessarily wrong. Remember, lightheadedness is incredibly common because anxiety is incredibly common, and health anxiety is an anxiety symptom itself, so it's not at all unusual to believe something may be wrong with your health.

But seeing a doctor is still always a good idea because if you haven't, it's going to be very hard to convince your mind that you don't have a serious illness or a serious problem. Once you've ruled out any of the usual conditions, you can try the following to get rid of anxiety related lightheadedness:

  • Breathe Better Easily the most important thing you can do is slow down your breathing. Remember, hyperventilation makes you feel like you need to take in more oxygen than you do. Try to regain some of your carbon dioxide by slowing down your breathing dramatically. Try to take slow, controlled breaths that last at least 15 seconds, and make sure you hold for a couple of seconds at the peak. Experts recommend avoiding holding your breath though, so continue to breathe at simply a slower rate.
  • Walk Walking improves blood flow and reduces the feeling as though your body has become very weak. Many people want to stay in one place when they're feeling this way because they're worried they're going to fall. But walking around can help you regain your carbon dioxide levels and improve blood flow around your body, reducing the likelihood of lightheadedness.
  • Drink Water Another important thing to remember is that not all lightheadedness is related to anxiety. For example, dehydration can cause very mild lightheadedness, and anxiety can cause you to notice that lightheadedness more and respond to it as though it's more serious. So make sure you're avoiding anything that causes lightheadedness on its own, like getting up too fast, being hungry, and of course dehydration.

All of these are only the beginning, of course. You still need to prevent your anxiety and improve your breathing habits if you want the lightheadedness to stop.

That's why I strongly recommend you take my free 7-minute anxiety test now. This test is a valuable way to learn more about your anxiety symptoms and find out how to treat them,

If you haven't yet, make sure you take the test here, now.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 04, 2017.

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