Panic Attacks

How Panic Attacks Cause Dizziness

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How Panic Attacks Cause Dizziness

Panic attacks are one of the most severe forms of anxiety. They are intense events with dozens of symptoms all going on at once, combined with a fear that something terrible is happening to you. One of the symptoms that causes that fear is dizziness.

This article will explore panic attack dizziness, and provide you with a helpful way of controlling it.

Dizziness As A Trigger

Dizziness can be a frightening symptom, especially because it is associated with dangerous conditions and can make you feel like you're going to faint.

Dizziness is actually a fairly common trigger of panic attacks. A person is walking along, starts to feel dizzy, and that dizziness then triggers a cascade of symptoms that ultimately become a full blown panic attack.

Dizziness As A Symptom

Of course, dizziness is one of the symptoms of anxiety. Often as a panic attack gets worse, the person starts to feel increasingly dizzy, and may feel as though they are in the process of passing out. It is often combined with lightheadedness, and possibly even a little bit of nausea, which both combine to make the dizziness scarier. Often those that experience dizziness start to become even more anxious after the symptom occurs, making the panic attack significantly worse.

What Causes Panic Attack Dizziness

Anxiety attacks are complex, and symptoms can be caused by a host of different bodily and brain changes. However, the most common cause of dizziness is hyperventilation. During anxiety attacks, you tend to breath faster and less efficiently, taking in more oxygen than you need and breathing out too much carbon dioxide. Your body adjusts to this by constricting your blood vessels.

When your blood vessels are constricted, it reduces blood flow to your brain. As scary as that sounds, it's not dangerous, but it can cause you to feel dizzy, and in some cases that dizziness can be extreme.

Dizziness and Anxiety

Hyperventilation is not the only cause of dizziness. Some people experience dizziness during times of intense stress. Others find that adrenaline causes them to feel dizzy. Others are not dizzy at all, but start to feel like the world is spinning when they are lightheaded. All of these are caused by anxiety and panic.

How to Stop Dizziness

Stopping your panic attacks may require a comprehensive treatment plan that can help you control your anxiety attacks altogether. But you can actually combat dizziness specifically, and reduce the effects of this sensation as both a trigger and a symptom of panic.

Your mind is incredibly adaptable, in ways that are almost automatic. When something doesn't cause an expected reaction, your mind learns to adjust. For example, let's say you're afraid of spiders. If you were in a room with a spider for several days and nothing happened, your mind would stop feeling fear at the sight of a spider. At first you would experience a lot of fear, but after a while it will get used to the spider and no longer experience that same level of fear. This process is called "Desensitization."

You can use desentization to your advantage. Try the following:

  • With someone around you for comfort and support, spin around in a chair until you feel dizzy. Wait until you calm down. If you feel anxiety, that's okay. Try to calm yourself and wait until the symptom fades. Make sure that you’re breathing slowly and steadily in order to promote relaxation. Continue this process on and off until you’re more comfortable with that sensation of dizziness. If you feel sick, take a break, but consider coming back to it as soon as you feel better.
  • Try spinning around in multiple ways and becoming dizzy in multiple ways. Stand up and spin in a circle. Have your friend spin you around. Spin around blindfolded. Try different experiences so that you can adjust to all of them.
  • Once you’ve tried this with a trusted friend or family member, try doing this exercise alone in your home. Sometimes you'll find it's a little harder when you're alone. That's okay. If you're able to push through and perform the exercise anyway, you’ll likely increase your self-confidence and feel a greater sense of control over your symptoms.
  • Next, and finally, take it outside. Do it in unusual environments. However, only try this once you are completely comfortable performing the exercise alone in your own home. Have a friend with you in case you feel sick, but note that even if you have a panic attack, you should try to keep going after a short break. The more you get dizzy in interesting places, the more you'll get used to the experience and the less anxiety-provoking it will become.

This type of desensitization isn't perfect, and it certainly will not cure your panic attacks altogether, but it helps you get used to physical sensations that spark anxiety and fear. Over time, if you combine this with other treatment ideas, you'll be able to be better in control of your panic. If you find that you’re not entirely able to benefit from this sort of a process on your own, that’s okay - it doesn’t work for everyone. We still encourage you to still find other ways of managing your anxiety - desensitization is just one of many evidence-based strategies.

Questions? Comments?

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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.

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