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Can Stress Cause Vertigo? Reviewing the Link
Mental Health

Can Stress Cause Vertigo? Reviewing the Link

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on November 22, 2022
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5 min

Have you ever felt a dizzy sensation while feeling stressed? If yes, you might wonder if the symptom is linked to your mood. Keep reading as we discuss vertigo and whether your stress levels can trigger dizzy spells.

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Dizzy spells are not a nice experience.

You may have vertigo if the symptom is more intense than just feeling dizzy. Although not a condition itself, vertigo symptoms can be frightening. Moreover, many people report vertigo-like symptoms when feeling stressed or anxious, making the experience even more of an ordeal.

So, is stress-induced vertigo a thing?

In this article, we explore whether stress can trigger vertigo.

Can Stress Cause Vertigo?

Stress doesn’t directly cause vertigo, but it can unbalance your vestibular system, contributing to inner ear dysfunction. When your stress hormones elevate, they can affect the transmission of important information between your brain and the vestibular system.

The vestibular system is a sensory system with the main components found in the inner ear. It is responsible for sending information to the brain about balance, motion, and head and body position. When the system is impaired, it can trigger balance disorders like vertigo.

Stress and anxiety can also lead to vertigo. Anxiety involves worries that continue regardless of external stressors. It encourages the release of the cortisol and adrenaline hormones that can trigger vertigo symptoms. 

Is vertigo always caused by stress?

No, vertigo is not always caused by stress. While approximately 5% of American adults encounter vertigo symptoms when feeling stressed or anxious, it is not a direct cause.

There are 2 types of vertigo; peripheral and central. Peripheral vertigo occurs due to an inner ear problem, most commonly caused by benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Other common causes include viral infection, Meniere’s disease, and certain medications.

Central vertigo occurs when there is a problem with the brain, such as an illness or infection, head injury, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and blood vessel disease. Peripheral vertigo is the most common type, making up approximately 80% of all cases.

What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo is the feeling that you or your environment is moving or spinning. It is not a diagnosis but a symptom that usually occurs from an inner ear condition. However, while the ears are the most common trigger, other factors can contribute to vertigo spells.

Vertigo is an unpleasant experience that can last a few minutes or hours. Some people who experience vertigo-like symptoms barely notice it, while others have intense attacks that can be debilitating. Severe vertigo can knock you off balance and make daily tasks impossible.

Signs of Vertigo

While you might describe your vertigo as a dizzy sensation, it’s worth noting that vertigo is a more intense feeling. It can make you feel out of control as your surroundings spin around you.

To identify if you are experiencing vertigo rather than a bout of dizziness, these are some of the most common physical signs to watch out for:

  • A false sense of motion (moving or spinning)
  • Loss of balance
  • Poor coordination
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Tinnitus (hearing ringing or buzzing from inside your ears rather than from external factors)

How to Prevent Stress-Caused Vertigo?

If you have vertigo symptoms related to stress, you can prevent the experience from arising by managing stress. Doing so will return your stress levels to normal, mitigating dysfunction of the vestibular system. Moreover, minimizing stress in your life will benefit your overall health.

Here are some ways to support your mental health and reduce stress:

  • Get active and eat a healthy diet
  • Take time for yourself and practice self-care
  • Practice deep breathing and meditation
  • Enforce a good sleep routine
  • Connect with others and share your concerns

You can also try recording symptoms of stress-induced vertigo to identify possible connections.

How to Stop Dizziness Caused by Stress?

Managing stress is the best strategy for preventing stress-induced vertigo. However, when dizziness occurs, it can be helpful to have a plan in place to help resolve symptoms as quickly as possible. So, if you start feeling dizzy, here are 4 things you can try:

#1 Sip water

Sipping water when you feel dizzy can help alleviate symptoms. Often, dizziness results from dehydration, which can be caused by stress and anxiety. You should aim to drink enough water every day for adequate hydration. Staying hydrated will help keep your stress levels in check.

#2 Breathe slowly and deeply

Hyperventilation can occur when you’re stressed or anxious, especially if you have panic attacks. Rapid breathing leads you to take in too much oxygen and breathe out too much carbon dioxide. The decrease in carbon dioxide levels can make you feel lightheaded and dizzy.

Breathing slowly and deeply helps reduce your oxygen intake so that your carbon dioxide levels can return to normal, relieving stress-induced dizziness. Focus on your breath by breathing gently in through your nose and out through your mouth.

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#3 Try to focus on one spot

During dizzy spells, sitting down, staying still, and trying to focus on a particular spot in the distance can help. Focusing your eyes on a stationary object can help you control your vision, giving your brain more visual information to get things back on balance.

#4 See a doctor if nothing helps

If nothing helps your dizziness and you often develop this unpleasant sensation, it’s important to go for a medical check-up. Your doctor can carry out tests to check for any underlying causes you may have and provide medication and other treatment options if necessary.

FAQ

Can stress cause lightheadedness?

Yes, stress can cause lightheadedness. Increased secretion of stress hormones can induce the narrowing of the blood vessels and increase heart rate. This slows the amount of blood the heart pumps to the brain, resulting in sensations of dizziness and lightheadedness.

Can anxiety cause balance problems?

Yes, anxiety can cause problems with your balance. Anxiety may cause hyperventilation and panic attacks that temporarily reduce blood supply to the brain, causing dizziness that makes you feel off-balance. This and other vertigo symptoms can sometimes signal an anxiety disorder.

Can exhaustion cause vertigo?

Exhaustion is not considered a cause of vertigo. However, fatigue is a common symptom associated with dysfunction of the vestibular system that can cause vertigo. Furthermore, exhaustion can increase stress – another factor contributing to impaired vestibular function.

A Word From a Psychologist

Stress is a powerful emotional response that can create psychological and physiological reactions. It can negatively affect your overall health, causing various side effects, from headaches and trouble sleeping to difficulty eating and gastrointestinal issues.

Stress and other emotional triggers can play a role in vertigo. That’s because these intense feelings alter hormone levels. For example, during times of stress, adrenalin levels rise, activating the autonomic nervous system that prepares the body’s fight or flight response.

Vertigo causes intense dizziness. You might also vomit, have headaches, sweating, ringing in the ears, and poor coordination.

Treating vertigo typically depends on the cause. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is one of the most common causes, which is triggered by specific head movements and positions. It often goes away on its own or may require treatment, such as physical therapy exercises.

Making positive lifestyle changes can help treat stress, such as regular physical activity and eating and sleeping well. Try working out a few days per week, creating a sleep schedule, and balancing your diet. Stretching is another great activity that will help you feel calmer.

If you feel that anxiety medication might help you, visit your doctor. They can also help determine if you have an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Conclusion

Stress and anxiety can encourage vertigo-like symptoms by elevating stress hormones, causing vestibular system stress. Still, several underlying physical causes can contribute to those experiencing vertigo, from inner ear infections to inflammation of the vestibular nerve.Chronic dizziness should never be ignored. So, it’s always worth a trip to the doctor’s office to diagnose vertigo symptoms and the potential cause. Finding mental health support can also help with treating symptoms. For assistance at home, you can try the Sensa app.

Sensa Health
Your calm mind assistant
  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
  • Challenges & self-improvement activities
  • Quick relief function
  • Assessments to help you grow
Our rating:
4.5
Visit Sensa Health
HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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