There are people who can suffer from anxiety vertigo, a physiological reaction to a psychological state that can be classified as a psychosomatic symptom. However, the fact that dizziness is caused by anxiety does not mean that it is less intense or disabling for the person.
Often these people feel very bad, they experience a generalized feeling of weakness and loss of balance. In the most extreme cases they can even faint.
Usually these people come to the psychologist after meeting several specialists, who have ruled out that dizziness is a problem of the inner ear, of the neck, caused by a vestibular migraine or other lesions of the central nervous system. This passage from one doctor to another becomes exhausting, but when there is no organic cause to explain the dizziness it is logical to suspect that it has a psychological origin, usually caused by anxiety.
How to know if dizziness is caused by anxiety?
It is important to understand that when dizziness is caused by anxiety panic attacks, there is no classic feeling of dizziness and there must be no biological explanation. These dizzinesses are a sensation that the person experiences when he exposes himself, or imagines that he will have to expose himself, to certain situations that generate fear, tension or anxiety.
In practice, what happens is that these emotions are experienced with great intensity, so that they produce autonomic reactions such as dizziness. In fact, fear is a very powerful emotion that triggers intense and rapid physiological responses to prepare us to escape from danger. Fear generates severe muscle tension, profuse sweating, agitated breathing, and increases blood circulation, so we can escape danger or face it with greater chances of success.
Another consequence of fear is that it sharpens our senses because we can catch the little warning signs in the environment. However, on some occasions this ability to concentrate can make us perceive reality in a slightly distorted way. For example, colors and lights can be perceived much more clearly, while we do not feel well what is happening around us. This condition can further aggravate the feeling of dizziness.
There are some signs that dizziness can be caused by anxiety:
- There is no physiological cause that justifies dizziness after having performed several medical tests.
- Dizziness is persistent, but usually tends to occur in specific situations or situations that have some common ground. However, in some cases these dizziness can occur for several days or even weeks in a row. In these cases, the person usually reports a feeling of instability rather than dizziness.
- Dizziness is aggravated by exposure to excessive stimuli, such as crowded supermarkets or when it is necessary to perform activities that require intensive use of vision, such as reading or working on the computer.
- They cause hypersensitivity to movement, both to their own movement and to that of objects in the environment. These people are more sensitive and lose their balance when they make sudden movements or perceive the movements of the environment.
- There is a feeling of lightheadedness. One of the most common signs of anxiety dizziness is feeling lightheaded. People who suffer from this type of vertigo usually report a sense of mental confusion that differs from "normal" vertigo, in which feelings of discomfort and loss of balance often predominate.
- You suffer from internal dizziness. In anxiety dizziness, the sensation of movement tends to be internal, the person feels his head spinning, not the environment around him.
Why does anxiety cause dizziness?
People with intense anxiety often experience the feeling of loss of balance and it is common for them to feel lightheaded for no apparent reason. Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh explain that the problem is that anxiety and balance share some neural circuitry.
In fact, there are neural pathways that connect the vestibular nuclei with the limbic system, including the areas of the hypothalamus, which usually have a reduction in their volume in cases of chronic bilateral vestibular loss.
The point of convergence of this circuit is the parabrachial nucleus, where both vestibular and anxiety-related information arrives. This is why, when we are anxious, we can experience dizziness and loss of balance.
It is also known that stress and anxiety can affect central vestibular function, either directly through the action of glucocorticoids (cortisol and corticosterone) in ion channels and in the neurotransmission that occurs in the brain, or indirectly through the effects of neuroactive substances. related to stress, such as histamine.
What factors can influence its appearance and maintenance?
Our body is a mechanism perfectly associated with our mind, even if sometimes we don't realize it. However, we can feel the famous butterflies in the stomach when we are in front of someone who attracts us or feel a lump in our throat when we receive bad news. These ways of expressing ourselves indicate that there is a strong connection between emotions and physical states. Therefore, there are some factors that influence the onset of dizziness or that can fuel it.
- Shortness of breath. Since we breathe automatically, we aren't always aware of how badly we can do it. In fact, if you breathe shallowly and quickly, dizziness could be caused by inhaling more air than you release. This way you end up hyperventilating, which means that more oxygen enters than you need and the carbon dioxide level decreases. By breaking the balance between the two gases, the body tries to balance the pH of the blood which becomes alkaline, and this can cause the sensation of dizziness, weakness in the legs, difficulty in seeing and tingling in the extremities.
- Panic and distress. If we don't control these sensations, the heart usually also beats faster and blood pressure increases. In those moments one begins to notice headaches and weakness. But when blood pressure drops, dizziness and a feeling of confusion or mental fog usually appear.
- Muscle tension. When we feel fear, we usually tense our muscles to prepare them for defense or escape. When this muscle tension is maintained day after day, it can generate a generalized feeling of widespread discomfort that increases even more the tension you already suffer from.
– Stress. Being in a constant state of mental overload, which takes you to the limit, is one of the causes of anxiety. The problem is that stress generates a constant state of alertness, as if facing imminent danger, and this overloads the central nervous system with work. As a result, you may begin to feel weak, dizzy, confused, or even experience a sense of hopelessness, a strange feeling of disconnection from the world.
Are these symptoms dangerous?
As a general rule, the symptoms associated with anxiety are not dangerous, although they can become very unpleasant. Dizziness itself is not a problem, unless it occurs in situations that involve a certain risk. In fact, in some cases the person may experience an unpleasant sensation that causes them to lose their balance.
However, the person can be very frightened of the symptoms, so they usually take a hyper-vigilant attitude that leads them to pay more attention to physiological responses. This state of tension complicates matters even more, especially when the person perceives the slightest sign of dizziness.
In fact, one of the main problems that cause anxiety dizziness is the fear of fear. When the person begins to fear that dizziness will come to him in public places and is ashamed, that tension can actually cause dizziness, turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a result, the person can severely limit their life, avoiding all those places where they feel uncomfortable. The feeling of distress that dizziness may appear can arise at any time and end up affecting the quality of life.
Knowing that dizziness is not dangerous will help the person relax and not make the symptoms worse. On the other hand, knowing that the cause is anxiety indicates that it is not a serious problem, but it is a disorder that has a solution in the application of the appropriate therapy.
How to eliminate anxiety dizziness?
There are several therapeutic approaches to teach the person to fight anxiety and thus eliminate dizziness. However, in these cases the technique of detecting and managing the feared consequence is very effective. Basically, it aims to identify the sources of the discomfort and anxiety that cause dizziness and to find solutions that reduce symptoms, both physically and emotionally.
Before putting it into practice, it is important to understand that the discomfort is maintained when we try to make the feared consequence turn into an impossible fact, obsessively looking for solutions. Therefore, this technique tells us first of all that we must not avoid the annoying sensations.
Basically, the person must understand that anxiety generates a series of unpleasant sensations, but which are not dangerous in themselves. This eliminates the uncertainty of the equation and when the person is no longer distressed or worried about dizziness, the level of anxiety and symptoms it generates usually decrease.
The person must understand that uncertainty and distress are the causes of that discomfort and that he needs to look for alternative thoughts or behaviors that allow him to avoid these anxious thoughts. In this case, other techniques can be applied, such as:
- Breathing exercises. Breathing deeply decreases hyperventilation as more oxygenation is achieved. On the other hand, deep breathing accompanies the heartbeat, generating a sense of tranquility and well-being. Therefore, it is advisable to learn some breathing exercises that can be applied in any situation.
- Relaxation techniques. Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation is one of the most useful exercises because the person not only relaxes, but also learns to relax the different muscle groups. With this technique you will also learn to notice body tension, so you can quickly relieve it before it gets worse.
In any case, it should be clarified that in many cases it is necessary to resort to psychological therapy or drugs, especially when the link between anxiety and dizziness is very strong and long-standing.