Stress can affect us physically. If you are stressed out, you can get sick and constantly feel tired. Stress affects our physical health in many ways and it can manifest in many ways in our body, such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart diseases, asthma, depression, anxiety and more. One question that also often crops up is this – can stress cause vertigo? Well, let us first look at the definition of vertigo.
What Is Vertigo and What Does It Feel Like?
Vertigo, an illusive sensation of movement or motion, is a subjective sensation of dizziness and chronic or intermittent sensation of a loss of balance, and it makes you feel that the environment around you is spinning in circles or tilting, and there is no sense of balance. Nobody except the patient can feel it.
Many patients describe vertigo symptoms such as feeling themselves spinning, rocking or tilting, quite similar to motion sickness. Sometimes, the patient may also experience double vision. These feelings are especially noticeable when you stand, walk, change positions or move your head. You could also feel extremely light-headed, with headaches, vomiting and nausea.
Vertigo attacks typically last for a few seconds to as long as a few minutes. However, in severe cases of vertigo, you may even experience vertigo for hours, days, weeks or even months.
Causes of Vertigo
Vertigo is a symptom of varying conditions and not a diagnosis, and the causes of vertigo are very varied. It can happen for many different reasons, such as underlying medical conditions such as conditions affecting the inner ear, Meniere’s disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), vestibular disorders like vestibular neuritis, a viral infection and/or bacterial labyrinthitis, or a heart arrhythmia or high and/or low blood pressure.
Types of Vertigo
There are two main forms of vertigo, namely peripheral vertigo and central vertigo. Peripheral vertigo, the most common type of vertigo, is caused by a problem with the inner ear (the vestibular labyrinth or semicircular canals), which controls your balance. BPPV, vestibular neuronitis or Meinere’s disease can cause peripheral vertigo.
On the other hand, central vertigo is caused by a disease or injury to the brain, such as head injuries, infections, multiple sclerosis, migraines, brain tumours, strokes or transient ischemic attacks.
However, various studies have shown that there is not always a physical cause for vertigo, and more often than not, it could even be caused by our emotions instead.
Can Stress Cause Vertigo?
Close to 40% of US adults experience vertigo at once once in their lifetime and many of them noticed that it happened especially when they are feeling stressed or anxious.
Stress and anxiety can raise the stress hormones that impair the function of your vestibular system, potentially causing vertigo. Such elevated levels of stress hormones including cortisol can negatively affect communication between your vestibular system (three semicircle-shaped canals filled with fluid and tiny hairs in your inner ear that controls your balance) and your brain, making it more difficult for you to control your balance and movements.
Other chemicals released by your body when you are anxious or stressed include histamine and neurosteroids, which may indirectly affect neurotransmission between your vestibular system and your brain, causing vertigo too. In particular, emotional stress that is caused by adverse life events such as a marriage or death of a loved one can be a strong trigger for vertigo, as high levels of stress and depression could lead to an underlying issue such as an inner ear condition, but they can also lead to vertigo.
A study by the National Library of Medicine examined 7,750 patients with anxiety disorder and another 7,750 people without the condition. After 9 years of study, it found that patients with anxiety disorders were 2.17 times more likely to develop BPPV, the most common type of vertigo, than people without anxiety disorders.
Some people may experience vertigo suddenly, such as when faced with a situation that causes social anxiety, such as being in a room with many people, or when turning into a road with heavy traffic. This is what we called ‘flight or fight response’, a response that is triggered by stressful situations. Our adrenaline levels increase in response to these situations, speeding up our heartbeat and breathing, and could cause dizziness and vertigo. Although such anxiety and stress can cause vertigo, worrying about getting vertigo can also cause anxiety and stress.
Is Vertigo Likely to Affect You?
Although vertigo can happen at any age, they are more common in people over the age of 65 years old. Women are also more likely to experience vertigo than men. Some women also experience vertigo due to pregnancy.
How Should You Prevent Vertigo Caused By Stress?
If you are experiencing vertigo and you find that it is affecting the quality of your life, you should seek out professional help to really determine the cause of your vertigo.
What are the Triggers for Your Stress and Vertigo?
You should also attempt to understand how stress and anxiety in your life are causing vertigo – and vice versa – as this is critical in treating the symptoms of these conditions. If you are experiencing fast breathing, a churning stomach and/or a rapid heart rate, with all these accompanied by a feeling of vertigo, or if you are experiencing just vertigo without any other underlying medical conditions, then you should immediately take action to manage your stress levels, as in these cases, your vertigo could be related to stress and anxiety.
Identifying what are the biggest causes of stress in your life, and looking for ways to eliminate them from your life is imperative to reducing or even eliminating the chances of vertigo in your life.
Connect with Supportive People
Try to connect with supportive people such as a friend, a family member or a trained therapist. Otherwise, connect with your community or faith-based organisations.
You can also talk to yourself, as self-talk has been shown to reduce stress. However, do ensure it’s positive self-talk and not negative self-talk. For instance, if you find yourself giving out a negative message, switch it immediately to a positive one.
Exercise and Exercise!
You should also step out and exercise and maintain a regular regime by setting fitness goals. Exercise will relax your body and mind, and also improve your mood because it releases feel-good hormones like endorphins, which can lessen your stress levels. Aim to exercise for up to 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise such as brisk walking, or at least 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise such as swimming or jogging.
Plan a Healthy Diet
Always maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins to make sure that your body gets what it needs to function at its optimal level. It will also improve your mental health and reduce stress.
You can also supplement your diet with antioxidants, omega-3 or ginkgo, as these ingredients are known to increase blood flow to the brain. Vitamin D can also be helpful. Avoid highly processed foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, sausages, cakes, burgers or French fries as much as possible, as these could increase inflammation.
And as your inner ear maintains a strong balance of sodium, potassium and chloride, it is vital to keep your sodium intake low and ensure proper hydration. Also try not to skip meals or eat at sporadic timings, as these could increase your stress too.
You can also love yourself a little bit more with regular meditation, yoga or pilates, all of which are useful to help you prevent stress and anxiety. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing exercises, guided imagery and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.
Sometimes, just stopping and taking deep breaths can help remove your stress right away. Just find somewhere comfortable to sit, and then take deep breaths in and out slowly, for between 5 to 10 minutes. You will feel so much better after this.
Dehydration can cause undue stress on your body, and it may worsen your vertigo symptoms. On average, a person needs to drink about half to two-thirds of their weight (in pounds) in ounces. If you weigh 200 pounds, then you need around 150 ounces of water daily.
Other actions you can take include meditation or yoga, reading a book or just going out to see a movie with your friends. If you have a hobby, inject this activity into your life as much as possible.
Having a good night’s sleep is as critical as regular exercise and a healthy diet because if you sleep poorly daily, it will have negative effects on your hormones, in turn causing weight gain and elevating your stress levels, which could lead to vertigo.
Avoid consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before your bed time as it will worsen your sleep quality. Caffeine stays elevated in your blood for between 6 to 8 hours and hence, drinking coffee after 3 – 4pm is not recommended.
Allocate Time for Your Hobbies
Do you enjoy knitting or doing some art crafts? Then do set aside time for such hobbies that you enjoy doing. Start with something simple or just allocate once or twice per week, at a minimum of between 15 to 20 minutes each time, for your hobbies, and gradually increase it, and it will help relive your stress as you are basically doing something you enjoy. Other leisure time pursuits could include playing golf, reading, watching a movie, playing games online, card and board games, or flower arrangement.
Re-Balance Work and Home Life
Re-balance work and home life by taking frequent breaks from working or reducing non-essential activities such as interacting on social media. You should also learn when to say “no”, establish boundaries and communicate your needs to your family and/or colleagues and supervisors.
A balanced work-life can reduce stress and also provide you with more time for leisure activities, and your life will become happier, healthier and more focused.
The best way to prevent stress-induced vertigo is to minimise stress in your life, and this include methods that you should inject in between all the above activities, like listening to light, calming music and scheduling time for things that make your happy. Make more friends, and socialise!
That said, it is good to check in with a healthcare provider such as a doctor at any time if you have been experiencing severe dizziness and/or recurring intense vertigo, and especially so if your vertigo is accompanied by fainting spells, seizures, difficulties in breathing and chest pains.
So, Can Stress Cause Vertigo?
So, can stress cause vertigo? Although stress and anxiety can raise your hormones such as cortisol which impairs the function of your balance-controlling vestibular system, and subsequently lead to vertigo, there are also many other causes of vertigo such as Meniere’s disease and heart diseases. You should also consult a doctor, a neurologist or an otolaryngologist for a physical examination if you have such underlying medical conditions. Many types of vertigo do go away without treatment but most causes of vertigo are readily treatable with physical therapy, medication and surgery.