Anxiety dizziness: how it appears and how to combat it

Anxiety dizziness: how it appears and how to combat it

Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental disorders or disturbances worldwide. In fact, it is so common that probably most of us have noticed or will notice anxiety before some event or the stress of everyday life, not being strange to have lived some anxiety crisis.

It is not unusual for us to experience intestinal discomfort, general malaise, tachycardia or hyperventilation when we are anxious, as these are physical symptoms of our high level of distress. Another symptom that may occur is the appearance of dizziness. Although they can appear for many reasons, sometimes they do so in the face of a high level of tension and distress. That is, dizziness due to anxiety, which we will talk about throughout this article.

Dizziness and Anxiety: Two Basic Concepts

Before going into the analysis of why we can get dizzy from anxiety and in order to contextualize the situation, let’s briefly remember what dizziness implies and what we call anxiety.

What is a dizziness?

We give the name of dizziness to that sudden sensation of vertigo, blurring and narrowing of consciousness that can arise in various situations and that occurs with a feeling of discomfort, muscular hypotonia, and the appearance of blurred vision or tunnel effect. Sometimes the dizziness can end up in a fainting spell or loss of consciousness, and although they are usually sudden, we can sometimes previously notice a slight sensation of mental slowing down, general malaise and/or previous agitation.

There are many reasons why we can get dizzy, such as dehydration, hypoglycemia or some diseases of greater or lesser severity, but it is also possible to find with some frequency that the experience of continuous stress, extreme moods or anxiety can cause them.

Anxiety

As far as anxiety is concerned, we consider it to be a state of generalised and diffuse discomfort that arises as a reaction to the anticipation of some possible evil or danger that may occur in the future, although no directly dangerous stimulation exists at the time of its appearance. It generates a mental and physiological state characterized by a high level of negative affect and high physiological activation.

Anxiety is characterized by cognitive, physiological and behavioral components , generating responses at each of these levels.

On a cognitive level it affects the way we see situations and the emotions that wake us up. At the behavioral level it affects what we do or don’t do to avoid anxiety with behavioral responses such as attempts to avoid or escape from feared situations. And finally, at the level of physiological activation the body reacts to anxiety in different ways, such as generating the presence of cardiac and respiratory acceleration or with the symptom that is the origin of this article: dizziness.

The presence of anxiety can occur in the face of very diverse phenomena, being generally caused by the presence of traumatic or stressful situations over which we have no capacity to control or the existence of excessive environmental demands for the resources we consider to have . It is usually a consequence of some type of stress that generates a high level of activation, to which there may be some type of vulnerability at a biological level.

A very similar concept would be that of distress, although there is a small difference: distress usually refers more to the physical reaction while when talking about anxiety we tend to talk more about cognitive and emotional aspects.

How do anxiety dizziness appear?

As we have been saying, one of the possible effects of anxiety at a physiological level is the appearance of dizziness. When this happens we find that the experience of a negative emotion, generally a very high stress continued in time along with fear, generate an activation of the nervous system in such a way that it affects the sympathetic nervous system.

An activation occurs that initially generates a high sensation of muscular tension in response to a possible attack or moment when we have to defend ourselves. Breathing and heart rate also rise, which means that much more oxygen enters much more quickly in order to generate energy. But if the stress is not reduced and continues to be present, eventually our reserves are exhausted and the body is not able to maintain itself in permanent tension, which can lead to loss of muscle tone, discomfort and dizziness.

Among other aspects, hyperventilation, in which our breathing is accelerated and superficial, means that the levels of oxygen reaching us are not optimal , something that favours dizziness and vertigo.

The level of muscle tension also generates a great deal of energy expenditure that can cause the system to become overloaded. Also the presence of tachycardias and a high blood pressure will cause that, when these descend when not being able to support this level eternally, dizziness will take place.

Anxiety dizziness, while annoying, is not dangerous to the subject’s life. However, it is advisable to take into account and discard if they can be the result of some other type of affectation , especially if nothing has happened recently that generates a continued nervousness on our part.

On a neuronal level, these dizzinesses are explained by the activation of the nuclei of the vestibular system (which works with information on body posture and balance and which is linked to dizziness) and its connection with the limbic system (which works with emotional information, such as that of the perception of fear and anxiety). It is specifically in the parabraquial nucleus where both systems converge, this being one of the main points that makes us feel dizzy when we are nervous and anxious.

Different neurotransmitters, such as cortisol or histamine, are also involved in this alteration.

How can we avoid them?

The fact that the cause of this type of dizziness is the presence of anxiety means that we can find a fairly logical way to avoid it: reduce or learn to manage our level of stress and anxiety so that it does not generate somatic symptoms such as dizziness.

Some of the simplest and most basic methodologies, and at the same time useful, is the use of relaxation techniques. Among these, the use of breathing techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing , or the use of techniques that unite this with the tension and relaxation of muscle groups, such as Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation, stand out .

Another noteworthy aspect is working with anxiety generating beliefs and thoughts, if necessary modifying and proposing alternative interpretations of events with cognitive restructuring techniques. Decatastrophization or putting oneself in the worst possible scenario to assess the real threat of the worries can also be useful.

In addition, it can also be useful to work on a physiological level with techniques such as biofeedback, so that we learn to assess the condition and better manage our basic physiological processes (specifically breathing, heart activity or muscle activity).

Finally it is important to keep the body hydrated and well nourished , as well as to rest properly, so that our physical condition makes it difficult to suffer from dizziness.

Bibliographic references:

  • Balaban, C.D. and Thayer, J.F. (2001). Neurological bases for balance and anxiety links. J Anxiety Disorder, 15(1-2) p. 53-79.
  • Girl, H.L. (2010). Relationship between anxiety disorders and inner ear disorders. Rev.Fac.Med. 58 (1): 60-70.
  • Furman, J.M., Balaban C.D. , and Jacob, R.G. (2001). Interface between vestibular dysfunction and anxiety: More than just psychogenicity. Otol Neurotol. 22(3): p. 426-7.
  • Morris, L.O. (2010). Anxiety dizziness. American Physical Therapy Association, Section of Neurology.
  • Saman, Y. et. al. (2012) Interactions between Stress and Vestibular Compensation – A Review. Front Neurol; 3: 116.

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