Those who suffer from chronic anxiety know that the toll it takes is not just mental but can include a large range of physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pain. Another common side effect of both chronic and acute anxiety is a feeling of dizziness, and certain disorders may leave people prone to both anxiety and increased dizziness. Anxiety can be chronic and lifelong, but many also experience it in the aftermath of a trauma. If you are experiencing anxiety and dizziness, visiting a car accident doctor can be helpful in finding relief.
Anxiety refers to a feeling of fear, dread, or uneasiness and may have accompanying physical symptoms like shortness of breath or sweating. On its own, this is a common reaction to stress and does not signify any health concerns. However, when anxiety becomes an impediment to daily life or causes other health issues, it may become an anxiety disorder that requires treatment.
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, about 20% of adults will meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. There are several anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Other phobias
- Separation anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorders are often treated through a combination of therapy, medication, and other medical management.
Others will experience acute anxiety, or short bursts of high anxiety, especially in response to trauma like a car accident. If these instances cause health concerns, they may require treatment as well.
The term dizziness is an umbrella term that is used to describe a range of sensations:
- Vertigo: a spinning or tilting sensation, the feeling of moving despite being still
- Presyncope: the feeling you may faint, lightheadedness
- Disequilibrium: a sense of imbalance or instability, often during walking
The most common cause of dizziness is dysfunction in part of the inner ear known as the peripheral vestibular system. This system is responsible for monitoring position and movement, and then relaying that information to the brain. The brain then integrates this input with information from the visual, sensory, and motor systems. When this information doesn’t match up properly, it can cause a feeling of dizziness or a loss of equilibrium.
Another common cause of dizziness can be psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders.
How Anxiety and Dizziness Are Connected
While it is apparent that anxiety and dizziness are related, it is difficult to understand if one causes the other and, if so, in which order. In individual cases, the answer seems to differ.
Some research indicates that stress hormones such as cortisol and histamines, which are released during times of stress, can have an impact on vestibular function. Many of these hormones and compounds will influence the homeostatic balance of the inner ear at the cellular level, which can cause changes in the whole system.
The National Institute for Mental Health also shows that having any chronic illness is linked to an increased risk of developing a mental health disorder. This can include conditions like vertigo and vestibular migraines, which show an increased incidence of anxiety and depression.
Causes of Anxiety and Dizziness
There are three broad categories that capture the relationship between dizziness and anxiety:
- Psychiatric vestibular disorders, or anxiety disorders that cause dizziness. For example, someone with a phobia of needles may feel dizzy or lightheaded while having blood drawn.
- Structural vestibular disorders are when dizziness is caused by a structural abnormality in a balance system that leads to related anxiety. Someone who gets dizzy while walking may become anxious when in a public setting.
- Functional vestibular disorders occur when dizziness is related to anxiety, but it is not tied to a psychological or structural disorder. This describes an abnormal function in a physiological system that appears structurally normal. For example, someone may become motion sick which causes anxiety related to driving a vehicle.
These categories can overlap or co-exist with each other and other conditions. The diagnosis is usually based on whether there is a definite and identifiable cause for the anxiety and/or dizziness, the duration and frequency of the episodes, how long they have been happening, and if other symptoms are present. Many common conditions can lead to these issues.
Fight or Flight Response
In times of great stress, the body generally responds with either a fight or flight response. This includes a release of stress hormones, especially adrenaline, which give the body a boost to keep going in some sense. In addition to the impacts on the vestibular system, this can also cause a sudden change in blood pressure and a subsequent feeling of wooziness.
Inner Ear Disorders
Any vestibular disorder, especially those that cause severe disability, can be linked to increased anxiety. When these disorders cause chronic episodes of dizziness or vertigo may make it difficult for people to carry out their normal activities, which leads to anxiety around these activities.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, is a form of vertigo. Those with anxiety disorders have been found to be over two times as likely to develop BPPV, and this increased in those who were female or also had a cerebrovascular disorder.
In studies of individuals who suffer from chronic vertigo, almost all participants experienced some level of anxiety, ranging from mild to severe. Increased anxiety was also associated with lower quality of life in these individuals.
Persistent Postural-Perceptual Dizziness
This condition is a combination of four other vestibular disorders: phobic postural vertigo, space motion discomfort, visual vertigo, and chronic subjective dizziness. This diagnosis requires symptoms to be present for at least three months and take into account triggering events such as anxiety, distress, avoidance, and functional impairment.
About one-third of people who experience migraine headaches have vertigo and dizziness as a symptom during these episodes. Migraines are also tied heavily to anxiety, and many people experience spikes in anxiety during the headaches.
Other Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms in addition to dizziness. The severity of these issues can range between people and conditions but may include one or several of the following:
- Nervousness, panic, or dread
- Rapid heart rate or chest pain
- Difficulty breathing or even hyperventilation
- Chest pain or pressure
- Shaking, trembling, or twitching
- Cold chills or hot flashes
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Weakness or fatigue
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Poor focus or loss of concentration
- Sharp or blurred vision
- Sense of detachment
Most symptoms of anxiety are not dangerous on their own. However, severe chest pain or dizziness that lasts longer than 15 minutes may warrant emergency medical attention.
During an episode of dizziness, you may look for ways to reduce symptoms in order to continue with your day. When you feel dizzy, immediately lie down or sit with your eyes closed in a darkened room.
There are also steps you can take in the long-term to reduce dizziness or the risks associated:
- Avoid sudden movements
- If needed, walk with a cane or walker for stability
- Remove tripping hazards from your home, such as area rugs and exposed wires
- Use non-slip mats on your bath and shower floors
- Avoid driving or operating other heavy machinery
- Reduce consumption of caffeine, alcohol, salt, and tobacco
- Drink enough fluids and eat a balanced diet
- Avoid stress where possible
- Focus on getting enough sleep and making it high-quality sleep
For severe and chronic anxiety, it can be difficult to manage symptoms without formal treatment and medications.
If you are experiencing immediate anxiety, some ways to manage the episode include:
- Use deep breathing techniques, such as box breathing
- Close your eyes and get to a dark, quiet space if possible
- Focus on an object or other stimuli
- Repeat a calming mantra
- Practice muscle relaxation
In the long-term, there are other ways to manage anxiety, such as:
- Stay physically active
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drug use
- Reduce consumption of caffeine and quit smoking
- Learn and use stress management or relaxation techniques
- Prioritize sleep
- Maintain a balanced
- Understand your triggers and how to manage them
- Keep a journal to track your moods
- Maintain social bonds with friends and family
When you seek professional help for anxiety and related dizziness, you may need to go through some series of tests and diagnostic activities to be sure you are treating the proper issues. You may start with your general practitioner, who can refer you to the proper professional, whether it is an ENT, a physical therapist, or a psychologist. In many cases, these professionals will know each other and work together to manage cases where these symptoms overlap.
The method of addressing these concerns will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Vestibular disorders that cause anxiety will need to be treated by a vestibular specialist, while the reverse may require psychological intervention. It is common for both elements to be included in treatment in order to address all concerns at once.
When chronic dizziness is caused by an underlying condition, like an inner ear disorder, some treatment options may be beneficial:
- Physical therapy is the standard treatment for vestibular disorders like BPPV, vestibular migraine, and Meniere’s disease. Exercises may focus on the head and eyes, walking, and balance in order to reduce the severity of dizziness and vertigo episodes.
- When necessary, medication can also help to relieve symptoms. Common medications may be diuretics, anti-depressants, beta-blockers, or calcium channel blockers.
Dizziness that is caused by an underlying anxiety disorder will typically improve with anxiety treatments such as:
- Psychotherapy techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, are generally known to be successful in treating most anxiety disorders. Increasing self-awareness of anxiety and improving coping skills may reduce symptoms of chronic anxiety.
- Medications can also be prescribed. Anti-depressants are used to treat both depression and anxiety disorders. Medication is most commonly used in conjunction with psychotherapy in order to achieve long-term reductions in anxiety and associated symptoms.
- Certain lifestyle changes can also be helpful, including relaxation techniques like mediation or yoga.
Frequent dizziness most often causes increased anxiety, while chronic anxiety can be a cause of chronic dizziness. This can feel like a vicious cycle that is hard to break. It is important to start by relieving symptoms of one issue. In addition to professional treatment, it can be helpful to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet and getting enough rest on a daily basis.
When to Seek Professional Care
Many people think that their chronic dizziness is normal, especially in the aftermath of a car accident. If your symptoms do not go away quickly or begin to interfere with your ability to function, seeking medical care is important. Testing can reveal an underlying reason for the symptoms, which will allow you to begin a comprehensive treatment plan.
Dizziness can also be a symptom of certain car accident injuries, including whiplash and concussions. If you are experiencing dizziness after a car accident, it is important to seek care quickly. Certain injuries may go unnoticed and worsen in the time when you have not begun treatment. Because dizziness is associated with brain injuries such as concussions, immediate care may be necessary.
In addition to addressing dizziness, if you are experiencing constant anxiety or anxiety that impacts your daily life, reach out to professionals for help. Share these struggles with your loved ones so they can offer support as you seek mental health care and work to manage your anxiety.
At AICA Conyers, we will work to determine any underlying conditions that are causing your dizziness and create a personalized plan to address your concerns. Our physical therapists are experienced at working with vestibular disorders and creating plans that meet your needs. We also specialize in car accident injuries, so if you are experiencing any symptoms that may be related to a recent accident, we will perform comprehensive diagnostics to ensure we identify any injuries you have sustained. Contact us today to schedule your first consultation!