Can Stress Cause Vertigo? Exploring the Connection and Solutions

Can Stress Cause Vertigo? Exploring the Connection and Solutions

  • Dec 28, 2023

If you’ve ever wondered, “can stress cause vertigo?” you’re not alone. The short answer is yes, stress can indeed lead to or exacerbate vertigo symptoms, creating a spinning world around you. This article digs into the specifics of how stress affects your body and balance, the link between stress hormones and the vestibular system, and practical strategies to manage and alleviate stress-related vertigo without diluting your quest for answers with unnecessary details.


Key Takeaways

  • Stress and anxiety can induce vertigo by affecting the vestibular system in the inner ear, which is responsible for maintaining balance; symptoms include dizziness, spinning sensation, and nausea.
  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is an inner ear disorder characterized by short episodes of dizziness, and studies suggest a strong link between BPPV and anxiety or depression.
  • Treatment for stress-induced vertigo includes relaxation techniques, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medications like SSRIs and benzodiazepines; however, it’s imperative to rule out other physical causes of vertigo.


Unraveling the Vertigo Mystery

Illustration of the inner ear


Vertigo is characterized by a form of dizziness that creates the perception of spinning either in oneself or the surrounding environment. This unsettling sensation can take a toll on daily activities, leading to increased risk during activities such as driving or walking due to compromised balance and orientation. The duration of vertigo episodes can vary, with individuals experiencing symptoms for a brief period of seconds or minutes, while others may endure them for several hours.


What exactly triggers this spinning sensation? The answer lies in the inner ear. Our sense of balance is detected through the vestibular system, a component of the inner ear responsible for regulating balance. This system communicates with the brain through the vestibular nerve, allowing the brain to interpret the directional movement and acceleration detected by the inner ear organs. When this communication is disrupted, for instance, due to inner ear infections, it can result in vertigo symptoms.


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Stress-Induced Vertigo: Uncovering the Truth

Given that stress and anxiety are common elements of our daily lives, they hold the potential to prompt symptoms akin to vertigo. In the United States alone, up to 5% of adults have reported experiencing vertigo in association with stress or anxiety. So, what is the mechanism through which stress brings about vertigo? When we experience stress, our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol. These hormones can impact the inner ear, a crucial component for maintaining balance and spatial orientation, ultimately affecting blood flow to the brain and encouraging vertigo-like symptoms. Some common symptoms of stress-induced vertigo include:


  • Dizziness
  • Spinning sensation
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea
  • Headache


If you experience these symptoms in association with stress or anxiety involves worries, it is important to seek medical attention as this is not a diagnosis. Ruling out any underlying conditions, such as sleep disorders, and exploring appropriate treatment options is crucial.


If you find yourself battling vertigo, it is imperative to consult a healthcare provider for a thorough analysis of the symptoms and to rule out any possible physical causes that might be underlying. Treatment options generally revolve around addressing stress or anxiety to alleviate the symptoms. Some simple solutions to ease symptoms during a bout of vertigo include:


  • Lying still in a calm, dimly lit room
  • Closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing
  • Using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation
  • Avoiding sudden head movements or changes in position
  • Taking over-the-counter medications for motion sickness, if recommended by your healthcare provider


Remember, it’s important to follow the guidance of your healthcare provider for the best course of treatment for your specific situation.


The Role of Anxiety in Vertigo Episodes

Anxiety, with its worries and fears, can lead to vertigo episodes by playing a role in the dysfunction of the vestibular system. When anxiety intensifies, it can activate the vestibular system and intensify the feeling of imbalance and spatial disorientation. This could lead to vertigo, a symptom that should be evaluated by a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause.


Panic attacks, a manifestation of severe anxiety, can elicit sensations of light-headedness and dizziness, which are associated with vertigo. Hyperventilation during a panic attack can exacerbate these sensations by disrupting the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Effective management and treatment of stress and anxiety is crucial to ward off episodes of vertigo. According to a German study, nearly one-third of the participants who reported dizziness were found to have at least one anxiety disorder, highlighting the potential connection between the two.


Understanding Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

Photo of a person experiencing vertigo


While stress and anxiety can induce vertigo, there are also specific conditions that cause similar symptoms, one of which is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). BPPV is a prevalent inner ear disorder characterized by brief episodes of mild to intense dizziness. It’s typically triggered by specific alterations in head position and may result in a sensation of spinning. Interestingly, anxiety and its associated worries and fears can contribute to the development of BPPV.


The typical symptoms commonly associated with BPPV include:

  • Brief episodes of mild to intense dizziness
  • Sensation of spinning or movement
  • Feeling of the world spinning around
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Potential hearing loss


A physical examination, which includes positional testing and observation of characteristic nystagmus, can help diagnose BPPV.


Furthermore, a Chinese study found that half of the participants with BPPV exhibited symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both, indicating a robust relationship between these conditions and BPPV.


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Navigating Through Vertigo Symptoms Dizziness

Illustration of stress hormones affecting the vestibular system


The terminology around dizziness and vertigo can often be confusing. Dizziness, for instance, may manifest as lightheadedness or unsteadiness, whereas vertigo entails a sensation of movement, particularly a spinning feeling as if one or the surroundings are in motion when they are not. These terms are not interchangeable, and each represents a distinct symptom.


In the case of vertigo, the symptoms can range from a slight feeling of imbalance to intense dizziness accompanied by nausea and discomfort. The hallmark sensation is the perception that one’s surroundings are spinning or falling. Episodes of vertigo can vary in duration, ranging from brief seconds to lasting for hours or even days. The specific length of an episode depends on the underlying cause and the individual’s unique responses.


The Impact of Stress Hormones on Your Balance

Stress hormones, such as cortisol, can have a significant impact on our sense of balance. Our sense of balance heavily relies on the vestibular system, which discerns the orientation of our body in relation to gravity and aids in maintaining balance. Unfortunately, an increase in cortisol levels, influenced by the autonomic nervous system, has the potential to disturb the vestibular system, leading to impairment in its ability to maintain proper balance and orientation.


Elevated cortisol levels can impact balance by exhibiting a negative correlation with balance tests. Additionally, cortisol can influence blood sugar levels and the sleep/wake cycle, both of which are crucial for maintaining balance.


Understanding the impact of stress hormones on our balance and overall well-being is key to effectively managing stress-induced vertigo.


Identifying and Managing Stress Levels to Prevent Vertigo

Illustration of stress management techniques


The prevention of vertigo episodes is heavily reliant on the identification and management of stress. By acknowledging that stress and anxiety can lead to a range of psychological and physiological responses, including vertigo, we can promote overall well-being.


Hence, the implementation of effective stress management strategies to treat stress, such as identifying triggers, lowering cortisol levels, and adjusting lifestyle habits, is of utmost importance.


Recognizing Triggers

Recognizing triggers that can lead to experiencing stress-induced vertigo is a crucial step in managing the condition. Typical factors that can lead to stress-induced vertigo include stress and anxiety, which may result in dizziness and unsteadiness. Certain situations or environments, characterized by complex visual stimuli or movement, have the potential to trigger symptoms of vertigo.


By maintaining a diary to meticulously document occurrences of vertigo symptoms in conjunction with instances of stress or anxiety, an individual can discern a pattern and determine their personal triggers, which may encourage vertigo like symptoms or even trigger dizzy spells.


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If you’re experiencing the discomfort of a ruptured eardrum, you’re likely wondering “what side should I sleep on with a ruptured eardrum?” The short answer is: favor sleeping on the side opposite to the ruptured eardrum to alleviate pressure and pain. However, if both eardrums are compromised or if you’re a back sleeper, lying on your back with the head slightly elevated can be beneficial. Curious about the rationale and looking for more tips? Our comprehensive guide details the optimal sleep positions and other strategies to ensure a restful night during your recovery.


Reducing Cortisol through Relaxation

Reducing cortisol levels through relaxation techniques can help manage stress and prevent vertigo. Deep breathing has the potential to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has been found to reduce cortisol levels in the bloodstream, thereby aiding in stress management and potentially lowering the likelihood of developing certain diseases.


Additionally, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of yoga in reducing cortisol levels.


Lifestyle Modifications

Modifying one’s lifestyle can also contribute to managing stress and preventing vertigo. Implementing a consistent sleep schedule, adhering to a well-rounded diet, and incorporating regular physical activity such as exercise are proven strategies for effectively managing and alleviating stress, thereby potentially averting vertigo.


Exercises such as the Foster maneuver, Epley maneuver, Sémont maneuver, Brandt-Daroff exercise, and controlled breathing techniques like diaphragmatic breathing can assist in reducing stress and potentially averting vertigo. Resources such as podcasts that delve into the correlation between stress and vertigo can also be a beneficial resource.


When Panic Attacks Lead to Vertigo

Vertigo can also be a result of panic attacks. Rapid breathing during a panic attack can disrupt the balance of blood gas levels, leading to an excess of oxygen intake and excessive exhalation of carbon dioxide. This can result in constricted blood vessels and diminished blood flow to the brain, ultimately producing a sensation similar to vertigo. Notably, there is a heightened occurrence of vestibular abnormalities and notable dizziness, both of which are indicative of vertigo, in individuals afflicted by panic disorders.


Symptoms associated with panic attack-induced vertigo may encompass:


  • Sensations of spinning
  • Tilting
  • Swaying
  • Imbalance
  • Feeling pulled in one direction


Hence, whenever vertigo symptoms are linked to panic attacks, it is vital to seek medical advice to confirm their relationship with panic attacks and to ensure that no other physical conditions are contributing to the vertigo.


Seeking Treatment Options for Stress-Related Vertigo

Illustration of therapy for stress-related vertigo


Although managing stress and identifying triggers is important, there may be instances when professional intervention becomes necessary. If vertigo symptoms persist and continue to disrupt daily life despite attempts at stress management, seeking medical help becomes crucial.


A range of treatment options can be considered to manage stress-related vertigo, including psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications.


Psychotherapy Approaches

Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be an effective treatment for managing stress and vertigo. CBT is a type of psychotherapy designed to help individuals manage stress and is applicable in the treatment of stress-related conditions such as vertigo. This therapy aids individuals in addressing and altering thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to vertigo symptoms.


Moreover, a 2011 study demonstrated its significant effectiveness in reducing anxiety associated with vertigo.


Medications That Can Help

In addition to psychotherapy, medications can also help alleviate vertigo symptoms caused by stress and anxiety. Anxiety medication frequently serves as an effective means of managing vertigo symptoms stemming from stress and anxiety. Recommended anxiety medications for managing vertigo symptoms include SSRIs such as citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft), as well as benzodiazepines like diazepam and lorazepam. These medications address symptoms of both anxiety and vertigo by influencing the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain.


Deciphering Other Underlying Physical Causes of Vertigo

Even though stress and anxiety can certainly lead to vertigo, it’s equally important not to overlook other possible physical causes. Several prevalent physical causes of vertigo comprise:


  • Ear infections
  • BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo)
  • Meniere’s disease, a condition affecting the inner ear characterized by intense dizziness, tinnitus, and hearing impairment.


Vertigo has been associated with underlying health conditions such as:


  • Diabetes
  • Head injuries
  • Low blood pressure
  • Multiple sclerosis


These conditions may contribute to the onset of vertigo. In the case of diabetes, a significant proportion of individuals with this condition experience vestibular deficiency, which can result in vertigo. Furthermore, dizziness, which may be attributed to low or high blood sugar levels, is a prevalent symptom for individuals with diabetes. Therefore, it’s important to consult a doctor to eliminate other underlying conditions that may be causing the vertigo.



In summary, vertigo, a condition often characterized by a sensation of spinning or dizziness, can be triggered by stress and anxiety. The complex nature of vertigo, its connection to the vestibular system, and the impact of stress hormones on our balance provide an intricate interplay contributing to the condition. Recognizing triggers, managing stress, and seeking appropriate treatment options, including psychotherapy and medications, are crucial steps towards managing stress-related vertigo. It’s also important to be aware of other underlying physical causes of vertigo, such as ear infections, BPPV, and Meniere’s disease, and seek medical advice and or a health care professional when necessary.


Frequently Asked Questions


What does stress vertigo feel like?

Stress-induced vertigo may cause a feeling of motion or spinning inside, a sense of swaying while standing still, and a sense of imbalance in certain environments. People often describe it as a feeling that the world around them is spinning.


What helps vertigo go away?

To help vertigo go away, try lying still in a quiet, dark room during an attack and consider taking medication if advised. Additionally, avoiding stressful situations can help reduce symptoms of vertigo.


How long does an episode of vertigo last?

Episodes of vertigo can last from a few seconds to several minutes or even hours, with severe cases potentially lasting for days or months. It varies for each individual.


How can one manage stress to prevent vertigo?

To manage stress and prevent vertigo, it's important to recognize triggers, reduce cortisol levels through relaxation techniques, and make lifestyle modifications. This can help in minimizing the risk of experiencing vertigo.


Are there any underlying physical causes of vertigo?

Several prevalent physical causes of vertigo include ear infections, BPPV, and Meniere's disease, as well as underlying health conditions such as diabetes, head injuries, low blood pressure, and multiple sclerosis. These can contribute to the occurrence of vertigo.