The short answer to this is yes, anxiety can cause dizziness.
When related to anxiety, dizziness will typically be accompanied by a feeling of light-headedness or a feeling that you might faint.
Dizziness is typically at its worse in visually complex environments. For example, when you’re in a busy shopping mall or driving in the rain.
Let’s take a look at the physical and mental signs of anxiety, why dizziness can occur, and how to assist with managing some of these physical symptoms of anxiety.
Mental and Physical Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety can impact someone both emotionally and physically. Someone may not even realize how anxious they’ve been feeling and it will often exhibit itself through bodily cues. Below are some common mental and physical signs of anxiety.
Mental Signs of Anxiety
- Feelings of dread
- Difficulty concentrating
Physical Signs of Anxiety
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest tightness
- Symptoms of panic
- Muscle tenseness
Why Does Dizziness Occur?
Dizziness is one of the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Why does dizziness occur? In order to understand this more, one would need to also understand the nature of anxiety.
Typically, one of the first physical things to become affected by anxiety is our breathing. This is because anxiety will activate our fight-or-flight response. In order to help with this survival response, our body works to get more oxygen. This then leads to quick breathing with more shallow and rapid breaths.
Although a normal amount of oxygen is actually healthy and good for use, this creates an overload of oxygen in our system that is not helpful and can lead to the experience of dizziness.
Test Your Breathing
Here’s how to test your breathing:
- Put one hand on your chest, and one on your belly
- Breathe for a few seconds. Which hand rises?
- If it’s your chest, you might have developed a habit of shallow breathing, which can lead to dizziness
The next time you feel anxious or stressed, take a moment to notice your breathing. Focus on breathing through your stomach, so that your belly rises when you inhale and drops when you exhale.
How Else Can I Tell if This is an Anxiety or Medical Issue?
Dizziness is more likely to be stemming from anxiety if other anxiety symptoms are present. Such symptoms can include experiencing fearfulness, racing thoughts, or an increased heart rate. It would also help to identify if something anxiety-provoking happened at some point before experiencing the dizziness.
Dizziness Caused by Medical Issues
Somes possible medical causes of dizziness include:
- Low blood sugar
- Cardiovascular issues
- Inner ear disorders
- Ear infections
- Viral illnesses (e.g., the flu)
- Medication side effects
As you can see, the list of possible conditions is substantial. Because of this, it’s often important to report to your healthcare provider in order to rule out any possible medical cause of the dizziness.
How to Manage Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to calm anxiety in your body.
You can regulate your nervous system to prevent symptoms from developing further into panic symptoms. Here are five action steps you can take.
1. Initially, Keep Yourself Safe
When a first wave of initial dizziness comes upon you, there are a couple of simple things you can do just to tend to initial needs and keep yourself safe.
This can include sitting down to prevent falling, leaning on something sturdy or solid for additional support, or pulling over if you’re driving when it’s safe to do so.
2. Use Breathing Exercises
Simple breathing exercises can help slow your breathing and heart rate, which will in turn bring down your anxiety response.
Examples of breathing exercises are the box breathing and alternative nostril breathing technique.
It can often be helpful to extend your exhale during your breathing exercises to assist further in helping with any excess oxygen.
3. Breathe Through the Nose
Breathing in through the nose is generally considered better for managing anxiety compared to breathing through the mouth.
Breathing through the nose allows for more efficient oxygen exchange in the lungs. This can help maintain optimal oxygen levels in the bloodstream, which is important for reducing feelings of anxiety and restlessness.
4. Avoid Stimulants
Coffee and alcohol can exacerbate dizziness by causing dehydration, so it’s best to limit how much you consume. Drink plenty of water to prevent headaches and as a way to feel better if you’re feeling lightheaded.
5. Use Movement
When you’re feeling dizzy and taking the time to sit or lie down, it’s tempting to continue doing this until the feeling passes which can sometimes take longer than necessary.
It can actually be helpful to exercise and use movement to help manage and/or prevent dizziness. This is able to help the body correct any feelings of imbalance. It can also help the brain deal with stress and assist the mind in moving away from what might initially be causing the influx of anxiety.
The chosen movement or exercise does not have to be too strenuous or intense to help with anxiety and dizziness. It can be as simple as a walk in nature or completing a yoga video on YouTube.
Dizziness is commonly associated with anxiety. This is due to the breathing changes that take place when we’re experiencing anxiety. If you’ve developed a habit of shallow breathing, practicing regular breathing exercises and breathing in through your nose could be particularly helpful in alleviating your symptoms.
If you suspect that your dizziness may instead be related to a medical issue, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider. Typically, this will be a neurologist, otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist), or a specialist in vestibular disorders. These professionals can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options tailored to your specific condition.
Self-Guided Support for Anxiety and Low Mood
Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.
If you’re interested in a self-guided program that includes tools from CBT, DBT, ACT and more, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit. It's "like 10 therapy sessions in one."
Alyssa is a licensed mental health counselor and registered art therapist.
Alyssa has worked with a variety of clients in outpatient mental health settings in addition to working most recently with juveniles through Yale University’s Juvenile Justice Program.