Does Stress Cause Vertigo?

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Balance/Dizziness

What is vertigo? How is vertigo affected by stress? What are the symptoms, and how can it be treated? For millions of people, vertigo has had a major impact on their daily lives; let’s take a deeper look at this surprisingly common condition.

Have you ever found yourself standing in the middle of a room only to suddenly feel like everything around you was moving? This dizziness, which can include vertigo, affects anywhere between 15% to 20% of adults based upon yearly, population-based studies. As more people are diagnosed with vertigo and dizziness every year, recent studies and research have begun to implicate a surprising culprit: stress.

As the pace of our world continues to increase, vertigo has become an unfortunate and unwelcome companion for many, making everyday life much more difficult. Let’s explore how stress could affect your balance and make your vertigo worse.

What is Vertigo?

What is vertigo, and what makes it different from other types of dizziness? 

Vertigo is a specific form of balance disorder where your surroundings appear to move or spin even when still. It can have a number of causes, but for a growing number of Americans, stress has become the primary trigger.

These episodes can have dramatic effects, sometimes causing a person to feel nauseous, break out into sweats, and interfere with walking or normal movement. Often caused by things like ear infections, head trauma, or even certain medications, vertigo can affect the entire vestibular system, making it difficult or impossible to maintain proper balance. 

Two well-known types of vertigo are BPPV, which is essentially a displacement of crystals within the ear, and Meniere’s disease, which is a condition that affects the fluid within the ear. But one other trigger that has been getting more attention in recent years is stress. If you are beginning to suspect you might be suffering from vertigo, we’ve created a short quiz that can help you understand what’s happening inside your ear.

More Than Just a Feeling

We all know stress. It’s our body’s way of letting us know that there might be something wrong or that there is an issue that needs addressing. It could be that feeling you get when assigned a last-minute project at work or when you’re suddenly asked to speak in public without prior notice. For most of us, stress ebbs and flows according to the situation, but prolonged stress doesn’t just make you anxious; it can become overwhelming. 

As our bodies work to counteract stress, it can lead to a host of physical conditions like headaches, exhaustion, and even depression. Others will find that they have trouble sleeping or managing their eating, but for some, stress is having another much scarier effect on their bodies.

The Stress-Vertigo Connection

You may be wondering how something like stress can turn your world so (literally) upside down. It has to do with the way stress affects the vestibular system.

When you become stressed or agitated, your body has evolved naturally to release a hormone called cortisol into the blood, which primes the body for a fight-or-flight response. Once these hormones are released, it can boost blood sugar, which is intended to give you a quick burst of energy in response to the stressor. When there’s too much cortisol in the blood, it can start influencing the vestibular system, altering blood flow and breathing. This combination of depleted blood flow and oxygen deprivation can both cause and exacerbate dizziness. 

As more research into how stress impacts the body is completed, there is very strong evidence that stress and problems with balance are related. Many experts now believe that constant or chronic stress is either a cause of vertigo or a major contributor to its worsening. 

How Stress Messes with Your Balance

It’s important to understand that the vestibular system acts and performs like a tiny level within the ear. It feeds information to the brain to help you maintain balance and keep your eyes focused when your head moves. When you’re stressed out, it overloads this system, confusing the brain and making it difficult to discern direction and balance. 

Overcoming Vertigo

The good news is that, for many people, managing their stress levels can help to keep vertigo in check. Meditation and mindfulness practice have been shown to be very effective at lowering stress levels, but there are many ways to reduce stress in your daily life. Exercise is one of the most effective methods of destressing because it forces more blood flow to the liver, removing excess cortisol from the bloodstream. Sleep can also help to reduce stress, which can also help to reduce the severity or regularity of these episodes.

Vertigo isn’t just an inconvenient malady, it can be potentially dangerous so it’s important to recognize when to seek help for what you’re experiencing.

A Professional Approach

As frustrating and overwhelming as vertigo can be, it can be even more frustrating trying to navigate the myriad of treatments and “cures” available. Working with an expert like an ENT or Audiologist, like those found at Colorado Ear Care, can help guide you through all of the available treatment options and work with you to develop a plan that helps get you back to balance. 

Vestibular rehabilitation, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), diet, and medication are just some of the options that might be available to help you overcome the effects of vertigo and help your brain adapt to balance changes that should help lessen bouts of vertigo over time.

Stress and vertigo share a surprising connection that many overlook. While most commonly associated with physical problems, chronic stress has shown to be equally capable of contributing to a person’s dizziness or imbalance. By seeking professional help from an experienced audiologist or therapist, it’s possible to overcome stress-related vertigo and get your life back on track. 
Contact Colorado Ear Care today to speak to one of our experts about how vertigo is impacting you and how we can help.

Talk with one of our friendly hearing and balance professionals today.