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  • Anxiety causing vertigo or vice versa?

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    Old 10-15-2014, 07:59 PM   #1
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    Anxiety causing vertigo or vice versa?

    trigger warning in case you are emetophobic or dinophobic

    Wasn't sure to post this here or on the vertigo/dizziness board, but since I know I am diagnosed with anxiety, figured it'd be worth a shot.

    From what I have read, my recent symptoms correlate with BPPV: recurring vertigo with nystagmus for about 10-30 seconds which happens when I move my head up/down/etc. Reading these articles I was certain this is what I have, but the causes don't really measure up. It's more common in older people, I'm only 21. It happens a lot in head/ear trauma or migraines, neither of which I have. sometimes BPPV has no real cause and just happens apparently as well

    What I do have with absolute certainty, is severe GAD for over ten years now. Not severe enough to be hospitalized, but severe enough that I dropped out of high school. My anxiety attacks often are accompanied and even triggered by feelings of nausea and dizziness. I've been emetophobic all my life. This made me think maybe my fear of feeling dizzy and sick is part of this vertigo that seems to have no other cause. i mean dizziness has always been a BIG trigger for me. I don't like wide open spaces, can't go on planes, just thinking about being on a roller coaster makes me feel sick.

    The vertigo attacks will occasionally last a few days to weeks, but often will just occur once and not happen again for some time. It feels like it flares specifically when I think i am having some clear weeks, anxiety wise. Then randomly I'll wake up and the room is spinning. this isn't lightheaded and faint, this is carousel holding onto walls dizzy.

    i'm sure others with anxiety can relate to the worry that something is actually physically wrong with you and not related to your anxiety. I guess I'd just like to know something. BPPV isn't curable other than surgery and exercises (that have not helped). It would be nice to be able to just tell myself it's just my anxiety acting up, or to just tell myself I have vertigo and to grin and bear it til it goes away.

    I've tried other things too: keeping very hydrated in case of low blood pressure, iron supplements, i count calories already so I know i'm not just hungry and dizzy, propping myself up when i sleep
    is it possible to have such a severe reaction to anxiety like vertigo when it relates so closely to your trigger?

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    Old 10-17-2014, 09:51 AM   #2
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    Re: Anxiety causing vertigo or vice versa?

    Well, I often get dizzy with slight vertigo and disorientation when I have a panic attack. I just pause, and my hand goes reflexively to my forehead while I bow my head and reorient myself. I guess this is to shut out outside stimulation, idk.

    For me it goes along with the feeling of being overwhelmed to the point of being sort of knocked over by my reaction to the outside world. It's like it's all too much to process for a moment, and my head is whirling. It does not last long, though, like maybe a few seconds at a time - not as long as you are saying yours last.

    Dizziness is a symptom of panic, as is nausea. I am not sure what the physiological process is that causes it, but it's a normal part of the experience.

    The physical symptoms are scary because they seem to reinforce what's going on on the cognitive side - ie that something is horrible, terribly and perhaps deathly WRONG and that you must discover what that is and get control of it RIGHT NOW.

    But the truth is that the body is an integrated system that *includes* the mind. Where the mind goes, so does the body and vice versa, at least to some extent. Since I have been doing mindfulness meditation as a part of a self help MBCT program I've become much more aware of the connection, and it's become less terrifying to deal with some of the more extreme manifestations.

    Like when you feel happy, sad, etc, these emotions have associated physical sensations and effects in the body. Maybe you have a spring in your step, maybe you feel tired and have muscle weakness. Maybe it's much more dramatic and unusual than that and it scares the **** out of you (literally, in my case, as anxiety throws off my digestion :P) Working with mindfulness practice I've started to see and understand how these processes unfold in my mind and body. For most of us and most of the time it's all too fast and too conflated to see and feel our own emotional+physical processes. We're largely unconscious of them until they become very noticeable, indeed, and then, when we notice them and feel scared about them, we can start to dwell on them in ways that actually make them worse. When you intentionally slow down and pay attention they begin to become clear. For me, I can feel the clenching in my chest that signals the beginning of panic, now, and then I know what to expect. Oh yes, there is that dizziness again, those heart palpitations, yes, now I have to go to the bathroom. Yup, right on schedule. It's less scary when we understand it and give it space to run its course. It's got a natural rhythm and a familiar process of its own that we can easily interject into and so make worse with more panic when we don't step away and let it be with as much self-kindness as we can muster.

    I used to have panic attacks that literally lasted all day before I understood any of this. Sometimes I would have them for days and days in a row, even. Now I can even sometimes let them go with gentleness, and then they come to a small peak that lasts for a short time and passes. The terrible ones are much less frequent, and the small ones are almost completely manageable. I hope it keeps getting better.

    The point of all of this is that what we attend and how we attend it matters a great deal. Synaptic pathways that are forged during a period of very elevated emotion are much more salient than are our more neutral memories. We return to them much more quickly and easily and each time we do so in a state of elevated emotional reactivity, they are reinforced. It becomes a vicious cycle wherein basically the same experience gets worse and more frequent over time. We revisit it every time we get scared, just like someone who suffers from PTSD would do - revisit the terrible memory whenever slightly triggered.

    So... dizziness, being an "ordinary" part of panic, could get more salient, more pronounced and last longer the more that you "feed it" with fearful attention. It's the hypothesis that comes to my mind when I read your post.

    Mindfulness meditation is quite difficult, and the effects are slow to come. It also takes long term commitment and every day practice, no matter what. For me, I committed to doing a minimum of 10 minutes a day, and I usually do at least twice that much, sometimes even an hour or more. 25 or 30 minutes a day is probably my average, though. It was months before I saw big changes. They are subtle, at first, but they are cumulative. It's far from a magic bullet, but it does work on panic and anxiety. It's been more than a year, and I am still working with it - bit by bit. It's made my anxiety more liveable.

    A lovely meditation for panic attacks is the three minute breathing space which comes along with "The Mindful Way Through Depression" by Jon Kabat-Zinn, et al. The best one to start with is the body scan meditation, also on that cd, which teaches us to feel what our thoughts and emotions are doing in our bodies. It teaches us the beginnings of the kind of awareness that can help us let go of panic attacks. I did the body scan every day for months, at first.

    Another MBCT based self help book that I found really rich is Glenn R. Schiraldi - 10 Simple Solutions for Building Self-Esteem. I know these books don't specifically pertain to anxiety, but the principles are the same. The latter one, especially, seems to be a beautiful and simple primer for the concepts in MBCT. The Zinn book was the first one I read, though, and I still use his guided meditations. Guided meditations FTW

    Anyway, I hope some of my experiences and words resonate for you. Perhaps, by gently working with (instead of "fighting, fleeing and fearing") your feelings and experiences of panic and anxiety, you can help them become less severe and even come to let them go altogether, sometimes.

    Old 10-17-2014, 01:49 PM   #3
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    Re: Anxiety causing vertigo or vice versa?

    I don't think the spinning type of vertigo can be caused just by anxiety. You say you have nystagmus which is usually a sign of BPPV. I had BPPV in my early twenties and your symptoms sound the same. Your anxiety is undoubtedly making it all worse though.

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    anxiety, dizziness, gad, vertigo

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