Dizziness, lightheaded, feeling dizzy, feeling like you might pass out, head feels like it is swimming or spinning, you feel off balance, you feel unsteady anxiety symptom
Anxiety dizziness symptom description:
- You feel (or suddenly feel) dizzy, lightheaded, faint, off balance, unsteady, that you might faint or pass out, or that you might fall over.
- It might also feel as though you are walking on a boat on water.
- It can feel as if the floor beneath you is moving up and down or swaying from side to side.
- If can also feel like you are so off-balance that your legs may not support you.
- If can feel like you are unsteady or that it’s hard to keep your balance.
- You might also have difficulty placing your feet because your perception of the ground or floor may seem wrong or incorrect.
- In some cases, it may seem that even though you are standing on a firm floor, the floor may be vibrating or moving.
- It can also feel like the room is trembling, swaying, rocking, or moving.
- It can also feel like your surroundings are moving, shaking, rocking, or vibrating.
- While you haven't passed out yet, you think you might. The prospect may frighten you.
- You might also think, "What if I pass out, what will everyone think of me?" The thought of passing out frightens you, which can cause more symptoms and fear.
- This symptom can be accompanied by darting eyes.
- It can also feel like there’s a spinning feeling or pressure in your head.
- This dizziness lightheaded feeling can also be experienced as a sudden dizzy/lightheaded ‘spell’ that comes on out of nowhere and then disappears shortly afterward.
This dizziness lightheaded symptom or ‘spells’ can come and go suddenly, come and linger, or can come and remain persistently.
This dizziness lightheaded symptom or ‘spells’ might occur rarely, frequently, or persistently.
This dizziness lightheaded symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
This dizziness lightheaded feeling can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
This dizziness lightheaded feeling can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
This dizziness lightheaded symptom can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
Dizziness and lightheadedness can also be characterized as having ‘episodes’ of dizziness or lightheadedness - like you are going to pass out or fall over because of being so dizzy or lightheaded.
Sometimes these episodes will come on suddenly, the ease off only slightly. At other times, you can feel dizzy or lightheaded suddenly and then it disappears quickly. It can also come on strong and remain persistently.
This dizziness lightheaded feeling is often described as coming in “waves” where it comes on quickly and strong, and slowing eases off throughout the day.
Those who experience this symptom persistently still can notice increases and decreases in severity associated with ‘waves’ or ‘episodes’ of intensity. Sometimes the intensity can increase for an extended period of time, such as days before the intensity decreases again.
This symptom can be more noticeable when undistracted, resting, trying to fall asleep, or when waking up.
All variations and combinations of the above are common.
For some people, episodes of anxiety-caused dizziness and lightheadedness can trigger anxiety and therefore be accompanied by an immediate stress response (or panic attack) and its resulting sensations and symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, feeling disoriented, rapid heart rate, heart palpitations, having a sudden urge to escape, and so on.
This anxious reaction can occur for many reasons. For example:
- feeling dizzy can activate the body’s postural reflex to feeling off-balance,
- because of being surprised by the sudden feeling of feeling off-balance (which activates the body’s startle reflex),
- by being fearful of how bad the dizziness can get,
- by being fearful that you might pass out because of the dizziness, or
- by being fearful of the cause of dizziness (many people think it is caused by a serious physical or mental illness).
To name a few.
Anxiety dizziness causes
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, we recommend that you discuss this symptom with your doctor. If your doctor attributes this symptom solely to stress (including the stress caused by anxious behavior), you can be assured that there isn’t a another medical cause. Generally, most doctors can easily tell the difference between stress and anxiety caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by other medical conditions.
If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, however, you may want to seek a second and even third opinion. But if all three opinions agree, you can feel confident that stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is the cause of this symptom and not some other medical or biological problem.
Causes relating to anxiety include:
Hyper- and hypoventilation: - taking in too much or too little oxygen. Hyper and hypoventilation can change the CO2 levels in the blood, which can cause a myriad of anxiety-like symptoms, such as dizziness.
An active stress response: - behaving in an apprehensive manner activates the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat - to either fight with or flee from it - which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.
Some of the stress response changes cause the body to shunt blood to body parts vital for survival and away from those that aren’t. These changes also cause the heart rate and respiration to increase. And many more. These changes alone can cause a person to feel ‘dizzy’ and lightheaded.
Persistently elevated stress: - stress impacts the body’s nervous system. Too much stress can cause the nervous system to act in odd ways, which can affect our sense of balance. If you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, this stress could be the cause of your dizzy and lightheaded feelings.
Sleep deprivation and fatigue: - behaving in an overly apprehensive manner stresses the body, and a body that’s under sustained stress can become hyperstimulated. Hyperstimulation can cause sleep problems, which can lead to sleep deprivation and fatigue. Dizziness commonly occurs when we’re over tired.
For more detailed information about anxiety-caused dizziness, you may want to join our Recovery Support area. It contains a wealth of detailed information about dizziness, including a more indepth description of the causes and how to overcome persistent dizziness.
How to stop anxiety dizziness
If your dizziness is caused by hyper or hypoventilation, adopting a natural breathing style – relaxed, slower, and deeper – will correct the CO2 levels, which will eliminate ventilation caused dizziness.
If your dizziness is caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers, your body’s functioning will return to normal and your dizziness should diminish.
If your dizziness is caused by persistently elevated stress, reducing your stress and giving your body ample time to recover should eliminate this symptom. Keep in mind, however, that it can take a long time for the body to recover from persistently elevated stress.
If your dizziness is caused by sleep deprivation and fatigue, increasing your sleep, rest, and giving your body sufficient time to regain its normal energy will eliminate fatigue-caused dizziness.
Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the dizziness anxiety symptoms. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.
For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
NOTE: Anxiety, stress, and hyperstimulation-caused dizziness is often misdiagnosed as vertigo, benign positional vertigo (BPV), Meniere’s Disease, Labrynthitis, and vestibular neuritis. If you’ve tried the treatments associated with each condition, yet your dizziness and lightheadedness persist, your dizziness and lightheadedness may be caused by stress, including anxiety-caused stress. Therefore, you may want to seek out a medical professional who understands the connection between dizziness/lightheadedness and stress. For instance, it’s reported that psychiatric disorders appear to be the second most common cause of chronic dizziness.
Prescription medications can also cause dizziness. So can other medical conditions such as low blood pressure. Again, talk with your doctor or specialist if you are unsure. It’s beneficial to talk with a doctor or specialist who understands the connection between stress and dizziness/lightheadedness.
1. Meuret, Alicia E., and Thomas Ritz. “Hyperventilation in Panic Disorder and Asthma: Empirical Evidence and Clinical Strategies.” NCBI PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2937087/.
2. Lahmann, Claas, et al. “Psychiatric Comorbidity and Psychosocial Impairment among Patients with Vertigo and Dizziness.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, 24 June 2014, jnnp.bmj.com/content/early/2014/06/24/jnnp-2014-307601.short.
3. “Dizziness.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dizziness/symptoms-causes/syc-20371787.
4. Staab, J P, and M J Ruckenstein. “Autonomic Nervous System Function in Chronic Dizziness.” NCBI PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17514065.
5. Ludman, Harold. “Vertigo and Imbalance.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 22 Jan. 2014, www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g283.
6. 11. Kim, Sung Kyun, et al. “Relationship between Sleep Quality and Dizziness.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2018, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0192705.
7. Pederson, Traci. “Chronic Dizziness May Be Tied to Psychiatric Disorder.” Psych Central, 1 May 2018, psychcentral.com/news/2018/05/01/chronic-dizziness-may-be-tied-to-psychiatric-disorder/135036.html.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated October 9, 2018.