Can Stress Cause Vertigo?

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 25, 2022

Stress can have a ripple effect on the body, negatively impacting your physical and mental health. 

Research suggests that chronic stress in particular can impair brain function, memory, learning, heart health, and the immune and digestive systems.

The relationship between vertigo and stress is complex, so I’m going to break it down in this article.First I’ll explain what vertigo is. Then I’ll discuss if stress can cause vertigo and other conditions that can cause this symptom.

I’ll also share stress-management tips and when to see a medical provider.

What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a type of dizziness often described as a sensation of motion, especially rotational motion, as though the room is spinning. 

Vertigo is three times more common in people assigned female at birth than those assigned male at birth. 

Other symptoms associated with vertigo

People who experience vertigo may experience other symptoms such as: 

  • Feeling disoriented or unsteady
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Staggering gait
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Difficulty focusing the eyes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Double vision
  • Eye movement problems
  • Facial paralysis
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness of the limbs

Common causes

The two main types of vertigo—peripheral and central—have different causes.Peripheral vertigo is caused by a dysfunction in the vestibular system. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is responsible for providing the brain with information that helps to maintain your sense of balance, spatial orientation, and movement coordination. 

Central vertigo is caused by a problem in the brain itself, often in the back part of the brain called the cerebellum.

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Can Stress Cause Vertigo?

Stress is not considered a direct cause of vertigo in most cases. However, research suggests that stress may influence central vestibular function, which can cause a sensation of vertigo. 

One case-controlled study found that traumatic or negative life events were more significantly associated with the onset of vertigo symptoms in people with one the most common types of vertigo, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Another study of more than 15,000 participants found that anxiety disorders may increase the risk of developing BPPV.

More research is needed to determine how stress affects vertigo and may be associated with medical conditions that can cause vertigo. Also, many factors (including age, sex, genetics, and early life stressful experiences) can affect the way an individual responds to stress.

Tips for Managing Stress

Learning how to manage stress can benefit your health in a myriad of ways, including keeping your central nervous system calm and reducing feelings of anxiety and panic. 

Below are some tips.

Build your support network

Having somewhere to turn in moments of high stress or anxiety can help when you feel overwhelmed. Connecting with friends, family, and other supportive people can also help reduce the effects of chronic stress on the body.

Eat well and exercise

Eating a healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fibers and low in processed sugar can help keep your mood and energy balanced.

Moving your body in a way that feels good to you is one of the easiest and best ways to boost your mental health. Exercise may help release certain feel-good hormones, like dopamine and serotonin, which can combat the effects of stress on the body. Exercise does not have to be intense to provide these benefits. Even going for a walk can help.

Try breathing techniques

Research suggests that breathing and muscle-relaxing exercises can help reduce stress, cortisol, and heart rate. Certain breathwork exercises may also help control how our nervous system responds to stressors over time. If you’re new to breathing exercises, try the box-breathing or 4-7-8 breathing technique. Or focus on taking slow, deep breaths, with a longer exhale than inhale. 

Get enough sleep

Getting regular quality sleep helps keep energy levels high and stress levels low.

Enjoy the outdoors

Spending time in nature can benefit your mental health, including reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression

Other Conditions That Cause Vertigo

Additional causes of vertigo vary depending on the type of vertigo you have. 

Conditions that can cause peripheral vertigo include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), one of the most common causes of vertigo that occurs when you move your head
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Head injury
  • Certain medicines that are toxic to inner ear structures, like some antibiotics or diuretics
  • Neuronitis, or inflammation of the vestibular nerve 
  • Labyrinthitis, a viral infection that causes irritation and swelling of the inner ear

Causes of central vertigo include: 

  • Blood vessel disease, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Certain drugs, like anticonvulsants, aspirin, and alcohol
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Stroke
  • Tumors
  • Migraine
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When to See a Medical Provider

If you’re experiencing unexplained vertigo or any other kind of dizziness (including lightheadedness or feeling that you’re about to faint), contact your medical provider.

If you have sudden onset of vertigo, severe vertigo or dizziness, or have vertigo accompanied by other symptoms such as severe headache, numbness, or weakness, seek emergency medical care.

Also talk to a medical provider if you’re struggling to manage chronic stress, anxiety, and/or grief. Your provider can help you find support and treatments.

How K Health Can Help

Want mental health support? Get connected to care in minutes. K Therapy offers free smart chats, which are dynamic, pre-written conversations designed by experts that cover a number of common mental health topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, and more. Access them for free by downloading the K Therapy app.

K Health also offers anxiety medication for the right candidates.

Online therapists are also available in select states for individualized care. Connect with a licensed mental health therapist for unlimited asynchronous text-based therapy. Therapists respond Monday through Friday between 9am-5pm, within 24-hours

Frequently Asked Questions

Can anxiety and stress cause vertigo?
Research shows that chronic stress or anxiety may trigger one of the most common causes of vertigo called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Stress associated with adverse life events may also trigger BPPV.
How long does vertigo from stress last?
The duration of vertigo varies from person to person. If it’s your first time experiencing vertigo or you’ve had it for a few days with no relief, contact your healthcare provider.
What does anxiety vertigo feel like?
Anxiety disorders have been linked to benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This can make you feel like you’re spinning or moving, or as if the world is spinning around you. These symptoms often occur when moving your head or rolling over in bed.
How can I stop anxiety induced vertigo?
If you experience chronic anxiety and/or vertigo, contact your medical provider for care. Though anxiety has been associated with a higher risk of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), your symptoms may be caused by other things. In addition to diagnosing the cause of your vertigo, your provider will work with you to suggest a treatment plan for both your vertigo and anxiety.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.

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