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
- 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
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.
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
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)
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
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Frequently Asked Questions
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.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. (2018).
Increased risk of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo in patients with anxiety disorders: a nationwide population-based retrospective cohort study. (2016).
Interactions between Stress and Vestibular Compensation. (2012).
Learn to manage stress. (2020).
Life events and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. (2006).
Relaxation Techniques. (2021).
The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. (2014).
The impact of stress on body function: A review. (2017).
The role of deep breathing on stress. (2017).
Vertigo-associated disorders. (2021).
Working out boosts brain health. (2020).