Can Stress Cause Lightheadedness?

Young Asian woman sitting on the bed feeling sick and suffering from headache, a glass of water and medicine on the side table

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When stressed, you may feel anxious, sweaty, or get frequent headaches. But can stress cause lightheadedness? Yes!

This article will explain why stress can cause lightheadedness, other issues that can contribute to these symptoms, the long-term effects of stress, and what you can do to start feeling better.

Yes, Stress Can Cause Lightheadedness

Stress can absolutely cause lightheadedness. Lightheadedness can feel like a general fuzzy lightness in your head, possibly even throwing off your balance. Many may refer to this as dizziness, and it isn’t uncommon to feel disoriented, as if your surroundings are unstable. Others may associate lightheadedness with brain fog as well.

What Causes a Sensation of Lightheadedness?

Dizziness is caused by dysfunction of the body’s sensory system called the vestibular system. This system controls balance and movement.

Our vestibular system is disrupted when our body releases stress hormones like cortisol. Stress hormones are released when faced with a sense of real or perceived danger, like an obstruction on the road or losing our wallet. 

Our body naturally releases these hormones intending to ensure we respond to stressors efficiently, ultimately working towards keeping us safe. However, when these hormones are stressed, they can interfere with the typical functions of our sensory system. Particularly, it can affect our inner ear, which can throw off our sense of balance and body movements. As a result, you can end up feeling dizzy and disoriented. 

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Stress?

Stress is a serious issue. Beyond causing lightheadedness, it can cause other issues that warrant attention.

  • Stress impacts brain function: Ongoing stress can change the structure of the brain, decreasing its overall weight and disrupting cognition and memory. 
  • Stress impacts the cardiovascular system: This can lead to high blood pressure, a racing heartbeat, blood clots, and even heart disease. 
  • Stress impacts your gut: The gut isn’t immune to stress responses. You might lose your appetite or experience differences in your nutritional patterns due to stress. This might look like overeating or eating different types of food. Additionally, stress can take a toll on the GI tract, causing inflammation and further physical discomfort. 

Tips for Managing Your Stress

Here are some steps you can take to manage your stress:

Identify the root cause of your stress. Consider what is stressing you out. Is it a relationship? Job? Looming deadline? Take an honest look at what keeps you up at night and see what action you can take. Perhaps there are boundaries you can set in a relationship. It may be time for you to reach out to your network to explore new job opportunities. And if procrastination is driving your concern about your upcoming deadline, there are ways you can improve your focus

Practice mindfulness: Too many thoughts going on at once can keep you stressed. You can keep your mind from wandering off to other thoughts by staying focused on the present moment.

Try Meditating: Meditation is a mind-body practice with origins in Eastern traditions. It utilizes techniques to soothe the nervous system, like deep breathing, visualizations, and repeating encouraging mantras. It is clinically proven to decrease the side effects of stress, including anxiety and depression symptoms.  

A Word From Verywell

Even though the majority of us are struggling with stress, things can change. Empowering yourself with knowledge about stress is a great starting point for improving your overall well-being. While there are stress management tactics you can employ, you can enlist the help of a therapist.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Health. Dizziness Can Be a Drag. 

  2. Kverno K. Brain fog: a bit of clarity regarding etiology, prognosis, and treatment. J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. 2021;59(11):9-13. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20211013-01

  3. Yoo H, Mihaila DM. Neuroanatomy, vestibular pathways. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  4. Saman Y, Bamiou DE, Gleeson M, Dutia MB. Interactions between stress and vestibular compensation – a review. Front Neurol. 2012;3:116. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2012.00116

  5. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. doi: 10.17179/excli2017-480

  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Meditation and Mindfulness: What You Need to Know. 

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.