Can Stress Cause Vertigo?

person stressed on bench

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Yes, in some cases, people living with chronic stress report vertigo or dizziness when in a stressful situation. This may lead someone to believe that their stress is causing them to lose their balance and coordination.

What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo

Vertigo is a condition that causes you to feel like you are moving or the world is spinning around you even when you are not moving. Some people may describe this sensation as dizziness, but vertigo and dizziness differ.Vertigo is sometimes accompanied by other symptoms such as sweating, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. 

This article explores the connection between stress and vertigo and what you should do if you exhibit signs of either or both conditions.

What's the Connection Between Stress and Vertigo? 

In some cases, people report feeling vertigo symptoms when stressed. This caused researchers and scientists to explore if there was a link between both conditions.

Research reveals that while stress might not directly cause vertigo, it may affect your vestibular system (the part of your inner ear that regulates balance and coordination), triggering vertigo. When your vestibular system is disrupted, it can cause vertigo.

Up to 5% of adults in the United States report experiencing vertigo when they are stressed or anxious.

When stressed, particular hormones such as cortisol becomes elevated. A rise in these stress hormones has disrupts your vestibular system. In a 2016 study, researchers observed that a group with Ménière’s disease, which causes vertigo, experienced fewer symptoms when their vasopressin (a stress hormone) levels were lowered. 

Can Stress Cause Dizziness? 

Dizziness and vertigo are two terms often used interchangeably. However, they are distinct sensations.

Dizziness
  • This can feel like lightheadedness

  • Feeling unsteady or wobbly

Vertigo
  • A person may feel like they're moving

  • Someone may that the world is moving around them

Vertigo, Dizziness, and Stress

Despite the difference between dizziness and vertigo, their relationship with stress is similar. Stress doesn’t directly cause a person to feel dizzy, but like with vertigo, it can also affect your vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and coordination.

When your vestibular system is thrown off, you may feel symptoms like dizziness. Not everyone who is stressed or has chronic stress will experience this. 

Impact of Stress and Vertigo 

Living with chronic stress for an extended period can significantly affect your overall well-being. Conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and sleep disorders have all been linked to chronic stress.

Stress May Not Be the Cause of Your Vertigo

If you’ve been experiencing stress-induced vertigo, it may be a forewarning that your stress levels are critically high. Your vertigo may also not necessarily be linked to stress. Other underlying conditions such as diabetes, head injuries, low blood pressure, and multiple sclerosis have been linked to vertigo. 

Diagnosis of Stress and Vertigo 

There are no specific diagnostic criteria for stress. When stressed, you can typically tell. Chronic stress can cause symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, mood changes, trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating.

Dix-Hallpike Test 

Doctors typically use the Dix-Hallpike test to diagnose vertigo. The test involves being put in a position that could trigger your vertigo. When you begin exhibiting symptoms of vertigo, they’ll examine your eyes for any indication of vertigo. It’s used to diagnose a benign cause of vertigo. Tests like these can be used to rule out other causes of your vertigo. 

Treatment of Stress and Vertigo 

Going to see a doctor when experiencing stress-induced vertigo is crucial. This is because other underlying conditions (aside from stress) could be responsible for your vertigo.

However, if your vertigo is linked to stress, treating your stress is key to stopping your vertigo symptoms.

Psychotherapy 

One of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for managing severe cases of stress is cognitive- behavioral therapy (CBT). One study also revealed that CBT effectively manages some symptoms of vertigo. In the study, three sessions of CBT caused significant improvements in dizziness in people with vertigo. 

Coping With Stress and Vertigo 

If you’ve been experiencing stress-induced vertigo, lowering your stress levels is the best way to manage both conditions.

Managing Stress

Some of the best ways to manage your stress levels include:  

  • Exercising: Exercise has long been linked with reduced stress levels. Understandably it can be hard to make time for exercise when you are stressed. You shouldn’t think of exercise as an hour-long daily commitment. A brisk 30-minute walk a day is a great place to start exercising. 
  • Getting enough sleep: It’s recommended for the average adult to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep daily for optimal functioning. This is even more crucial when stressed. 
  • Eliminating stressors: Removing stressors from your life that are in your control goes a long way in helping you manage your stress levels. 
  • Meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help you reduce your stress levels.

Managing Vertigo

There are also ways for you to manage your vertigo to prevent it from significantly affecting your daily functioning.

What to Do When You Experience Vertigo

If you're experiencing vertigo, try the following:

  • Staying stationary until the sensation passes
  • Keeping your body well-hydrated throughout the day 
  • Avoiding foods and drinks such as caffeine and energy drinks that can make your wired 
  • Avoiding bending over to do things like pick up a package; squat instead

Summary 

While stress doesn’t directly cause vertigo, it can trigger a chemical imbalance in your body, affecting your vestibular system. Your vestibular system is responsible for managing your balance and coordination. When it’s thrown off, symptoms such as vertigo and dizziness can sometimes occur. Finding ways to treat and manage your stress levels, however, can prevent vertigo associated with stress from occurring. 

A Word From Verywell 

Anyone who has experienced vertigo will agree that it can be a destabilizing and confusing sensation. Severe cases of vertigo can affect your daily functioning, as everyday activities such as driving or walking become risky.

If you find that your vertigo comes on when you are stressed or in stressful situations, that could indicate that they are linked. However, other underlying conditions could cause vertigo, and not everyone living with chronic stress experiences vertigo.

It’s crucial to contact your healthcare provider to get to the root cause of your symptoms and work together to come up with a treatment plan. 

7 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.
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  2. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Chapter 14, The Vestibular System.

  3. Saman Y, Bamiou DE, Gleeson M, Dutia MB. Interactions between stress and vestibular compensation – a review. Front Neur. 2012;3.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Vertigo: what is it, causes, signs & treatment.

  5. Kitahara T, Okamoto H, Fukushima M, et al. A two-year randomized trial of interventions to decrease stress hormone vasopressin production in patients with meniere’s disease—a pilot study. Lonser RR, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(6):e0158309.

  6. Talmud JD, Coffey R, Edemekong PF. Dix hallpike maneuver. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  7. Edelman S, Mahoney AEJ, Cremer PD. Cognitive behavior therapy for chronic subjective dizziness: a randomized, controlled trial. American Journal of Otolaryngology. 2012;33(4):395-401.

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.