Vertigo describes an unpleasant, spinning sensation when a person is not in motion. It can make them feel unsteady on their feet, and they may need help to remain standing. Many individuals with vertigo find that stress can trigger an attack.

Vertigo and dizziness are common in adults.

Most people experience vertigo for a few seconds, though episodes can last several hours. Vertigo can interfere with a person’s ability to do their job or go about their daily activities.

This article looks at the relationship between stress and vertigo. It also offers tips for coping with symptoms.

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Estimates suggest that around 15–20% of adults experience vertigo or dizziness yearly.

Although stress does not directly cause vertigo, it can trigger symptoms. Vertigo results from a dysfunction in the vestibular system.

The vestibular system helps people maintain their balance and starts in their ears. Tiny hairs in the inner ear detect head movements and send messages to the brain. The brain processes this information to establish which direction a person is facing.

Stress and vertigo interfere with these signals and can make someone feel as if the ground is spinning or moving. Doctors call this vestibular dysfunction.

Learn more about vertigo.

During times of stress, people secrete the hormone cortisol, and their heart and breathing rates increase.

High levels of cortisol corrupt the signals the hairs in the inner ear send to the brain, and the brain interprets them as movement. A person may experience this as a spinning sensation or feel as if they are falling.

Vertigo can be stressful and negatively affect a person’s quality of life. Anxiety and stress can also make someone feel dizzy, and the fear of a vertigo episode can further contribute to stress. Some people notice they experience vertigo more often in times of stress.

Vertigo can happen at any time, but triggers vary. Researchers of a 2023 study involving 121 participants identified several potential triggers, including:

  • not getting enough sleep
  • drinking alcohol
  • drinking caffeinated drinks, including coffee and sodas
  • turning, tilting, or moving the head suddenly
  • bending down
  • having hormonal imbalances
  • having an allergy
  • feeling stressed or anxious
  • having an ear or sinus infection
  • having migraine
  • having Meniere’s disease

Some people experience vertigo while lying down or getting out of bed.

Stress affects people in different ways, but knowing how to manage it may reduce the likelihood of a person experiencing vertigo.

Not all coping strategies work for everyone. It may help to try different coping techniques.

Learning how the body responds to stress may help a person identify when to implement coping strategies. For example, some people may experience headaches or clench their teeth during periods of high stress.

A person can try the following to promote relaxation and reduce the risk of vertigo attacks:

  • meditation
  • breathing exercises
  • gentle stretching, such as pilates or yoga
  • going for a walk
  • eating nutritious food, including lots of lean protein, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
  • limiting alcohol
  • limiting caffeine
  • daily exercise
  • getting enough sleep

Many people find that talking about their concerns with others helps. Sharing feelings with close friends or family can make coping easier during stressful moments.

Vertigo can last for just a few seconds or continue for hours. During an episode, a person is at increased risk of falling, so sitting down or lying in a quiet, dark room reduces the risk of accidental injuries.

Sudden head movements can trigger an attack, so people with vertigo need to try to move their heads slowly and carefully.

Doctors may also recommend exercises to clear deposits from the inner ear that may contribute to vertigo episodes. These include head rotation maneuvers such as the Epley maneuver.

Another option is performing vestibular rehabilitation exercises. These exercises retrain a person’s brain, teaching them how to respond to visual and movement clues, such as eye movements, head movements, bending down, and gaze stabilization exercises.

Doctors may also prescribe medications, such as antihistamines, to relieve a person’s symptoms.

Additionally, avoiding triggers can help prevent vertigo episodes.

Vertigo can be a symptom of other illnesses, so people experiencing regular or prolonged episodes can consult a doctor.

If stress is triggering the symptoms, mental health care professionals may recommend therapy or counseling to help a person cope.

If someone has vertigo with chest pain, breathing difficulties, seizures, or fainting, they need to seek emergency medical care.

Vertigo is the unpleasant sensation that the world is spinning or moving randomly. Stress can make people feel dizzy and trigger the symptoms of vertigo.

Learning how to manage stress can help reduce the likelihood of a vertigo episode. Various relaxation techniques may help relieve symptoms and prevent attacks. Doctors may also prescribe medications to treat vertigo.

Many people with vertigo also benefit from vestibular rehabilitation exercises such as the Epley maneuver. After learning these exercises, people can perform them in their own homes.