The only thing more terrifying than a full blown vertigo attack is having a vertigo attack and a panic attack at the same time.
I’m sure many of you will agree. Because if you have to deal with vertigo, there’s a good chance that you also know what it’s like to live with anxiety. Possibly panic attacks, too
But there’s a good reason that you’re experiencing the panic and anxiety. And once you understand what’s going on, there’s also a way to get rid of it. When you live with a vestibular disorder, panic attacks and anxiety can make your life a living hell, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an exaggerated physical reaction to stress and anxiety. One that hijacks your body’s normal stress response systems.
Normally, the Fight or Flight response is there to protect us from danger. It primes the body to react to an external threat in a way that increases our chances of survival.
Adrenaline and stress hormones flood your system. Blood is pumped away from your extremities to more critical systems, like your muscles. For a brief period of time, you are able to see better, hit harder, run faster and react more quickly. And once the threat is gone, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to relax you, restoring homeostasis.
A panic attack happens when our fight or flight response is triggered in response to anxiety or stress without a clear environmental threat. And since there is no clear danger, it won’t always just go away.
It is, without a doubt, a terrifying ordeal for anyone to have to go through. But it’s even scarier when it happens with vertigo.
The Anxiety – Vertigo Connection
Unfortunately, the very nature of vertigo predisposes us to anxiety and panic. Syn Etc, my fellow Meniere’s blogger explains:
“Vertigo is terrifying because it dislocates our sense of space. One of my favorite psychology professors said that balance is our 6th sense. Whenever we lose any of our senses our reaction is fear because we are no longer getting all the information we expect to. Vertigo puts an extra spin (ha!) on things because it feeds us incorrect information. Without that data it is difficult to make decisions, and to have confidence in them. Anxiety is the emotional byproduct of uncertainty.”
The bigger problem is that it’s a negative feedback loop. The vertigo causes intense panic and anxiety, which in turn causes the vertigo to get worse, and happen more frequently. It can be difficult to break the cycle.
But because the two are so closely intertwined, the good news is that if you can start to get your anxiety under control, your vertigo will start to improve as well, or at the at the very least, you will be able to handle it much more effectively.
The best way forward, is to start taking steps to reduce your stress and anxiety today. To help, I have put together a list of the things that have helped me the most over the years.
Meditation has helped me manage my anxiety more than anything else by far.
Because of meditation, I stopped having panic attacks, I’m calm more of the time, and I was able to stop taking anxiety medication. It changed my life in more ways than I can count.
There are a lot of ways to meditate, and I will cover them in detail in a future post, but for now I wanted to leave you with a few actionable steps.
When it comes to managing panic and anxiety, the most important thing to know is how to control your breathing and trigger your relaxation response. Anxiety, and panic especially, will cause you to take short shallow breaths into your upper lungs. But breathing this way only prolongs the anxiety. Learning how to breathe in a way that will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system is incredibly important. The following excerpt from my book is a meditation technique that will help you get started:
“Technique #1 – Stomach Breathing Meditation
Stomach breathing is a simple and powerful approach to meditation. For beginners, it’s a great way to get started. It can be done while sitting or lying down. Turn the lights off and get comfortable. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and turn your phone off or on silent to avoid distractions. Close your eyes and start taking slow deep breaths into your diaphragm. Consciously relax your muscles, starting with your feet and working your way up to your head. As you continue to breathe, focus your mind on the physical sensations of your abdomen. Feel the movement of the muscles as they expand and contract. Continue until your timer goes off. If you catch your thoughts drifting away from your stomach, gently guide your focus back. You will find that this happens less and less over time.”
While I encourage you to take the time to practice this simple meditation style, I also wanted to give you something a little more tangible.
I have recently created a powerful audio meditation program built on the same underlying technology as the Symptom Relief Project, that allows you to experience the deepest levels of meditation in minutes.
The Program is called Zen Vitality and includes 42 MP3s for a total of 18 hours of audio. I encourage you to visit www.zenvitality.co for more details.
But I also wanted to give you something to get started. Click Here to download three audio meditations absolutely free.
It’s everything you need to start meditating. And if you like it, and are interested in purchasing the full program, you can get it for 50% off for a limited time if you use the promo code: menieres
Exercise is another fantastic way to manage your anxiety. It gives you a powerful outlet to channel your stress and it triggers the release of several anti-stress feel-good neurochemicals in your brain, like dopamine and endorphins.
I know how hard it can be to start exercising, especially if your vestibular symptoms are bad and you are experiencing a lot of vertigo. But it’s worth it to find a way. And it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Try going for a walk around your neighborhood, or on the treadmill holding on to the hand rails if your balance is shaky. The stationary bike and the elliptical machine are two other great ways to get a good cardio work out.
However, yoga happens to be one of the best exercises you can do when you suffer from a vestibular disorder. It combines exercise, with the breathing of meditation, and has the added bonus of improving your balance. There are even types of yoga that can be done sitting down in a chair.
You can find a local yoga studio near you by searching on Google or Yogafinder.com, however, there are also many yoga videos you can watch from the comfort of your home.
If you want to try it out without spending any money, there are literally millions of free videos on Youtube.com. Though if you want a higher production value, Amazon Video has a massive list of yoga videos you can rent or purchase.
Plan for every outcome:
One of the biggest problems is that the fear of having a vertigo attack can be enough to cause anxiety and possibly even trigger a panic. It can make it hard to enjoy the things you used to enjoy doing. It can make it hard to even leave the house.
One of the best ways I have found to conquer this fear and reduce the anxiety is to have a plan for every possible outcome anytime I want to do something that I’m afraid to do.
I have written extensively on specific tactics for facing the fear and creating contingency plans for all possible outcomes:
Get better sleep:
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that when I have anxiety before bed, it’s usually gone by the time I wake up in the morning.
Sleep has a powerful way of erasing anxiety, and is a crucially important part of managing any chronic illness. Getting enough high-quality sleep is utmost importance and can have a drastic effect on your overall anxiety levels.
Play a game:
In her best-selling book Super Better, Jane McGonigal outlines an effective way to deal with chronic illness, improve your health, and achieve personal-growth by turning your life into a game. Hundreds of thousands of people have used her scientifically verified system to fight their way back to health and improve their lives.
In her book, Jane offers a wonderful insight on dealing with anxiety:
“Anxiety—just like pain, traumatic memory, and cravings—requires conscious attention in order to develop and unfold. It’s fueled by active thoughts about what could possibly go wrong. Fear is a response to something actually going wrong right now. Anxiety, on the other hand, is the anticipation that something might go wrong in the future. The more vividly we imagine something bad happening, the more anxious we get … This is an important insight, because many people naturally turn to relaxing activities as a way to deal with stress, anxiety, or pain. But flow research shows that a challenging interactive task actually gives us more control over what we think and feel than a passive relaxing activity … to block pain or anxiety, don’t try to relax. Instead, focus your attention on any flow-inducing activity—something that challenges you and requires active effort”
Instead of watching TV or listening to music when you feel anxious, Jane suggests taking a few minutes to play a simple, yet challenging game on your smartphone, like Candy Crush, Tetris, or Angry Birds, to name a few.
According to Jane, the attention required to solve the puzzles in these games, is enough to alleviate your anxiety in a substancial way.
Read or listen to a book:
Over the last year or two, reading has become a big part of my life. Every day I read for at least an hour before I go to bed. Reading played a big roll in helping me I learn to manage my Meniere’s disease. It’s also incredibly relaxing.
In a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex, reading was found to reduce stress levels by a whopping 68%. This alone is an amazing finding, but that’s not all. Incredibly, this massive reduction in stress was observed after the participants had read for only 6 minutes!
I encourage you to read or listen to an audio book for at least 10 minutes every day. It’s a simple way to reduce your stress levels and overall anxiety.
To give you some ideas, here are a few of the best books I’ve read recently:
Just Don’t Fall – Josh Sundquist – The hilarious, often heartbreaking and inspirational story of Josh Sundquist, a young man who lost a leg to cancer at age 9 yet went on to achieve greatness in the face of unbelievable adversity. Josh is an author, motivational speaker, and Paralympic athlete.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal – Christopher Moore – My hands down favorite out of the 85 books I read in 2015. It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! – Richard Feynman – The memoir of Richard Feynman, an incredible physicist who won the Nobel Prize, who was also an hilarious character who thrived on adventure. I loved this book.
Reducing your anxiety may not be easy, but I’ve found it’s worth the effort on every level. It triggers a cascade of positive changes that can substantially improve your vertigo, your other vestibular symptoms and your overall health.
Chronic anxiety and stress can cripple us if we let it, but it doesn’t have to. We can start taking steps today to reduce its impact.
You may not be able to completely erase your health condition, but you absolutely can get rid of your anxiety.
I wish you all a healthier, anxiety-free year!