Fainting can be a terrifying thing to experience, after all we don’t feel in control of our own bodies, and whilst can be indicative of a wide variety of conditions, it has also been associated with anxiety. It is worth noting that only a doctor can diagnose the actual cause of an individual’s fainting spells, so if you’re fainting on a regular basis please go and visit your doctor.
If you suffer from anxiety and feel faint, chances are this isn’t the only physical symptom that you’re experiencing – increased heart rate and breathing or hyperventilation are probably also at play here.
These symptoms are often triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Fainting?
When our fight, flight or freeze response kicks in, our breathing gets faster and shallower. The idea is that it allows us to sprint away or strike quickly against the perceived threat, however when we’re anxious this can last longer than the desired short burst of energy.
Although it feels like we’re not getting enough oxygen, we’re actually over oxygenating our body and not getting enough carbon dioxide. When this happens, our blood vessels narrow, reducing the amount of blood flow to the brain. This is when we become lightheaded or faint before passing out.
How Do I Stop This Symptom?
The key to stopping feeling faint or passing out due to hyperventilation is actually pretty counterintuitive. At the time, our instinct is to try and get more oxygen in through short shallow breaths, but the key is to take long breaths and actually hold your breath to allow the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide to occur.
This being said, fainting can occur for a wide variety of reasons so it’s always best to consult your doctor if you suffer from repeated fainting episodes.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety, such as fainting, occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. This is especially important if this symptom occurs alongside the paralysis feelings associated with the freeze panic response. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.