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Can Anxiety Cause Lightheadedness?


We can feel woozy for a wide variety of reasons, however it has been linked to anxiety. This being said, lightheadedness rarely appears as an anxiety-driven symptom on it’s own. If you’re feeling lightheaded regularly and seemingly without accompanying symptoms, it’s always best to consult a doctor.


If you suffer from anxiety and feel lightheaded, then 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 Lightheadedness?

When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode and our survival instincts kick in, our heart rate increases as does our breathing to improve circulation and oxygen and get it to our major organs and muscles. 


This is often characterised by quick, shallow breathing, much like the kind of breathing you experience when you’re sprinting. That’s all well and good if you’re preparing to run away or fight, but this is not a sustainable way of breathing. 


Although it feels like you’re not getting enough oxygen, what you’re actually doing is over oxygenating your body and lacking in carbon dioxide. As a result, you try to breath more, making the process worse and causing more worry. It’s not a great cycle to be in. 


When we over oxygenate our blood, the vessels constrict and reduce the amount of blood flowing to the brain, causing you to feel lightheaded, and in some cases, actually passing out. 


How Do I Stop This Symptom?

The key to stopping feeling lightheaded 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, feeling lightheaded can occur for a wide variety of reasons, including dehydration or tiredness so it might be worth thinking about these lifestyle aspects and if you’re concerned, it’s always best to consult your doctor.


Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety, such as lightheadedness, 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.