For many people, feeling dizzy or unsteady is one of the most enduring and difficult to deal with anxiety symptoms. In this episode we examine this common symptom and how to best approach it. Spoiler alert … it’s the same as with every other symptom!
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There are two main steps in dealing with dizziness and unsteadiness:
1. Change the way you think about and talk about this sensation. This isn’t true physically debilitating dizziness that makes you literally unable to stand upright. This sensation is simply a feeling of visual and physical discomfort when moving through space. You are uncomfortable when moving, but you are still able to move through space and function without impairment. Being uncomfortable isn’t ideal, but start to embrace the difference between incapacitated and uncomfortable. They are not equal. You are unsteady, which is uncomfortable for you, and you are likely reacting in fear to that discomfort. When think about this issue, this is how you must frame it. When you talk about it, you must change the narrative.
“I’m so dizzy I cant do anything.”
“I feel unsteady and its uncomfortable and scary, but I’m still capable of living life”.
2. Change the way you react to this sensation. Rather than stopping, retreating, avoiding, bracing and fighting, you must accept and fully surrender to the feeling of dizziness and unsteadiness. Rather than sitting down, leaving to go back to your safe zone, or “going to ground” (a term I hear all the time, you will relax your body, breathe slowly into your belly, and train your focus on your breath or some other point of your choosing rather than on the sensation and accompanying thoughts. You can slow down and continue doing whatever it is you were doing or want to do, remaining physically relaxed, breathing properly (to avoid the over breathing/hyperventilation that makes the sensation worse), and and focused on the task at hand. Let the sensation and the thoughts come at you full force and surrender to the worst case that you can imagine. It won’t ever happen.
Remember, you are trying to learn that even when uncomfortable due to unsteadiness, you are OK. Your goal with this symptom – as usual – is to learn that you do not have to fear it. Lose the fear and the fear driven reaction and as usual, things will improve over time.
A quick word on breathing. Breathing is not magic, nor is it a shield against dizziness, anxiety, panic or fear. Improper breathing – breathing too quickly and deeply – can throw off the carbon dioxide levels in your blood which can make you feel truly dizzy. If dizziness and unsteadiness is a problem for you, take some time to learn and practice proper diaphragmatic breathing every day, a few times each day. Knowing how to breathe properly can really help keep things from spiraling out of control when this sensation pops up.
You can learn this technique here
Lets talk about driving. Many people that suffer with anxiety-based dizziness and unsteadiness become really afraid to drive. This is usually based on the belief that its is unsafe or even impossible to safely operate a motor vehicle while in this state. This is really not true. Again, since this an uncomfortable sensation rather than an incapacitating impairment, you are able to drive as you always have. If you’ve been avoiding driving because of dizziness, it would really help for you to start working on losing the fear while standing and walking. Get more aggressive with going toward the sensation and the thoughts while walking, running, turning and moving your head. Sit down. Stand up. Change position. Invite the sensation and practice your new reaction. When you acclimate to it on foot, then you can start working on short drives around your neighborhood, practicing the same relax/breathe/focus response while in the car. Over time with repetition, you will learn that driving is perfectly safe, even when you experience that uncomfortable unsteady sensation.
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