Symptom explained – light headed/dizzy

As my post regarding a new symptom had so many amazing responses from people all offering me comfort and advice while I try and tackle this thing that I’m feeling, I wanted to keep the conversation going with my symptoms and how I tackle them. People have been reaching out to ask about any other symptoms I get so I decided my next few posts will cover symptoms of anxiety that I have experience with, what they mean (to me) and how I work through or get past them.

The intention for this is to let people know that they’re not alone and more often than not what they’re feeling is totally normal and a standard part of anxiety.

First up is the one I’m asked about the most – light headedness and dizziness.

Now this one is tricky. First of all, it is an extremely common symptom and one most people get in various stages of anxiety, from mild to full blown panic. Whether our anxiety is building slowly and the dizziness starts or you’re in panic mode and the dizziness/light headed feeling takes over causing fear of fainting, collapsing or being poorly.

For me, this symptom was a key part in my anxiety, mostly panic attacks. I developed a fear of fainting in public spaces which began to give me anxiety. Then as it slowly progressed, the slightest thing would cause immense anxiety resulting in a panic attack which for me included dizziness. It felt like a viscous cycle that I couldn’t control and I needed to know more.

During my CBT this symptom came up as part of a fight or flight briefing. Basically:

When your body is anxious your eyes become more sensitive as your body prepares to fight or flight, darting around trying to assess the situation, taking in more light and generally becoming for sensitive. With this, your body begins to pump oxygen into your body to get the blood flowing to your muscles. For this, you breathe much faster, which creates hyperventilation, the biggest cause of dizziness. So your eyes are darting everywhere, your head feels light, and with this my legs became jelly-like as my legs prepare to run from the danger.

So let’s look at how this creates panic – we have sensitive eyes which make us feel disorientated, a light head that makes us feel dizzy and wobbly legs – the same feelings we get when we’re unwell and feel faint. This for me creates panic because I feel out of control, and that my body will shut down against my will. So how can we tackle something that is caused from panic, which also creates panic?

The first test my therapist did was exposure therapy. We stood together facing each other and would breathe in and out rapidly for 30 seconds. This creates the same effect as what hyperventilation during panic does, and sure enough the first time I did it, panic set in. I stuck with it, I faced it, and eventually the feeling went. This was my proof that hyperventilation existed and I was going to be safe.

The other thing to note is that most therapists will tell you that fainting during a panic attack is incredibly rare, due to the increase in blood pressure. Though not impossible, fainting is usually caused by a drop in blood pressure, however during panic our blood pressure is sky high, so the exact opposite of what fainting requires.

Putting this theory into practice during panic is difficult, but is hugely effective and could dramatically help your recovery so I’ll try to explain.

When panic sets in, the first thing that happens is the hyperventilation and, of this is a symptom you struggle with, you are guaranteed to feel the light headedness early on. The good thing is that now we know it’s just our body prepping for fight or flight.

Step 1: Reassurance

Tell yourself you’re ok. You know now that the light headedness and sensitive eyes are all part of what your body is doing. You’re going to be OK.

Step 2: Steady your breathing

Panic is fuelled by fast breathing. A doctor once said on This Morning that panic cannot exist without fast breathing. Steady your breathing and the panic will reduce. Give yourself 20 seconds to breathe in and out. There are phone apps which offer pace, gifs on twitter or simply count as you breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4 and out 1, 2, 3, 4.

Eventually you will feel the pain reduce. Not only is your breathing steadier, you’re now concentrating on something other than the situation, which makes it easier to cope with.

Hopefully this explains it, and please let me know how you get on, or comment any tips you have that can add to this.

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