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Stress and Its Good Friend Vertigo

Watching my young tortoise, Malti, literally swallowing her dinner whole, I realize yet again that I’m not necessarily “lucky” to have such a big, stressed-out, pre-frontal cortex!

I’ve been struggling again lately with vertigo. Just to be clear (because I know vertigo can affect each person differently) my vertigo likes to sneak up and surprise me….often when I am sitting down!

I might be seated at my laptop, working hard on some writing project. Or perhaps I am talking on the phone with someone and I’m really concentrating on our conversation. Or maybe I am sitting on the floor hand-feeding Malti her dinner.

All of a sudden, a wave of WHOA will wash over me. I feel dizzy, disoriented. I have to stop. Breathe. Refocus. Wait until it passes.

Sometimes this also happens when I am standing up. I might be standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. Or maybe I am standing beside Pearl’s cage explaining to him (yet again) what the words “no bite” mean.

In an instant, some inner part of me wavers….wobbles… vertigo launches another sneak attack.

I struggled with vertigo quite severely many years ago, and when I say “severely” I mean to the point where I couldn’t drive long distances and even short distances were starting to become problematic. I don’t know what triggered it then or what finally made it go away. I didn’t take good notes….I was just so grateful it was gone and I didn’t look back.

Here and there it has cropped up again over the years, often (I suspect) because of seasonal allergies or simple stress.

But it has been clinging to me of late, attacking several times each day for tiny bouts that, over time, add up.

One thing I find interesting is I never seem to experience the vertigo when I am doing yoga. 

I wonder if it is because all my focus is on trying not to avoid crashing down out of some impossible-appearing new pose my teacher Adriene is trying to teach me. Or maybe it is because my near-daily yoga practice is the only time I am too busy to notice I am stressed about other things.

Or it could be some other reason I haven’t thought of yet. Just now, I did an internet search on “vertigo stress” and discovered that medical people define vertigo as “an illusion of movement.” I also learned that I might be experiencing “dizziness” rather than vertigo.

As with many facts I learn about from consulting the internet, I found these interesting yet not helpful. All I know is that my vertigo/dizziness typically crops up during times of intense stress and lingers until it is finished upsetting my daily routine. Then it quietly leaves, which makes me very happy.

For mystery symptoms like my vertigo – and honestly a great majority of my symptoms over the years fall into the “mystery” category – I tend to automatically assume they are caused by stress. It could be stress to my physical body. Perhaps it is stress to my mind. It might be both. I look at them like messengers that speak a different language and forgot to bring a translator with them to deliver their message to me.

What helps about seeing every mystery symptom as “stress” (at least until there is reason to dig deeper – otherwise I’d have to rent a room at the doctor’s office) is that it makes me STOP. BREATHE. REPOSITION. I sit up – or stand up – straighter. I take a moment to come OUT from whatever inner mental and physical rooms I’ve been busy ruminating around in to SEE my outer surroundings.

This helps me refocus. It helps me re-oxygenate. Most importantly, it helps to send the vertigo away…at least for the time being.

Truthfully, this has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to tackle in my ongoing recovery from eating disorders, anxiety, stress and panic, now hypothyroidism and life itself – the not-knowing. I might never know what is causing whatever-it-is. I might never know how it is trying to help me.

But I truly do believe these symptoms are trying to help me get better, be better, find that life of ease and flow that would make their messages no longer necessary.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever experienced strange bouts of – something – that are just noticeable enough to be annoying yet not enough to send you flying to the doctor? How do you process these? Do you feel like perhaps they are messengers to help you with some other issue going on in your life, or maybe just to help you press “pause” for a moment and take a break and breathe? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Stress and Its Good Friend Vertigo

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2020). Stress and Its Good Friend Vertigo. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2020
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