As I came into consciousness after a long night of sleep, I sensed heaviness and an oddness in my body. I slowly opened my eyes: my room didn’t look like my room. The closet repeatedly leaned and moved from right to left, almost like bouncing and melting simultaneously. I felt my head getting dragged by this movement. An uncomfortable imbalance and a strike of nauseating illusion. “Oh no…the world’s spinning around me again.”
After over a week of debilitating fatigue and nausea, I’m finally at my go-to café reflecting on this incident. It’s almost 5 p.m.: I’m sipping on an oat turmeric latte with a touch of honey for some sweetness. As the silky oat milk foam glides against my upper lips, I taste the hot sweet tinge of turmeric running through my throat. “Ah, it’s so good to be back,” I think to myself. But other thoughts keep racing through my mind, screaming for attention and answers: “Why am I experiencing this now? Was it something I ate? Is it an organic or medical reason? Hmm, is it stress?” It seemed like my two visits to the doctor weren’t convincing enough, but I needed an answer; I sometimes fear waking up in the morning to experience it all again.
Before I continue, I'd like to put a disclaimer: the information below isn’t medical advice nor intended to reach a diagnosis. Please seek medical assistance for an appropriate diagnosis of symptoms and treatment.
The vestibular system, a sensory system, is made up of different components that fire distinct signals to the brain. Among various functions, the signals work to maintain an individual's sense of balance and spatial orientation. When there’s a dysfunction within this system, a person develops symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, hearing difficulties, or changes, including but not limited to, vertigo. Multiple medical reasons affect the vestibular system (e.g., an imbalance and disruption in ion homeostasis), and psychological explanations are also behind its occurrence. What could they be? Stress and anxiety. You may ask, how could stress possibly trigger vertigo? To put it simply, elevated levels of stress hormones, particularly cortisol. Its role includes controlling glucose levels and salt and water balance, influencing memory process and function, as well as regulating the body's metabolism. Thus, when the levels are elevated in response to stress, cortisol negatively impacts the neural transmission of information between the vestibular system and the brain. The impact happens to indirectly impair ion homeostasis.
Although the source of my vertigo isn’t completely clear, it made me reflect on my lifestyle. All the long working hours and the lack of proper breaks and balanced food. Could they be the culprit to my suffering? With that in mind, I began to recall and search for ways to prevent vertigo that’s brought on or influenced by stress. First and foremost, it’s always helpful to seek methods that worked in lowering your stress and anxiety levels in the past. For example, reading a book, meditation or yoga, listening to music, quality time with friends and family, and low-intensity exercise (e.g., walking and dancing). In addition to that, you may want to monitor your consumption of water and caffeine. It’s advised to stay hydrated and minimize or avoid consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Another effective option to reduce the levels of stress and anxiety is to address the issue. It helps to visit a psychotherapist and discuss the source of the anxiety. Last but not least, assess and stay vigilant of your surroundings. When you feel dizzy or anticipate another vertigo attack, lie down until you feel better. If it persists and is accompanied by other symptoms, visit your physician.
Like numerous regimens, treatments, or planned routines, its outcome varies for each person. Thus, expect a period of trial and error and try not to get discouraged by it. Recovery of any sort is a journey. Hang in there!
Written by Zuhra Al Yarabi
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Emily Mogami