Eight Ways to Cope When You're Dizzy
When the going gets tough...
As a long-time sufferer of dizziness, I've built up a toolkit of coping strategies over the years. It is important to clarify that these tips do not cure dizziness. However, with practice, they can help you cope with the sensation of dizziness and get along with things you need to do. What works one time may not work another, so be prepared for trial and error.
Remember, there are many causes of dizziness. You will need to see a doctor for proper diagnosis.
I have inner ear nerve damage, am prone to vertigo and dizziness, and can get "spaced out." I'm magnetically drawn to door frames and trip over specs of dust. It's not how I'd choose to live life, but there are things I've learned along the way.
So here, in no particular order, are eight ways to cope when you're dizzy.
Consult Your Doctor
If you experience recurring and/or unexplained dizziness, you should see a doctor for proper diagnosis.
1. Driven to distraction.
When my boys were little, distracting them from a problem could work wonders. So it made sense to give it a go myself. For example, waiting at the checkouts in stores is particularly hard for me. I've got the goods and really, really want to go. My head starts to float. Moving conveyor belts don't help. So, it's time to think about the words of that favourite song. How about remembering the names of Snow White's seven dwarves, or counting backwards from 300? Give your mind something to do apart from imagining you're about to pass out on the floor.
2. Learn to go with the feelings rather than fight them.
This is a tough one. (Most of them are.) I absolutely hate, loathe, detest being dizzy. It makes me feel out of control. It's hard to function when the world's revolving and your thoughts splinter. I guess this is like the "mindfulness" technique - learning to stay in the moment.
Wishing things were different causes frustration, feelings of powerlessness. Accepting that this is how things are right here, right now,can make time pass more easily.
3. Be your own best friend.
You know that little voice in your head? The one that tells you that you'll mess up, you look stupid? Learn to change how it talks. It takes effort, but is possible, and worthwhile. Switch to saying, "You're doing fine. Nothing bad's going to happen. This is uncomfortable, but you'll get through."
It can be scary to find yourself suddenly "all at sea." You may get a sudden adrenaline rush, the old fight or flight instinct kicking in. Think of encouraging things you'd tell a best friend, then tell it to yourself.
If you worry people may think you're drunk, practice saying it doesn't matter - you know the truth. Last time someone asked, "Did you have one too many?" my response was "No, I have unilateral vestibular hypofunction, but thanks for asking." Stick up for yourself.
4. Go for a walk.
Sometimes all you want to do is curl up in a corner. Head spinning, you just feel like staying still. But there are times when getting on the move is more helpful.
If you need to, use a cane or a volunteer's arm for support - it won't make you more dependent in the long run. It does help judge where the floor is. Problems with spacial awareness and depth perception often hit along with inner ear issues.
Remember when you learned to ride a bike? It was easier to go fast rather than slow.You may find that's true of walking.
Being out and about can help change your perspective, and blow a few cobwebs away. Maybe you can't go far some days, but at least you've tried.
Make a mental note of which shoes are best for walking. It doesn't always mean flats or trainers, but ones which you find most suitable. Experiment a little. I tend to trip less in some shoes than others, preferring soft soles as they make less noise - not as obvious if I do a quick side-step, otherwise it may sound like a tap-dance.
5. Take time out.
This sounds like the opposite of the last suggestion, because, in fact, it is. There may be times your head feels like a shaken snow dome and you need to let the flakes settle. A quiet spot, some calm breathing, eyes closed or looking at a fixed point may help. It's a judgement call.
Find your comfort zone for focussing. Is it nearby, or distant? Do what feels right. It can be helpful to zone in on letters, or a shiny object like a door handle. Note - looking in a mirror can be challenging and unsettling if you're dizzy.
Remind yourself that this is a physical problem.
6. Keep in contact.
If your head's spinning, it's helpful to have extra input via sense of touch. Sitting down is good because you get sensory messages from your beautiful bottom, telling you which way is up. It's not always possible to sit down, though. Can you borrow an arm to hold? Rest your hand on a shop counter or lean a leg against a low wall?
Subtly pat things as you pass or turn a corner, and keep the back of your leg against a chair when standing. You don't need to grab at things as if you're on a ship in a storm (though that may happen here and there). Just learn to put a hand out gently.
7. Retail therapy
"Shop till you drop" doesn't take long for me. Even on a good day, things can start to go wrong soon after walking through the shop doorway. There's so much visual input, people moving round, music blaring, things to remember.
Over time, I've learned that some shops are harder to stay in than others. Store lighting can play a big part, along with its size and the width of the aisles. Shops crammed with display items are a problem. (I once walked into a pile of special offer eggs. They un-piled.) So it's worth noting which stores are worse for you, and go with the more dizzy-user friendly ones. Personally, that's mid-sized and clutter free.
Following a tip, on a bad day I'll shop half an aisle at a time. This means going along looking only to the left (you may find the right easier), then work the other half of the aisle, again looking left. You therefore cut out a lot of side-to-side searching.
Remind yourself that you'll feel better once you leave the shop. Use a trolley for support and concentrate on the items you're looking for.
If you're going to a shopping mall, try to pick a quiet time of day. Wearing tinted spectacles may help if the artificial lighting is a problem.
I choose the stairs rather than elevators, which can upset my balance. Escalators are also a problem, particularly going down. Just think of the extra calories you use when taking the stairs!
8. Avoid avoidance behavior.
If something makes you feel bad, you tend to avoid doing it. With dizziness, this can lead to a vicious circle. Only by repeating difficult tasks will your brain learn to adapt.
If you constantly dismiss going places or doing certain things, you'll soon find your world very limited. Be realistic, of course - ladder work would be unsafe.
Break things down into "bite-sized," manageable sections, then build up. For example, going for a meal in a restaurant may seem daunting. You could start by walking up to the restaurant and looking at a menu pinned by the door. Next time, pop inside to have a look around. Another visit, go at a quiet time and order a drink. By the following trip, you may feel like having lunch there. You can always skip dessert. The point is, don't write something off. Keep chipping away, be creative, surprise yourself.
Although I've had balance problems for years, it's relatively rare to suffer from dizziness long term. Please don't think you'll have a problem forever. Depending on the cause, there may be treatment available to aid recovery. Hopefully, you'll soon be dizzy-free. In the meantime, maybe you'll benefit from these eight ways to cope when you're dizzy.
For More Information
- Home | Vestibular Disorders Association
A rescourse site for people with vestibular problems
- Labyrinthitis.org.uk - support for Labyrinthitis sufferers.
A website created by two Labyrinthitis sufferers, offering their experiences and coping tips in dealing with this distressing disorder