Vestibular Conditions: When the World Won’t Stop Spinning

Vestibular Conditions: When the World Won’t Stop Spinning

In Canada, anyone over the age of 40 has a 35% chance of experiencing a vestibular problem at some point in their lives. Vestibular conditions involve difficulty with balance, dizziness, and vertigo. They can also affect (and be affected by!) your mental health.

As a counsellor who has worked with thousands of clients with vestibular conditions, I can say without a doubt that these symptoms are not fan favourites! Feeling unsure on your feet or that you might fall over, or experiencing the nausea that can often accompany these symptoms, is alarming, upsetting, and demoralizing. If you can’t trust your body to keep itself upright it can be hard to relax. Often people with vestibular conditions cannot manage day-to-day tasks. Work, household chores, playing with or taking care of the kids, and more can all become difficult. Even getting up out of bed can be an unpleasant adventure! At the very least, feeling gross or worried can sap the joy out of a lot of normally fun or rewarding activities. It should be no wonder, then, that vestibular conditions are highly co-occurring with depression and anxiety.

 

Vestibular Conditions, Depression, and Anxiety

 

For people who are already experiencing anxiety or depression, adding a vestibular condition can make it a lot worse. If you are already having trouble getting out of bed because of depression, having the spins when you do certainly won’t help! Those who have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past can often see a return of their mental health difficulties along with the vestibular condition. It is certainly understandable that for someone who has gone through depression or an anxiety disorder, feeling helpless, overwhelmed or fearful because of their vestibular condition can trigger fears that they are sliding back into those mental health conditions.

Equally problematic is that anxiety and fearfulness can often make the experience of dizziness worse. People often feel sensations similar to dizziness when anxious, such as light-headedness. This can be misattributed to the vestibular condition, as these sensations don’t come with a clear memo as to what is causing them. (“I’m dizzy because of the concussion!”, as opposed to lightheaded because of the understandable anxiety.

Anxiety and depression can also hinder us in engaging in the activities that are useful in rehabilitating from a vestibular condition. They can lead to “catastrophic” all-or-nothing thinking. For example, “I’ll never get better!”, “I can’t do anything!”, “If I try going for that walk I’ll fall and break my neck!” and so forth. Furthermore, clients often struggle with having an “invisible injury”. They often can’t point to an obvious injury, like a leg in a cast, and may wonder if others doubt the severity of their condition, or may even doubt it themselves

 

Pathways Forward

 

Fortunately, there is a way out. Working with a vestibular physiotherapist can help to rebuild confidence in your capacities. They can provide treatments and exercises that can be done safely, without risking re-injury. Their deep knowledge and experience with these conditions can provide tremendous reassurance about what to expect with your condition, and what you can do safely.

In addition to this, working with a counsellor in conjunction with a vestibular physiotherapist (and other members of your health care team, like your family doctor), can really help you to adapt to the symptoms, provide coping skills to be more effective with them, as well as rebuild your hope in the future and faith in yourself. Working with both a counsellor and a vestibular physiotherapist is a “one-two punch” that I have seen be helpful for countless clients with vestibular conditions, providing the support and encouragement needed to help them get their lives back.

If you are interested in learning more about how counselling can help with your vestibular condition, please contact our reception team to request an appointment with me. We’re here to help!

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