When Your Life Turns Sideways: 5 Ways to Prevent Vestibular Discomfort During Hectic Holidays

Dizziness, migraines, hearing disturbances, distorted vision, loss of balance and vertigo, a sensation that either you or the room around you is spinning – these are all symptoms of vestibular discomfort. If they are more severe, vestibular discomfort can lead to vestibular disorder. This is a physical illness of the vestibular system – the inner ear and certain locations in the brain that are responsible for balance, eye movement and perception of the space around you.

Stress, anxiety and rushing around can trigger symptoms of vestibular discomfort and make them worse. The symptoms can then, in turn, trigger more anxiety, low self-worth and even panic attacks.

Here are 5 ways to prevent vestibular discomfort during hectic holidays.

1. Understand your illness

Vestibular disorders are difficult to diagnose and difficult to live with.Vertigo can strike at any time, dizziness comes and goes. In order to manage your symptoms, you need to understand it as much as possible.

Get the most specific diagnosis you can from your doctor or qualified physical therapist specializing in vestibular disorders. Don’t hesitate to ask for details. Ask your doctor to recommend books and look up forums for fellow sufferers from vestibular discomfort. The more you know, the earlier you can recognize your symptoms and intervene so that they don’t get out of control.

Many vestibular symptoms develop slowly, from a vague feeling to discomfort to full-blown vertigo that prevents you from standing up straight. Become familiar with the different stages and develop strategies. The most powerful and reliable strategy is to disconnect from your worries as much as possible and focus on your breath. Slowing your breathing and bringing your awareness to your body-felt sensations can facilitate your nervous system to settle into a healthier pace, allowing you to relax and feel more in control.

At first, just observe it, don’t force anything. Your breath knows what to do.Then, if you feel comfortable, try to slow down your exhalation, very gently. Then your inhalation. As you get familiar with this method, see if you can apply the 5/5/7 method. Breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5 and breathe out for a count of 7. This will help reset your natural breathing patterns.

Deep breathing can soothe your stress. Vestibular discomfort is associated with elevated stress levels. Being in touch with your breath will also give you back a little bit of control.

Use this method whenever the holiday stress starts to get to you. Don’t wait until it is really bad.

Then, bring your attention to your body-felt sensations. Your body-felt sensations could be: a pounding heart, short, shallow breathing, tightness in your chest or other places in your body, or feeling like you are out of control. Be curious, not judgmental. Just start by noticing them, and with practice, you can learn to watch them come and go like waves on the ocean. Reach out to me for further help in this if you’d like, Jeri Innis at jeri@innisintegrativetherapy.com.  

2. Overcome self-doubts and doubts by other

Vestibular discomfort is invisible to others. Unfortunately, that can mean that others may need to be ‘convinced’ that you are really struggling, and what it’s like for you. You may need to help them understand that your symptoms are serious. This struggle adds psychological suffering on top of physical discomfort. And it can also lead to a low sense of self-worth.

While you know you are suffering considerable discomfort, you may question if you have a ‘right’ to look after yourself and your illness. During the holidays, you will be confronted with family members who may not have the information or the personal respect for you to be sensitive to your symptoms. Prepare yourself by clearly understanding the condition yourself. Understand that you may need more “downtime” than others during the hectic holiday season. Care for yourself. Don’t take on other people’s negative opinions.

3. Manage stress and fatigue

Stress and fatigue are major triggers of vestibular discomfort. Organize your time and your tasks well ahead of the holiday season. Plan plenty of rest periods and cut back on your extra holiday workload. Your health is more important than decorations and food.

Enlist other people’s help in preparing for the celebrations – that can also be fun! Create new, streamlined traditions. You may find that less stress and more rest is welcomed by friends and family, too.

4. Manage anxiety and panic attacks

Pay attention to the first signs of your symptoms, before they snowball out of control.

Vestibular discomfort can be triggered by anxiety, but it can also cause anxiety. Vertigo is extremely disorienting and frightening. Dizziness can make you feel weak and useless. Remind yourself that you are not crazy. This is a physical symptom. A temporary symptom, that will get better if you breathe and relax now.

Pay attention when you feel the beginnings of a panic attack. You have about 20 minutes to try to calm yourself down and allow your relaxation system to kick in. Stop your stressful activity immediately and focus on looking after yourself. Also, take as many naps as you need.

5. Have a ‘plan B’ if it happens anyway

Prevention is always best. But it is equally important to know that you have a plan, in case your discomfort cannot be prevented.

Create a safe space for yourself wherever you are, at home or with relatives. This is the space you can retire to when things get too to be too much. If you are unable to ‘wind down’ a panic attack, or if you feel too overwhelmed by the chaos and confusion around you, retreat to your safe space.

Focus on your breath. Focus on your body-felt sensation. Close your eyes (that can often help with balance issues). Make sure you are not disturbed by loud noises.

Remind yourself it won’t last forever. You will come out on the other side.

Vestibular discomfort can be a chronic condition. This means that it will quite likely occur again and again. Chronic illness creates a lot of psychological and emotional stress. You deserve care and respect from others and from yourself! Reach out for help to a qualified physical therapist, and or somatic psychotherapist. This condition is treatable.

Ask your loved ones for one important holiday gift: less stress and more relaxation for all of you.
 You can find the balance you need.