Relaxation Techniques for Dizziness and Imbalance
This information is intended as a general introduction to this topic. As each person is affected differently by balance and dizziness problems, speak with your health care professional for individual advice.
The symptoms of some vestibular disorders can be distressing and upsetting, leading to stress and anxiety. It can be very helpful to practice relaxation techniques. Remember that psychological anxiety can stimulate the nervous system just as much as pain. Consider these tips before starting:
- Create a comfortable, quiet, stress-free environment, preferably with dim lighting.
- Wear comfortable clothes and take off your shoes and glasses.
- Don't try too hard – if you worry about “doing it right” you will tense up even more.
- Practice on an empty stomach – food digestion after meals tends to disrupt deep relaxation.
- Aim for practicing at least 10-20 minutes a day, every day, preferably around the same time to establish a habit.
Be patient - relaxation skills take a while to learn. Over time, it will get easier to let go of tension and you will begin to feel more and more relaxed. There are a variety of techniques including diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and traditional Eastern practices. Try several and choose one or two that work best for you.
Watch how a baby sleeps – the whole abdomen rises and falls with each breath. Retraining your body to do this type of deep breathing from the diaphragm is one of the most effective says to quickly reduce stress and anxiety. This technique is sometimes called calm breathing.
Thirty minutes of mindfulness for stress reduction daily may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research suggests it gives as much relief from some anxiety symptoms as anti-depressants. Mindfulness is learning to cultivate attention in the present moment. It is heightening your sense of appreciation for what is now, what is here. There are many different practices you can do to cultivate mindfulness including breathing meditation, guided imagery, and body scan. Mindfulness meditation works well for chronic pain and stress as well as being more broadly helpful for general health and well-being.
Progressives muscle relaxation (PMR)
PMR is based on the concept of progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles. This sets the stage for a rebound effect – once you let go of the contraction, your muscles may be able to relax more effectively. Dr. Edmond Jacobson developed the technique in the early 20th century. It may help you cope better with stress and anxiety.
Download directions from Anxiety Canada for how to do progressive muscle relaxation [PDF]
Caution: PMR may not be suitable if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) – check with your family doctor first. Be very careful with how much tension you apply to any areas that are sensitive to injury or pain, such as your neck, shoulders or back.
Yoga, tai chi and qigong
Evidence-based research suggests that, as well as promoting general wellbeing, these traditional Eastern practices may be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Tai chi can also help improve balance and reduce fear of falling.
The following can offer more help and support for affected individuals and their families.
A 6 Minute Mindful Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Follow along as you watch this short YouTube video – useful for beginners.
Download a short guide and script [PDF] developed by Anxiety Canada.
Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction
An eight-week online course utilizing elements of deep breathing, yoga, relaxation, and meditation to reframe your relationship with tinnitus. This program may be an effective intervention for treating chronic tinnitus and its comorbid symptoms, and may help reduce depression and phobic anxiety while improving social functioning and overall mental health.6 7
Summary of a talk presented to BC Balance and Dizziness by Geoffrey Soloway, MEd, PhD.
Note: Most of these apps do not have accessibility features; they may be of limited use to people who are unable to hear spoken instruction.
Open captions make the 3-minute meditations on this iOS and Android app particularly useful to people with hearing loss.
An iOS app that teaches mindfulness-based meditation through a series of guided lessons. It includes more than 40 tracks categorized by mood or activity (for example walking, going to sleep, feeling stressed or work breaks). Written and voiced by a range of teachers, the sessions range from 4 to 30 minutes.
An iOS app that focuses on the four key areas of meditation, breathing, sleep and relaxation. It is appropriate for those who are new to meditation and also offers meditations for more advanced users. Meditation sessions range from 3 to 25 minutes.
Provides digital guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training. It can be accessed through its website as well as an iOS or Android app. After registering an account, users get 10 days of free content, after which they have the option to take out a monthly or annual subscription or continue with the limited free trial material.
Stop, Breathe, Think
A free, simple tool to guide people of all ages and backgrounds through mindful meditation. Access online or as an iOS or Android app.
Most of the titles listed are available for loan through public libraries in Canada. If your local library does not own a copy, ask for it to be sent from another library through interlibrary loan.
Offers simple and straightforward forms of mindfulness meditation – based on the techniques of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Simple techniques to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance concentration, and balance your emotions.
Explains how anyone can use mindfulness to reduce anxiety, achieve inner peace, find fulfillment and enrich one’s life. Accompanied by a series of anecdotes, instructions and meditations. Also available on CD and as an audiobook.
Abbott R, Lavretsky H. Tai chi and qigong for the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2013. 36(1), 109-19. Available from: http://bit.ly/2TNrkBm
American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Tai chi may be an effective treatment for dizziness, balance Issues. Science Daily, 5 October 2009. Available from: http://bit.ly/2FL9ET8
Bhasin MK, Dusek J, Chang B-H, Joseph MG, Denninger JW, Fricchione GL et al. Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. Public Library of Science One. 2017. 12(2). Available from: http://bit.ly/2V2b693
Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014.174(3):357–368. Available from: https://bit.ly/2tQivdl
Hölzel B, Carmody J, Vangel M, et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research. 2010. 191(1):36-43. Available from: http://bit.ly/2FDkmdp
McCallie MS, Blum CM, Hood CJ. Progressive muscle relaxation. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. 2006. 13:3, 51-66. Available from: http://bit.ly/2FLgBUz
Merkes M. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for people with chronic diseases. Australian Journal of Primary Health. 2010. 16, 200-210. Available from: http://bit.ly/2YBzalj.
Philippot P, Nef F, Clauw L, Romrée M, Segal Z. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for treating tinnitus. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. 2006. 19: 411-419. Available from: http://bit.ly/2OA49tn
Stress management: approaches for preventing and reducing stress. Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publications. May 2009. Available from: http://bit.ly/2I1tfQz
Yoga for Anxiety and Depression. Harvard Health. 2006. Available from: http://bit.ly/2HXkDdX
Page updated September 2019.