"I arrived at the balance clinic depressed, anxious and scared, not really understanding what was going on with me and unable to get a grip on any aspect of my life. I was just about getting through half a day at work, not leaving the house for any other reason if I really didn’t have to and I had no energy at all"

This is a quote from one of my patients with a chronic balance organ (vestibular) disorder.  Balance is a sense that we take for granted….until it goes wrong.

Patients will experience spinning, nausea and vomiting and a whole host of other symptoms such as hearing loss, tinnitus and migraine headaches. Depending on the cause, balance rehabilitation exercises and other medical treatments are generally very successful for these disorders. With hard work most patients are able to get rid of their dizziness completely, returning to their previous lifestyles. However unfortunately this is not the case for all patients, and some continue to have acute attacks of spinning, or develop constant low level dizziness.  The impact on these patient’s quality of life can be profound; some do not feel able to work and many develop anxiety and depression.

Following attending a mindfulness course myself, I began to think that some of the techniques I had been taught may be useful for my chronically dizzy patients. Initially I supported patients through the Mindfulness for Health book, helping them tailor the course to their individual needs. In July 2016 I began my Breathworks teacher training, and a year later I successfully led my supervised practise course specifically for patients with chronic dizziness.

Feedback from my patients suggests that there is so much in the Mindfulness for Health programme that they find useful. This includes being more aware of their body and breath, (patients with dizziness will tend to hold their bodies stiffly and breathe poorly), learning to respond differently to understandable anxious and worried thoughts about their dizziness, and pacing themselves better in their daily lives. Most importantly the Mindfulness for Health programme seems to help patients to slowly learn to build a different relationship with their symptoms and to be able to restart some of the activities they have stopped for fear of exacerbating their dizziness- even if the dizziness persists.

I have recently written a booklet to be used in tandem with the Mindfulness for Health course, tailoring the course more to the specific needs of dizzy patients. I have also written some more detailed material on how I have used mindfulness for dizziness patients on the Breathworks website.

And what of my patient? In addition to other balance rehabilitation techniques I suggested the Mindfulness for Health course. She openly admitted that she initially thought this was "mumbo jumbo!" but decided to give it a go. Six months on from when I first met her, following huge commitment and determination, and just before her discharge she wrote:

"(I am) now back living life to the full, still feeling (the) dizzy/catch up sensation, but in a place that I can now cope with my condition…. I now understand why I  feel the way I do, and (have) strategies in place that will help me maintain where I am and hopefully help me reduce my symptoms still further over time."

This patient was able to return to work full time and went on to win a golf tournament after a prolonged period of not playing due to her symptoms. She still experiences dizziness, but continues with her golf and her mindfulness practise. She was a huge support during my training and practise course and listened to me leading each meditation via skype before I led them on the practise course!

There is very little research on mindfulness for dizziness. So as my patients and I continue with our mindfulness practice I am keen to raise awareness of the potential benefits of mindfulness in this patient population, and learn how to better support them in developing a practise. Please do contact me if you are a dizzy patient who has used mindfulness, a clinician who uses these techniques with your patients or are interested in collaborating in research.

Debbie Cane MSc CS Senior Clinical Scientist and Lecturer in Audiology ([email protected])