The inner-ear processes all motion-related information. If it is impaired, you may be hypersensitive to horizontal motion, vertical motion, clockwise motion, counterclockwise motion, or any combination of the above.
Depending on what types of motion you are sensitive to, and your degree of sensitivity to each, the movement of a boat, plane, car, elevator, escalator, or even a rocking chair can provoke any or all of the following symptoms:
o Anxiety, and related symptoms
If your anxiety is severe or uncontrollable, phobias may result.
Motion-Related Phobias: An Example
Chris has a motion-related fear of flying. Notice how his fear is specifically related to horizontal motion sensitivity:
“I’ve only been on an airplane once. That was enough. It was during takeoff. The plane started picking up speed, and suddenly I was pinned to the back of my seat. I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe. My stomach was inside out. It was as if I had lost control of my body… like I was having some kind of seizure. As soon as the plane stabilized I felt a little better, so I started drinking. I don’t remember much after that.”
An inner-ear dysfunction can also result in motion insensitivity. Individuals with this problem need to be in motion and become anxious when they are stuck, trapped, tied down, or unable to move literally or symbolically. This motion-related claustrophobic anxiety can result in a wide variety of phobias.
Some individuals have the worst of both worlds. They are hypersensitive to some forms of motion and hyposensitive to others. These individuals often suffer from numerous motion-related phobias.
The inner-ear system processes all visual information. If this system is impaired, you may be hypersensitive to bright lights, fluorescent lights-even certain colors. Any or all of these may provoke anxiety.
A wide variety of visual distractions can also provoke anxiety, including: flickering lights, blurred images, the dark, and various hypnotic patterns as tiled floors, moving cars, oncoming headlights, crowds, wallpaper patterns, food displays, etc.
If visually triggered anxiety is severe or uncontrollable, various phobias may develop, including: fear of the dark, fear of bright lights, fear of crowds, fear of supermarkets, fear of driving, etc.
A Visual Tracking Problem:
Sensitivity to visual distractions is often the result of a tracking problem. The inner-ear system guides the movement of our eyes, enabling us to track the movement of visual information in our environment. If this tracking process is impaired, the eyes may be incapable of keeping pace with this visual information and anxiety may surface.
Gloria’s fear of driving stems from a visual tracking problem. Note how she describes her fear:
“Driving has always terrified me. Even if I’m being driven somewhere, I can’t look at the road all of the time I get overloaded. I thought that if I could learn to drive I wouldn’t be so frightened, so I signed up for a driver’s education course. I quit as soon as we started driving on big streets. I just couldn’t handle it. There were too many things to watch for, cars in front, cars behind, cars on your sides, lights, signs. And everything seemed to be coming at me so fast. I had no time to react. I froze in total panic. The instructor started to scream at me. Then the car behind us hit us. That was the end of my driving career.”
A COMBINATION EFFECT
Many visual phobias are partially determined by underlying balance and/or compass and/or motion-related problems.
When our senses of balance, direction, and/or motion stability are impaired, we often become more dependent on visual information to compensate, and think of how getting a visual fix on land suppresses motion sickness.
If the brain is not receiving this necessary visual information, balance, compass, and motion-related problems are aggravated. This triggers anxiety. Although the anxiety is provoked by visual distractions, it really stems from other, inner-ear problems.
The interaction of visual and balance problems can be clearly seen in Charlotte’s description of a frightening panic attack:
“We had gone to see a Broadway show and my husband didn’t tell me that he had gotten balcony seats. There was a mirrored ball that hung in the middle of the ceiling. Flickering lights would bounce off the ball and spin around the theater while the skaters skated in a circle. I was looking down from the balcony, and the place suddenly started to spin. I panicked. I literally had to crawl out, pretty much on my hands and knees, to get out of the balcony seat. I got so dizzy… just from watching the skaters going in a circle and the lights and the ball spinning.”
The vast majority of phobias can be traced to a physiological problem: a malfunction within the inner-ear system! The inner-ear system plays an important role in modulating and controlling anxiety. In my blog, please click on the link below, I have further discussed these problems.