Why Do You Feel Strange In An Elevator Just After It Starts/Stops?

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When you enter an elevator when it is still stationary, you don’t feel anything unusual. This is because the forces acting on your body are all balanced and at equilibrium. Since the body is at rest, physics says (and so do we) that the body will want to continue to be in that state of rest. However….

The elevator was truly an ingenious invention when talking about buildings topping 20 floors, or even 5 floors, for that matter. Simply enter one of those moving rooms, press the destination floor number on the keypad, and Ding! The door closes. Now, if it’s not a particularly crowded space, then a few seconds later, you’ll hear another ding, and you’ll be on your desired floor.

There is not one iota of doubt that elevators have made our lives infinitely simpler when it comes to scaling buildings, but there is still something a bit weird about them, right?

Just after the starting or stopping of an elevator, don’t you feel a bit different? A sensation in your head or stomach that just makes you feel a bit weird. Why is that?

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The Role Of Gravity And Inertia

We know that Earth has a strong gravitational force, and in fact, gravity is the reason you’re sitting there with your laptop/phone in hand, rather than floating aimlessly through the air. Gravity has a tendency to pull everything towards it, and I do mean everything.

In other words, anything that even dares to move, gravity immediately starts pulling it down by resisting its upward motion. This is the reason why you always come back down when you jump in the air; if gravity were not present, you would simply float away into space, bouncing around the heavens with no way of coming back down.

This entire phenomenon is directly associated with the first law of motion, provided by Newton. Back to the classroom for a moment: Newton’s first law of motion states that “An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force.”

This means that if a person is standing at rest, then they will continue to stay in the same state unless acted upon by an external force (like a push, shove, pull or simply their own need to walk). The same thing applies to elevators.

Elevator-Induced Dizziness

When you enter an elevator when it is still stationary, you don’t feel anything unusual. This is because the forces acting on your body are all balanced and at equilibrium. Since the body is at rest, physics says (and so do we) that the body will want to continue to be in that state of rest.

However, the sudden movement of the elevator breaks that state of rest and the person begins to move upwards, giving them a strange fuzzy sensation in the head. Some experience drowsiness, light-headedness, or even a mild headache. This happens because of an imbalance of the organs (located in our ear) that help us keep our balance and orientation to the world.

When these organs get disturbed, they cause a physiological change in us, which leads to feelings of nausea and dizziness.

That feeling only lasts for a short time, not more than a few seconds, at most. This is again due to the first law of motion. Since you are now moving at the pace of the elevator (since you are in the elevator itself), the forces again acting on your body have found their balance, making you feel completely at ease (provided the lift is not an old, rusty one that jerks and bumps all the way up!).

Eventually, the elevator comes to a halt. You will again experience a sudden jerk as you cease moving and your head will feel funny for just a moment. Since you were in a state motion, your body wanted to remain in that state of motion, but the sudden stop broke that motion, resulting in you feeling that odd sensation again.

Newton's First Law of Motion
Newton’s First Law of Motion

This is why this sensation depends a lot on how the elevator moves. An elevator with smoother starts and halts will be more desirable than one that jerks every time it begins its climb or decelerates to a stop. People can even become physically sick due to these sudden jerks, as gravity messes with heads pretty badly at extreme heights.

Also Read: Can You Survive If You Jump In A Free-Falling Elevator Just As It Hits The Ground?

Drowsiness After Take-off Or Landing Of An Airplane

The same basic laws apply in this situation. When an airplane takes off and ascends into the air, it essentially moves you against the force of gravity. The plane continues to ascend, and at a certain altitude, it stops changing. This is when you feel that slight ‘falling’ sensation. You’re not actually falling; it’s just the plane’s state of upwards motion disappearing, allowing your body to feel normal again.

This is a natural phenomenon that every human being feels, which makes me wonder: how does Superman feel every time he shoots up into the sky with a booming bang of sonic energy?

Let’s not even talk about it… humans certainly wouldn’t be able to withstand those powerful forces!

Also Read: Why Do Fighter Pilots Pass Out Sometimes While Flying?

How much do you know about elevator-induced dizziness?

Can you answer three questions based on the article you just read?

References (click to expand)
  1. Vertigo | UC Irvine Medical Center. The University of California, Irvine Medical Center
  2. Evaluation of the “dizzy” patient - www.dartmouth.edu
  3. Coping with motion sickness - Harvard Health. Harvard University
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Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.