Ways Anxiety Can Affect Your Vision

11 sources cited
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How Does Anxiety Affect Your Vision?

Did you know anxiety and vision problems are related? Research shows that people with vision issues are prone to anxiety due to the loneliness, social isolation, worry, and fear that comes with it.1 

The reverse is also true. According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), anxiety and mental stress can affect your vision. 

When you’re anxious about something, your fight or flight response is activated, and your body produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to prepare you for “potential threats.” 

Excessive release of these stress hormones can cause systemic imbalances, causing symptoms like:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Restlessness (feeling wound up or on edge)
  • Headaches, muscle aches, and unexplained pains
  • Increased irritability (feeling of agitation)
  • Dizziness/vertigo (feeling of imbalance and spinning)
  • Panic attacks (trembling, etc.)
  • Increased blood pressure/heartbeat
  • A transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke

Visual Signs of Anxiety

The visual signs of anxiety occur alongside or as a consequence of other anxiety symptoms. They may also vary from person to person. They include: 

  • Sudden blurred vision. Loss of sharpness in focusing, making objects appear hazy. This is common when someone is feeling dizzy.
  • Eye strain. Anxiety causes the release of adrenaline which causes your pupils to dilate (increase in size). Frequent anxiety causes constant dilation of the pupils, which can eventually result in stress-induced eye strain.
  • Eye twitching. The result of eye strain and tightening of eye muscles due to fatigue or insomnia.
  • Visual irregularities. People with anxiety often report seeing stars, shadows, flashing lights, and floaters (rare).
  • Light sensitivity (photophobia). Sleep deprivation may increase your eye’s sensitivity to light, accompanied by eye twitching.
  • Glaucoma (increased eye pressure). Severe sleep deprivation due to anxiety can lead to glaucoma (increased eye pressure).
  • Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision). Anxiety activates the stress response (flight or fight), which causes a reduction in peripheral vision to focus your attention solely on the impending “danger.”2 Repeated panic attacks can affect your eyes over time.
  • Dry eyes. Stress-induced eye strain is often accompanied by dry eyes and eye fatigue.

Some symptoms, such as light sensitivity and loss of peripheral vision, are likely to manifest during severe anxiety episodes. Other symptoms, like eye strain and twitching, are more likely associated with the long-term effects of excess anxiety.

Can Anxiety Raise Eye Pressure?

If your anxiety disorder is accompanied by severe insomnia, repetitive eye strain, or dry eyes, you may experience increased eye pressure, also called glaucoma.3 Anxiety may also worsen existing glaucoma.4 

Symptoms of glaucoma include:

  • Headaches
  • Eye pain
  • Red eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Double vision
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Halos or rings around lights

Anxiety causes an increased heart rate. According to research, people with high pulse pressure have an increased risk for high-tension open-angle glaucoma.5

Can Stress Cause Vision Problems?

Mental distress is one of the leading causes of vision loss. Evidence of this dates back to over 3,000 years ago, based on Sushruta Samhita, a book by a famous traditional Indian doctor practicing Ayurveda medicine.6 According to Sushruta, there are many causes of vision loss:

  • Improper sleeping habits  
  • Continuous weeping
  • Excessive anger
  • Grief/sorrow
  • Stress, suffering, pain, and mental exhaustion
  • Suppression of tears (holding back from crying)

These are signs of bodily or emotional stress. Modern medicine agrees with Susruta’s literature. According to eye experts, stress can affect your vision through visual distortions or even vision loss (blindness). 

When you’re stressed, your body produces high levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which potentially cause an increase in eye pressure and blurry vision. People with chronic stress may experience regular eye strain accompanied by headaches.

Fortunately, most stress-related vision problems are mild and temporary and will disappear once your stress eases.

A serious eye condition caused by stress is Central Serous Chorioretinopathy (CSCR). It’s characterized by fluid accumulation under the retina.7 The retina is the light-sensitive part of the eye that receives light signals and sends them to the brain for interpretation. 

CSCR damages the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer involved in the renewal of visual cells. This can lead to blindness.

Common Visual Symptoms of Stress

Signs of stress-related eye problems include:

Although anxiety and stress (depression) are two different things, they’re interrelated and have nearly identical symptoms.

Can Anxiety Cause Blindness?

Although it’s rare for mild anxiety to cause complete vision loss, frequent extreme anxiety can increase your body’s adrenaline and cortisol levels, which can cause glaucoma (increased eye pressure) or optic neuropathy.8 Both conditions can lead to blindness. 

Other Factors That Can Affect Vision

Besides stress and anxiety disorders, other factors that can affect your vision include:9

  • Lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet
  • Behavioral factors, such as smoking
  • Eye trauma or injury
  • Ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure
  • Eye diseases, such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), etc.
  • Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis or infectious keratitis
  • Genetics
  • Poor eye surgery

Tips to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

As you have seen, stress and anxiety can affect your vision. Fortunately, you can do something to keep your eyes safe from stress-related problems or reduce the progression of vision loss. The best way to avoid stress and anxiety is by taking care of yourself and reducing worry. Do the following:

  1. Add physical activity to your day. Exercise lowers your risk of developing health problems that can affect your vision. It also elevates your mood and reduces anxiety and stress.
  2. Eat a balanced diet. Healthy foods improve your mood and immune system, lowering the risk of diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of vision loss among working-age adults.10
  3. Share with a therapist. If your mental stress and anxiety are overwhelming, talk to a mental health professional. 
  4. Avoid smoking. Research shows that smoking increases anxiety and stress, whose symptoms can affect your eyes.11 The smoke itself can cause eye diseases such as cataracts and AMD.
  5. Manage chronic conditions. Long-term health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes can elevate your stress and cause vision problems. 
  6. Avoid extended screen time. Looking at your computer screen for several hours can elevate your stress levels, cause eye strain, and affect your vision over time (near point visual stress (NPVS).
  7. Try meditation. Meditation programs such as Eye Yoga can help ease eye strain.
  8. Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep enables your brain and eyes to rest and refresh for new activities. This improves vision.
  9. Try to socialize. Talking to loved ones and friends through video calls or chats can help reduce stress symptoms and improve your vision during stressful moments.

When to See A Doctor

Visual symptoms of stress should disappear once your stress or anxiety calms. However, seek your doctor’s advice if you notice persistent changes to your vision. This will help them rule out or treat any underlying conditions.

Seek medical attention if you experience blurred vision accompanied by the following:

  • Severe headache
  • Slurred speech
  • Facial muscle drooping
  • Loss of muscle control (on one side)
  • Vision loss

Treatment Options

Below are treatment options for stress-related vision problems:

  • Vision therapy. Regular eye exercises to ease discomfort and improve visual skills and abilities in affected eyes. Your vision therapist may use training glasses/lenses, prisms, filters, electronic devices, or balance boards to perform the therapy. 
  • Behavioral therapy. Talking to a behavioral therapist can help you identify ways of managing your stress and anxiety. Once those improve, your affected vision will also improve.
  • Medications. Your doctor may prescribe medications, such as Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, etc.), to offer instant relief from stress. They could also prescribe lubricating eye drops or artificial tears for managing stress-related dry eyes.

Summary

According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), anxiety and mental stress can affect your vision due to excess adrenal and cortisol release. 

The visual signs of anxiety and stress occur alongside or are a consequence of severe symptoms, such as restlessness, trouble sleeping, and increased blood pressure, among others.

These signs include blurry vision, eye floaters, excess tearing, dry eyes, eye strain, and sensitivity to light, among others.

You can avoid stress and keep your eyes healthy by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and involving a therapist if your vision problems persist.

11 Cited Research Articles
  1. Demmin and Silverstein. “Visual Impairment and Mental Health: Unmet Needs and Treatment Options,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2020.
  2. National Institute of Health (NIH). “Anxiety,” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 2022. 
  3. National Eye Institute.“NEI-funded research suggests repetitive strain from eye movement may play a role in glaucoma,” www.nei.nih.gov, 2018.
  4. Gillmann et al., “Acute emotional stress as a trigger for intraocular pressure elevation in Glaucoma,” BMC Ophthalmology, 2019.
  5. Hulsman C. et al., “Blood Pressure, Arterial Stiffness, and Open-angle Glaucoma,” American Medical Association, 2007.
  6. Sabel et al., “Mental stress as consequence and cause of vision loss: the dawn of psychosomatic ophthalmology for preventive and personalized medicine,” EPMA Journal, 2018.
  7. Sesar et al., “Personality Traits, Stress, and Emotional Intelligence Associated with Central Serous Chorioretinopathy,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2021.
  8. American Institute of Stress. “How Stress Affects Your Vision,” www.stress.org, 2022.
  9. CDC. “Social Determinants of Health, Health Equity, and Vision Loss,” www.cdc.gov, 2021.
  10. CDC. “Diabetes and Vision Loss,” www.cdc.gov, 2021
  11. “Perceived stress and smoking-related behaviors and symptomatology in male and female smokers ” National Center for Biotechnology Information,2016.
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