Anxiety And Eye Pain

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated February 26, 2022

anxiety eye pain symptoms

Eye pain, pain in the eye or eyes, dull aches in the eyes, eye strain, and sharp shooting eye pains can be symptoms of anxiety disorder, including anxiety and panic attacks.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and eye pain, including sharp pains in the eyes, tired eyes, eye strain, and other eye-related symptoms.

Anxiety Eye Pain symptoms common descriptions:

  • You have a sudden or gradual dull or sharp pain in one or both eyes.
  • This eye pain might last for a moment, a few seconds, or persist for minutes or hours.
  • Sometimes a dull pain or ache in the eyes can persist for days before it subsides.
  • Eye aches or pains can also be accompanied by redness in the eye or eyes, or show no signs of redness at all.
  • This symptom is often associated with the pain of “eye strain.”

This symptom can affect one eye only, can shift and affect the other eye, can migrate back and forth between eyes, and can affect both eyes at the same time.

Anxiety eye pain can occur rarely, frequently, or persistently day after day. For example, you have eye pain once in a while and not that often, have it off and on, or have it all the time for many hours or days.

Anxiety eye pain can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

It can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

Eye pain anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where the pain is severe one moment and eases off the next.

Anxiety eye pain can change from day to day and moment to moment.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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Why anxiety can cause eye pain

MEDICAL ALERT: Sudden eye pain can be an indication of a medical emergency. Unusual or unexplained eye pain should always be discussed with your doctor or eye doctor as soon as possible. For more general information, visit our medical advisory notification.

1. Stress response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, causing many body-wide changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat – to either fight or flee.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about the stress response and its many physiological, psychological, and emotional changes.

Some of these changes include:

  • Stimulates the nervous system, which includes certain parts of the brain.
  • Heightens most of the body’s senses.
  • Tightens muscles so the body is more resilient to harm, including those that control eye movement.
  • Dilates the pupils in the eyes so that we can take in more visual information.
  • Reduces peripheral vision so that we can focus solely on the threat.

To name a few.

These sudden changes in eye function can cause pain in the eyes if the stress response is dramatic.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes caused by the stress response.

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly anxious behavior, the body doesn't completely recover.

Incomplete recovery can cause the body to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones produced by the stress response are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. Chronic anxiety and eye pain are common indications of hyperstimulation.

Visit our “Stress-response Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many changes caused by hyperstimulation.

Moreover, in addition to causing muscle tension-related eye pain, hyperstimulation can also irritate the nerves associated with the eyes, which can cause nerve-related eye pain.

As the degree of hyperstimulation increases, so can the prevalence and persistence of eye pain.

Furthermore, hyperstimulation can exacerbate eye strain pain.

For instance, long hours looking at a computer screen or reading can tax the muscles that control eye movements. Strained eye muscles can present as “eye strain.”

Hyperstimulation can cause chronic muscle tension, which can cause eye strain faster than usual and make eye strain pain worse.

I (Jim Folk) experienced many eye-related symptoms due to anxiety and hyperstimulation, including acute and chronic eye pain.

3. Other factors

Associated with anxiety, there are other factors that can cause and contribute to this symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information

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How to get rid of anxiety eye pain

When other factors cause or aggravate this anxiety symptom, addressing the specific cause can reduce and eliminate this symptom.

When the eye pain anxiety symptom is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes.

As your body recovers from the active stress response and its changes, anxiety eye pain will subside.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. This is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes eye pain, eliminating hyperstimulation will end this anxiety symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

Keep in mind that recovering from hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think.

Nevertheless, when the body has recovered from hyperstimulation and its effects, anxiety-caused eye pain will subside.

As your body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops presenting symptoms, including anxiety eye pain.

Worrying about anxiety symptoms, such as this one, often causes anxiety symptoms to persist, since worry stresses the body. It’s best to accept and tolerate this symptom as your body recovers. Not reacting to this symptom with worry and angst will allow your body to recover…in time.

Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

Short-term Remedies

Even though eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate chronic anxiety symptoms, including anxiety eye pain, some people have found the following strategies helpful.

However, keep in mind that each person can have a unique symptom experience since each person is somewhat physically, chemically, psychologically, and emotionally unique. What might work for one person might not for another.

Reduce stress – Since stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of pain in the eyes, reducing stress can reduce episodes of this symptom.

Any stress reduction strategy can help improve this symptom. Again, visit our article “60 Ways To Reduce Stress And Anxiety” for natural stress reduction strategies.

Regular good sleep – Regular good sleep can reduce stress, cortisol, and the body’s overall level of stimulation. Their reduction can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms, including eye pain.

Keep well hydrated – Dehydration can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms. Keeping your body well hydrated can reduce and eliminate anxiety-caused eye pain.

Furthermore, keeping the surface of your eye well hydrated, such as with hydrating eye drops, can also reduce incidences of eye pain. If you are unsure of what type of drops to use, talk with your eye doctor.

Rest your eyes frequently – Frequently resting your eyes and looking at objects at a distance can reduce eye pain related to eye strain and anxiety-caused muscle tension. Instead of working consecutive long hours, take frequent rest breaks to move your body and rest your eyes.

Visit our “Muscle Tension” symptom for more information about anxiety and muscle tension.

NOTE: Migraine headaches can also cause eye pain. For more information, see your doctor about migraine headaches and visit our “Migraine Headaches” symptom.

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Anxiety and Eye Pain Frequent Questions

Is anxiety eye pain serious?

Anxiety-caused eye pain isn’t serious, as it is a symptom of stress. It will subside when you eliminate unhealthy stress. However, sudden eye pain can be serious. It’s best to seek immediate medical attention if you are unsure of the cause of your sudden eye pain.

Can anxiety cause headaches and eye strain?

Yes, the stress caused by anxiety can cause and aggravate headaches and eye strain. In fact, well over half of anxiety sufferers get eye strain pain due to their anxiety.

Can anxiety cause your eyes to feel weird?

Yes, the stress caused by anxiety can make your eyes feel weird, including having pain in the eyes, such as from eye strain. In fact, well over half of anxious people get eye pain and eyes that feel weird due to their anxiety.

Can anxiety cause eye strain?

Yes, the stress caused by anxiety is often a cause of eye strain and the pain associated with eye strain. Well over half of anxious people get eye pain due to their anxiety.

Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 67 percent of respondents said they had eye pain symptoms because of their anxiety.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Anxiety Eye Pain Symptoms.

References

1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2020.

2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

5. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

6. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

7. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.