Blurred, Distorted, Foggy Vision

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated March 11, 2022

blurred, distorted, or foggy vision anxiety symptoms

Blurred vision, such as blurry, distorted, and foggy vision symptoms, are common symptoms of anxiety disorder, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias, to name a few.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and vision symptoms, such as blurred, distorted, or foggy vision..

Blurred Vision Common Symptom Descriptions

  • Your vision is unusually blurred, unclear, murky, or unclear.
  • Your vision is distorted, “different,” “unusual,” or “foggy,” yet there is nothing medically wrong with your eyes.
  • Your vision is so blurry it can feel like you are looking through dirty glasses.
  • Your vision is becoming unusually blurred as if there is something on your eyes that is obscuring the incoming images.
  • It can also seem like the objects you are looking at are unusually blurred, muddied, distorted, skewed, twisted out of shape, or contorted.

This symptom can occur in one eye, both eyes, or randomly switch from one eye to the other.

This symptom can come on gradually or suddenly.

This symptom can occur rarely, frequently, or persistently day after day.

Blurred, distorted, or foggy vision 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.

This symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This symptom can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain throughout your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

For many people, this symptom can seem more noticeable when undistracted, resting, trying to sleep, or when waking up, and more prevalent when sleep is disrupted and fatigued.

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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Causes

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Additional Medical Advisory Information.

1. The stress response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, causing many body-wide changes that prepare the body for immediate action. This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response.[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

Some of the stress response changes include:

  • Narrows our vision so that we can focus on the threat.
  • Dilates pupils to take in more visual information.
  • Reduces tear production and blink rate, which can lead to dry eyes.
  • Stimulates the nervous system to be more sensitive and reactive to danger.
  • Heightens most of the body’s senses so that we are more attuned to danger.
  • Increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration to accommodate the sudden increase in energy.
  • Cortisol, a powerful stress hormone, increases pressure in the eye.

Any one or combination of these stress response changes can cause acute visual symptoms, such as bright, distorted, blurry, and foggy vision. This is especially true for narrowed vision, dilated pupils, dry eyes, and increased pressure in the eye.

Acute visual symptoms can persist for as long as you are anxious and a stress response is active.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can become hyperstimulated (chronically stressed) since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

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

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Hyperstimulation can cause stress response changes even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. Visual symptoms are a common indication of hyperstimulation (chronic stress).

Hyperstimulation can affect our vision in many ways.

Nervous System Excitation And Dysregulation

The eye is a complex organ that, in conjunction with the nervous system (which includes the brain), contains a vast number of nerve cells, also known as neurons. Nerve cells are unique because of their electrochemical properties (the combination of electricity and chemicals).[5][6]

neuron anatomy

These nerve cells receive and send information back and forth to and from the brain. For instance, optical information is received in the eye and transmitted through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain interprets this information and forms a visual image that we “see” in our minds.

Moreover, when we want to look at something, our thoughts create nerve impulses that trigger muscle groups attached to the eyes. These nerve impulses cause the appropriate eye muscles to contract, causing the eyes to move in the direction we want to look.

When we say a vast number of nerve cells involved in this process, we mean VAST!

eye anatomy

One optic nerve alone contains over 1 million nerve fibres, and the nervous system contains over 100 billion nerve cells that link to tens of thousands of other nerve cells located throughout the body.

When the body and nervous system are healthy and functioning normally, this process works well. However, when the body becomes hyperstimulated (chronically stressed), the body and nervous system can encounter problems.

As the degree of hyperstimulation increases, the likelihood of visual problems increases.

For instance, neurons are particularly sensitive to stress hormone stimulation because of their electrochemical properties. When neurons become hyperstimulated, they can act erratically.

This erratic behavior can cause them to “under-report,” “over-report,” “misreport,” and send “misleading” information to and from the brain [7][4] These abnormalities can cause many sensory, muscle movement, and nervous system irregularities, such as those associated with this symptom.

Moreover, because hyperstimulation can increase the electrical activity in parts of the brain, which can cause neurons to become even more unstable, neurons can fire even more erratically when the body and nervous system become hyperstimulated.[8]

The above combination of factors can cause many unusual visual symptoms, including blurry, distorted, or foggy vision.

At the height of a particularly stressful time in my (Jim Folk) life, the vision in my right eye became blurry when looking at objects at a distance. Initially, I thought this occurred because I was getting older.

So, I went to an optometrist and had an eye exam. The doctor determined that I needed glasses to correct the vision in my right eye.

When I received my glasses, objects at a distance were clear again. This was good. However, months later, when my stress diminished, objects at a distance were blurry again in my right eye. But when I took off my glasses, they were clear.

It seemed that stress affected the vision in my right eye. High stress caused the vision in that eye to change, and reduced stress allowed it to return to normal.

After having another eye exam, I was given a new prescription because my right eye no longer needed the correction.

I also had many episodes of blurry (where everything was out of focus), distorted (things looked odd, warped, and deformed), and foggy (it looked like everything was in a fog) vision, as well as many other odd visual symptoms.

These are some of the examples of how hyperstimulation can affect our vision. (I’ve not had those since I recovered in 1986.)

Yes, eye symptoms, including blurred vision, distortions, and fogginess, are common symptoms of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), including anxiety-caused chronic stress.

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3. Other Factors

Other factors can create stress and aggravate this anxiety symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

Treatment

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

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will cause this acute anxiety symptom to subside.

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

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes blurry, distorted, or foggy vision, 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.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this vision symptoms.

However, eliminating hyperstimulation often takes much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger longer than expected.

As long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated, it can present symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time, including this one.

Even so, since blurry, distorted, and foggy vision are common symptoms of stress, including anxiety-caused stress, it's harmless and needn't be a cause for concern. It will subside when unhealthy stress has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover.

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms create stress, these behaviors can interfere with recovery.

Passively accepting your symptoms – allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them – while doing your recovery work will cause their cessation in time.

Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

You also have to do your recovery work FIRST before your body can recover. The cumulative effects of your recovery work will produce results down the road. And the body's stimulation has to diminish before symptoms can subside.

  • Reducing stress.
  • Increasing rest.
  • Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms.
  • Containing anxious behavior.
  • Being patient.

These will bring results in time.

Short-term remedies:

Even though eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate chronic anxiety symptoms, including this one, 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 vision symptoms, reducing stress can reduce episodes of this symptom.

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

Frequently resting the eyes – Taking frequent breaks and resting the eyes can help stressed eyes recover. It can also help restore normal eye hydration.

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 this one.

Regular deep relaxation – Deep relaxation reduces the body’s overall level of stimulation and stress, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms, including vision symptoms, such as blurry vision.

Contain your anxiousness – Since anxiety activates the stress response, which causes anxiety and hyperstimulation symptoms, containing your anxiousness about this anxiety symptom can help reduce and eliminate it.

The more successful you are in containing your anxiousness, the more opportunity your body has to reduce stress and stimulation. As mentioned, a reduction in stress and stimulation can reduce anxiety symptoms.

Keep well hydrated – Dehydration can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms. Keeping your body well hydrated can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms, including vision symptoms.

Over-the-counter eye hydration medication – Using over-the-counter eye hydration medications can reduce vision symptoms caused by dry eyes.

NOTE: This symptom can also be caused or aggravated by migraine headaches. Reducing stress can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches, too, since migraine headaches are often caused by stress.

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Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors cause issues with anxiety. As such, they are the primary reason why anxiety symptoms persist.[9][10][11]

Addressing your underlying factors (Level Two recovery) is most important if you want lasting success.

Addressing Level Two recovery can help you:

  • Contain anxious behavior.
  • Become unafraid of anxiety symptoms and the strong feelings of anxiety.
  • End anxiety symptoms.
  • Successfully address the underlying factors that so often cause issues with anxiety.
  • End what can feel like out-of-control worry.

All our recommended anxiety therapists have had anxiety disorder and overcame it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder and their Master's Degree and above professional training gives them insight other therapists don't have.

If you want to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, any one of our recommended therapists would be a good choice.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to treat anxiety disorder, especially if you have persistent symptoms and difficulty containing anxious behavior, such as worry.

In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.

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Blurry Vision Frequent Questions

Can anxiety cause blurred vision?

Yes, anxiety can cause blurred vision. Since anxiety stresses the body and stress can cause vision symptoms, anxiety can cause blurred vision, as well as other vision symptoms, like distorted vision, foggy vision, and flashing lights, to name a few.

Visit our “Vision Symptoms” article for the many ways anxiety can affect vision.

Is blurred vision caused by anxiety serious?

Vision symptoms caused by anxiety, such as blurred vision, isn’t serious or harmful. It’s temporary and usually subsides when we contain anxiety and reduce stress. However, it’s best to discuss your symptoms with an eye specialist to ensure there isn’t a medical cause.

Can anxiety cause other vision symptoms than just blurred vision?

Yes, anxiety can cause a host of other symptoms that affect the eyes and vision. Visit our “Vision Symptoms” article for the many ways anxiety can affect vision.

Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 40 percent of respondents said they had blurry, distorted, or foggy visual symptoms because of their anxiety.

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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 blurred vision, distorted vision, and foggy vision anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

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. Bear, Connors, Paradiso (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the brain - Fourth Edition. In Neurons And Glia (pp. 29-53). New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer

6. Chudler, Erica. “Neuroscience For Kids.” Neuroscience For Kids - Brain vs. Computer, 2018.

7. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015.

8. Laine, Mikaela A, et al. “Brain Activation Induced by Chronic Psychosocial Stress in Mice.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017.

9. 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.

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

11. 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.