Anxiety can cause many eye problems and vision symptoms, such as seeing stars, shimmers, blurry vision, shadows, sensitivity to light, eye strain, tunnel vision, and others.
Eye and vision anxiety symptoms common descriptions include:
- Experiencing visual irregularities, such as seeing stars, shimmers, blurs, halos, shadows, “ghosted images,” “heat wave-like images,” fogginess, flashes, and double-vision.
- See things out of the corner of your eye that aren’t there.
- Have narrowed or “tunnel” vision.
- See things moving out of the corner of your eyes yet there isn’t anything actually there or moving.
- Vision seems surreal, unusual, and dream-like.
- Vision momentarily brightens or dims.
- Have visual distortions where the imagery you are looking at seems distorted, out of normal shape, or appears odd-looking.
- Kaleidoscope-like vision.
- Vignette-like vision.
- Unusual pulsing in your vision.
Eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms can persistently affect one eye only, can shift and affect the other eye, can alternate between eyes, and can affect both eyes over and over again.
Eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you might have eye problems and vision symptoms once and a while and not that often, have them off and on, or have them all the time.
Eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
Eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
Eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. They can also come in waves where they are strong one moment and ease off the next.
Eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
For some people, eye problems and vision symptoms are more noticeable when fatigued or when sleep is regularly disrupted.
The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including eye and vision symptoms.
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What causes eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms?
When this symptom is caused by stress, including anxiety-caused stress:
1. Effects of the Stress Response
The eye is a complex organ that, in conjunction with the nervous system (which includes the brain), contains a vast amount of nerve cells. Nerve cells (neurons) are specialized cells that communicate with each other by passing nerve impulse information (electrical signals) back and forth using an electrochemical process (the combination of electricity and chemistry).
Neurons send and receive nerve impulse information back and forth to and from the brain. For example, visual information is received in the eye and transmitted through the optic nerve via neurons to the primary visual cortex area of 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 voluntary thoughts cause nerve impulses to occur in certain muscle groups that are 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.
The entire vision process works normally when the body and nervous system are healthy and functioning normally. Problems can occur, however, when the body is under stress.
Stress can be defined as:
- Anything that pushes the body beyond its balance point.
- A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
- Subject to pressure or tension.
In a medical or biological context: stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, social situations, etc.) or internal (illness, from a medical procedure, behavior, etc.). Stress can initiate the "fight or flight" response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems.
Walter Bradford Cannon, M.D. (October 19, 1871 – October 1, 1945), an American physiologist, professor and chairman of the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School called the stress response the “fight or flight response” (or Acute Stress Response). Since then, it’s also been referred to as the emergency response or the fight, flight, or freeze response (because some people freeze like a “deer caught in headlights” when they feel overly stressed).
The "fight or flight" response causes the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress.
Dr. Hans Selye, a 20th century Vienna-born scientist well-known for his work on stress and author of the book, “The Stress Of Life,” coined the term “General Adaptation Syndrome” (GAS) for the three stages of the stress response. They are:
- Alarm - when the sense of danger/threat triggers the stress response
- Resistance – when the active ingredients of the stress response give us the energy we need to fight or flee
- Exhaustion – the recovery phase after the stressor has ended
See Chapter 3 in the Recovery Support area of our website for more information about the many changes caused by the stress response.
Stress responses stress the body because of all of the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that push the body beyond its balance point.
Overall, a part of the stress response changes include:
- heightening our senses so that we can detect danger more readily,
- tightening muscles so that the body is more resilient to injury,
- increasing activity in the fear center of the brain (the amygdala) so that we are more sensitive and reactive to danger, and
- increasing neuron activity so that the nervous system and body can react more quickly to the demands made upon it by the stressor.
All of these changes (and many more) enhance our ability to deal with a stressor or threat.
More specifically, stress responses affect vision by:
- dilating pupils to take in more visual information,
- narrowing field of vision (peripheral vision) to focus solely on the threat,
- reduce blink rate so we don’t miss important visual information, and
- tense and increase blood flow to the eye muscles so that they are more reactive.
Because of these stress response changes:
- our vision can seem brighter and more vivid because of pupil dilation,
- we can experience “tunnel vision,”
- eyes can become dry, and
- eye muscles can feel strained.
These vision changes subside and normal vision returns as the body recovers from the active stress response.
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2. Effects of Hyperstimulation (Chronic Stress)
Due to the stress caused by an active stress response, the body needs time to recover after the stress response ends. Recovery gives the body time to recharge and rebuild its energy stores so that they are ready for the next time a stress response is required.
When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. Consequently, short-term activation of the stress response doesn’t impact the body to any great extent other than giving us emergency energy to deal with a short-term stressor or threat.
When stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can cause it to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants (also often referred to as "hyperarousal").
Hyperstimulation chronically stresses the body. Chronic stress can strain all of the systems, organs, and glands affected by the stress response, and to the point where the body exhibits symptoms of that strain, such as those associated with this symptom.
For instance, chronic stress can cause:
- eye movement problems due to chronic eye muscle tension;
- eye, eye lid, and eye muscle twitching from chronic muscle strain;
- eye strain;
- persistent sensitivity to light;
- persistent “tunnel vision”;
- blurred vision; and
- persistent dry eyes.
Furthermore, chronic stress can cause neurons to become overly stimulated and excited, since neurons are particularly sensitive to hyperstimulation due to their electrochemical properties. Neurons that become overly stimulated can act erratically and more involuntarily than normal, which can cause them to “misreport,” “over-report,” and send “false” nerve impulse information to and from the brain. These abnormalities can cause a wide range of visual and interpretation anomalies, such as those associated with this symptom.
Moreover, because hyperstimulation can cause an increase in the electrical activity in the brain, which can cause neurons to become even more unstable, neurons can fire even more erratically and involuntarily when the body, brain, and nervous system become hyperstimulated.
Consequently, hyperstimulation can cause the entire visual system to encounter problems and abnormalities. As hyperstimulation increases, so can the likelihood of experiencing visual irregularities, such as all of those associated with this symptom.
When I (Jim Folk) was struggling with anxiety disorder, I experienced visual symptoms, including all of the above. Sometimes the visual symptoms occurred one at a time, and at other times, I had a number of them occurring simultaneously. I’ve not experienced these types of visual symptoms since my recovery in 1986.
Yes, visual anomalies are common symptoms of chronic stress, including the stress caused by overly apprehensive behavior.
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How to get rid of the eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms?
1. Stop the active stress response
When the eye problems vision anxiety symptoms are 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, this feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self. 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 shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
2. Eliminate hyperstimulation (chronic stress)
When eye problems and vision symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where eye and vision symptoms subside.
Reducing stress, not worrying about your symptoms, increasing rest, getting good sleep, practicing a regular deep relaxation technique, regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet can all lead to the elimination of chronic stress. As your body recovers from the adverse effects of chronic stress, stress- and anxiety-caused eye problems and vision symptoms subside.
We explain why recovery from hyperstimulation can take time and what you can do in the meantime in the Recovery Support area of our website.
Nevertheless, when the body has recovered and returned to normal, non-hyperstimulated health, eye problems and vision symptoms disappear.
The number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist is because of unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety. This is why dealing with your anxiety issues is the most important overall.
Since the majority of stress comes from behavior (the ways we think and act), addressing the core reasons for anxiety disorder can reduce and eliminate the unhealthy stress that often leads to hyperstimulation and symptoms, including this one.
Keep in mind that eliminating anxiety symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve overcome issues with anxiety. Anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. Eliminating anxiety symptoms means you’ve eliminated the unhealthy stress that is causing your symptoms. But if the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety aren’t addressed, it’s just a matter of time until the body is overly stressed and symptomatic again.
Rebounds of symptoms and a return to a struggle with anxiety are caused for this very reason: the core issues that cause problematic anxiety haven’t been successfully addressed.
To eliminate issues with anxiety and symptoms once and for all, we need to eliminate the cause of problematic anxiety – the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety. When you eliminate the cause of the problem, you eliminate the problem and the problem's symptoms.
If you have been struggling with anxiety and symptoms, we recommend connecting with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist to help you overcome your anxiety issues. Research has shown that working with an experienced therapist is an effective treatment for anxiety disorder.
All of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists have personally experienced anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Masters Degree and above professional training makes them a good choice when desiring to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms.
Moreover, getting therapy via teletherapy, distanced therapy, or e-therapy (telephone or online therapy) is as effective, if not more so, than in-person therapy.
All of our recommended therapists are experienced at working with clients via distanced therapy and new technologies. We’ve found distanced therapy to be especially effective when working with anxious clients.
Research has also shown that self-help information can also be beneficial. For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms including this one, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
Common Anxiety Symptoms
- For a comprehensive list of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms Signs, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.
- Anxiety and panic attacks symptoms can be powerful experiences. Find out what they are and how to stop them.
- How to stop an anxiety attack and panic.
- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to overcome it.
Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.
anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including eye problems and vision anxiety symptoms.
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