Kaleidoscope Vision Anxiety Symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

Kaleidoscope Vision Anxiety Symptoms

Kaleidoscope vision, such as kaleidoscope-like images; pulsing, flashing, wavy, broken, and shimmering lights; phosphenes, and other visual irregularities are common symptoms of anxiety disorder, hyperstimulation, and panic attacks.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety, hyperstimulation, and kaleidoscope vision.

Common descriptions of the anxiety symptom kaleidoscope vision:

When you close your eyes, you see:

  • Kaleidoscope-like images.
  • Images that are broken, shiny, glittery, and brightly colored.
  • Flashing lights, as if you are watching a light show.
  • Vivid images, such as of people, things, or places.
  • Other visual stimuli and anomalies, such as pulsing, flashing, vibrating, or shimmering images and lights.
  • A vivid afterimage of what you saw before you closed your eyes.
  • Bright, wavy lines or circles that begin at a point and grow larger and outward over time.

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

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

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms, or occur by itself.

This symptom can 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 occur in waves where it’s strong one time and barely noticeable the next.

This symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

This symptom can be more pronounced when fatigued and when sleep is disrupted.

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 it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including kaleidoscope vision symptoms.

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What causes kaleidoscope vision anxiety symptoms:

Kaleidoscope vision could be a symptom of a medical emergency. Be sure to discuss this symptom with your doctor. Read our medical advisory for additional information about anxiety symptoms.

Medical Advisory

Ocular Migraine Headache

Kaleidoscope vision is often caused by ocular migraine headaches, where you see shimmering image-like lines or visual distortions and blind spots that last between a few minutes to 30 minutes.

These lines or distortions can start at a point in your vision and grow outward as the ocular migraine progresses.

These wavy or circular distortions fade as the ocular migraine subsides.

Ocular migraines are common and needn’t be a cause for concern. However, they should be discussed with your doctor.

Stress is a common trigger of migraine headaches, including ocular migraine headaches.

Since anxiety causes stress, anxiety is a common cause of migraine headaches, including ocular migraine headaches.

Kaleidoscope Vision And Anxiety

When kaleidoscope vision is caused by anxiety, being anxious activates the body’s survival mechanism, also called the stress response or the fight or flight response.[1][2]

The stress response causes many body-wide changes that give the body a “boost” of energy and resources when danger is detected.

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about how stress hormones affect the body.

Stress responses have a dramatic effect on the nervous system, as well as the body’s sensory organs, including the eyes and visual system.

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body has sufficient time to recover from the many body-wide changes.

When stress responses occur too frequently, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones 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. Experiencing kaleidoscope vision, and all of the symptoms associated with it is a common symptom of hyperstimulation.

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many physiological, psychological, and emotional changes caused by hyperstimulation.

For instance, hyperstimulation can cause changes in vision, such as reducing peripheral vision and increasing sensitivity to light. It can also cause blurred vision, shimmering vision, and many other symptoms.

Visit our “Eyes” section on our anxiety disorder symptoms article.

Hyperstimulation can also cause changes in our vision when our eyes are closed.

For example, the cone and rod sensors in the retina that convert visual images into electrical signals that are transmitted to the visual cortex can become electrically excited. This electrical “hyper-excitement” can cause many visual anomalies when you have your eyes closed, such as kaleidoscope-like images and any of the symptoms mentioned above.

This “hyper-excitability” and its symptoms can persist for as long as the body is hyperstimulated.

Furthermore, we can also see “phosphenes” – visual sensations of stars and patterns – when we close our eyes due to the inherent electrical charges in the retina when it is “resting.”[5]  You can activate phosphenes by gently rubbing your eye when your eyelid is closed (not too much pressure or you might damage the eye). You’ll see phosphenes more clearly in dark environments.

Retinas don’t turn off. Even when you close your eyes, retinas remain active. There is always some electrical information in the retina.

Phosphenes can also be triggered by other parts of the visual system, including in the brain.[5] Hyperstimulation and the neuronal excitement it causes can cause phosphenes to become more prevalent and pronounced.

Fortunately, while disconcerting, hyperstimulation-caused kaleidoscope-like images aren’t harmful. They are just symptoms of hyperstimulation.

These types of visual symptoms subside as hyperstimulation is eliminated.

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.

NOTE: This symptom is explained in more detail in the Recovery Support area.

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How to get rid of kaleidoscope vision anxiety symptoms:

Kaleidoscope vision symptoms are commonly caused by hyperstimulation. To eliminate hyperstimulation-caused symptoms, we need to eliminate hyperstimulation.

You can reduce and eliminate hyperstimulation by containing anxious behavior, reducing stress, increasing rest, getting regular mild to moderate exercise, getting regular good sleep, and eating a healthy diet comprised of whole and natural foods.

You’ll need to be patient, however, as it can take much longer than you expect to eliminate hyperstimulation.

However, as hyperstimulation diminishes, so will its symptoms, including kaleidoscope vision.

The Recovery Support area has much more information about eliminating hyperstimulation, recovery expectations and guidelines, and obstacles to eliminating hyperstimulation.

The Recovery Support area also has a great deal of information about containment and extinguishing fear, including many practical examples.

If you are having trouble with containment, chronic symptoms, extinguishing fear, or what can seem like uncontrollable worry, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder.[6][7][8][9][10]

NOTE: As mentioned, this symptom can also be caused or aggravated by migraine headaches. Reducing stress and eliminating hyperstimulation can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches, since migraine headaches are often triggered by stress.

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 Kaleidoscope Vision Anxiety Symptoms.


1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2020, https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-disorders/symptoms/stress-response/

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, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887899418302716

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, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4373764/.

5. Weitering, Hanneke. "Why do we see colors with our eyes closed?" ScienceLine.org, 29 Dec 2014, https://scienceline.org/2014/12/why-do-we-see-colors-with-our-eyes-closed/

6. 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, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.

7. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.

8. Thompson, Ryan Baird, "Psychology at a Distance: Examining the Efficacy of Online Therapy" (2016). University Honors Theses. Paper 285.

9. Kingston, Dawn.“Advantages of E-Therapy Over Conventional Therapy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Dec. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-pregnant-pause/201712/advantages-e-therapy-over-conventional-therapy.

10. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat physically and 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.