“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Anxiety And Eye Pain

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: November 1, 2020


anxiety eye pain symptoms

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

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

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including sharp or dull pains in the eyes.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and eye pain.

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 come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist 24/7 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 from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.



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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, which causes 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 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.

When stress responses occur too frequently, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body has a more difficult time recovering.

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.

eye

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.

How to get rid of anxiety eye pain

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 eye pain is caused by hyperstimulation, such as anxiety-caused hyperstimulation, it might take much longer for the body to recover, and to the point where this anxiety symptom subsides.

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

You can speed up the recovery process by containing your anxiousness (which we explain in the Recovery Support area of our website), reducing stress, practicing relaxed diaphragmatic breathing, regularly practicing a deep relaxation technique, increasing rest, and getting regular good sleep, to name a few.

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.  

Therapy

If you are having difficulty containing your anxiousness or eliminating your anxiety symptoms, 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, including anxiety disorder that is fueled by what can seem like uncontrollable worry.[5][6][7]


 

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety, anxiety symptoms (including this one), why anxiety symptoms can persist long after we think they should, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more anxiety disorder recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.


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.



The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Symptoms section.

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.