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Eyes and stress: Can stress affect your vision?

Jakub Odcházel, DiS.

Medically reviewed by Jakub Odcházel, DiS., Chief Optician, on 4 Oct 2023. Written by Lentiamo

Did you know that stress can actually impact your vision? It's true! When we're under stress, our blood pressure can be erratic and our bodies may release hormones that can cause our blood vessels to constrict, including those in our eyes.

This can lead to blurry vision, eye strain, and even headaches. Additionally, stress can exacerbate existing eye conditions such as dry eye syndrome and glaucoma.

In this article we will explore the different types of eye discomfort that can originate from stress and we will list symptoms as well as short-term and long-term possible solutions.

How are eyes and anxiety related?

Research has established a correlation between vision discomforts and several forms of stress, including anxiety, general stress, hyperstimulation, and emotional exhaustion.

As a consequence of stress and anxiety, our body enters a state of distress and begins to send us signals that it is important to take into account. These signals also manifest through our vision.

Stress, in fact, challenges our entire immune system. During periods of rather prolonged state of anxiety and nervousness, the blood circulation suffers a backlash, reducing its efficiency, causing less oxygen supply to the tissues and a slower and more difficult flushing of toxins.

Reduced blood supply to the eye can cause many eye discomforts. In addition, typical physical reactions we experience in times of stress, such as facial muscles clenching and bad sleep, are also associated with anxiety-related visual issues.

Read on to find out what they are.

How stress affects your eyes

Stress can affect our eyesight in several ways. With the help of the Lentiamo experts, we analyse the most common below:

Blurry vision

Stress-induced visual impairment such as blurry vision can have a significant impact on the quality of life. It is often attributed to the physiological effects of stress on the body, including changes in blood flow and hormone level. Determining the causes is crucial, especially if the discomfort is chronic and does not appear to be related with vision impairments such as farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism or presbyopia.

Eye strain

This condition can be caused by prolonged periods of intense physical or emotional stress, which can lead to muscle tension and fatigue in the eyes. Proper rest, relaxation, and eye exercises can help alleviate symptoms and prevent eye strain syndrome.

Dry or watery eyes

Stress-induced ocular discomfort can also manifest as either dryness or excessive watering of the eyes. These symptoms can be attributed to a variety of factors, including increased sympathetic nervous system activity and altered tear production. Proper management of stress levels and targeted treatment of underlying causes can alleviate these symptoms and improve ocular health.

Eye twitching

Another common stress-related phenomenon that occurs when the muscles around the eye involuntarily contract. This condition, also known as eyelid myokymia, can be triggered by a variety of factors, including anxiety, fatigue, and caffeine consumption. While typically harmless, persistent eye twitching may warrant medical attention.

Light sensitivity

Also known as stress-induced photophobia, this phenomenon can be triggered by various stressors, including emotional, physical, or environmental factors. Proper diagnosis and management are essential to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

Tunnel vision

It occurs when one’s perception becomes limited and narrow due to the effects of stress. This condition can lead to a decreased ability to process information and make sound decisions.

Eye floaters

The occurrence of eye floaters, which are small specks or spots that appear in one's field of vision, has also sometimes been linked to stress. This phenomenon happens when the jelly-like substance of the vitreous degenerates, changes density, viscosity and transforms into various formations.

In most cases, floaters don’t require any treatment and will disappear from your visual field. If they are persistent or rapidly changing, professional advice is recommended.

Headaches

The mechanisms connecting headaches to stress are vast and complex. It is well established that stress can trigger a cascade of events that lead to the development of headaches and ocular migraines. Proper hydration, good posture and suitable medications are always good ideas in case of occasional manifestations.

If you suffer from headaches regularly, however, it will be well advised to undertake a thorough investigation with a medical professional.

Can stress cause bloodshot eyes?

Stress can indeed be a contributing factor to red eyes, albeit usually in an indirect manner.

First of all, we may ask ourselves: why can our eyes go “bloodshot”? In instances where the eye is irritated or under excessive strain, the blood vessels within the area will dilate in order to facilitate improved blood flow.

This physiological response is a natural protective mechanism of the eye and is responsible for the characteristic reddish appearance of the affected eye.

When we are stressed, anxious, poorly rested and fatigued, our eyes can become reddened as a result. In other instances, this phenomenon can occur for different reasons. To find out more, read our in-depth article about red eyes.

Can stress permanently damage your eyes?

Normally, no. It is reassuring to note that the majority of stress-induced vision issues are only temporary and will resolve once relaxation techniques are implemented. However, prolonged mental stress can have a detrimental impact on eye health, resulting in visual distortions and potential vision loss.

person with closed eyes holding their head

It is imperative to prioritise stress management and self-care practices to mitigate the negative effects of stress on our bodies.

Seeking professional medical advice is always recommended for those experiencing persistent or severe vision disturbances, even when caused by stress. Your eye professional will give you the right tips to alleviate discomfort and prevent possible aggravations.

What can you do to avoid stress-related vision problems?

To prevent stress-related vision problems, there are several easy methods you can try. By implementing these strategies, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing stress-related vision issues and maintain optimal eye health. In many cases, they will be so effective as to feel their benefits pretty quickly.

Here are Lentiamo’s specialists’ top suggestions to avoid stress-related vision issues:

Take regular breaks

Ensure that you take regular breaks from activities that are taxing on your mind and body. Studies have shown that taking short breaks every hour alleviates physical and mental strain, allowing you to return to your tasks with renewed focus and energy. Additionally, it can help to prevent burnout and reduce the risk of developing chronic stress-related health issues.

Try blue light glasses

By reducing the amount of blue light that reaches the eyes, blue light glasses can help alleviate the discomfort associated with extended screen time. This will also help you to improve the quality of your sleep, and thus in turn potentially lower your stress levels during the day.

Practise relaxation techniques

Deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help reduce stress levels. By taking slow, deep breaths, you can activate the body's relaxation response, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve digestion, and boost the immune system. Practising them regularly can lead to long-term benefits, such as improved mental clarity and emotional stability.

Maintain a healthy, balanced diet

Consuming nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety. Moreover, a balanced diet can improve overall physical health, leading to increased resilience and better stress management.

Exercise regularly

Physical exercise helps release endorphins, which are natural mood boosters, and it is an effective way to manage stress and improve overall well-being.

Prioritise quality sleep

Sleep promotes physical and mental restoration, enhances cognitive function, and improves mood. Adequate sleep also supports immune function, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and helps regulate appetite and weight.

Keep a journal

Writing down thoughts and emotions can help to process and understand feelings, leading to a reduction in stress levels. Journaling can provide a sense of control and organisation, allowing you to tackle stressors more effectively.

Seek professional help

What if you already tried all of the above, but they are not enough to manage your stress levels and the stress-induced eye issues? Then it is important to consult with professionals.

  • Consult with your general practitioner to understand what concrete measures you can take to reduce stress and improve the quality of your life.
  • Consider psychological wellbeing services. If you find that you're experiencing repeated stress-related problems that are interfering with your day-to-day life, it might be that you could benefit from going to therapy.
  • Schedule eye exams to monitor any changes in your vision and address any potential issues early on. Regardless of stress, remember that it's always important to see an eye doctor for regular check-ups.

When stress hits, it’s common to experience symptoms such as headaches, blurry vision, fatigued or dry eyes. Do not overlook these tips and tricks, your eyes (and your overall health) will thank you!

Closing thoughts from Lentiamo:

It is important to acknowledge that stress can indeed affect your eyesight. Taking time for yourself or trying simple relaxing techniques is often a solution. It is however recommended to seek medical advice if you are experiencing any changes in your vision or if you are feeling overwhelmed by stress.

Sources

1. PubMed, The associations and mediators between visual disabilities and anxiety disorders in middle-aged and older adults: A population-based study

2. Mount Sinai, Relaxation techniques for stress

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