We all know that stress and anxiety can affect our bodies, but what about the eyes? In today’s article, I wanted to get to the bottom of what might be going on if you are experiencing stress or anxiety related eye problems. Here is what my research shows about things like floaters, flashes, blurred vision, light sensitivity and other things that can happen.
So can stress and anxiety cause eye problems? Floaters, flashes, blurred vision, light sensitivity, twitches, dry eye, and tears are commonly reported in individuals dealing with anxiety or high levels of stress, and high levels of anxiety and stress can cause you to notice these symptoms more than normal.
In my research, I’ve discovered that the symptoms and related causes are a bit like the chicken and the egg. It can be hard to identify what comes first.
For instance, are floaters a result of anxiety or is it that the extra stress you are under causes you to become hyper-sensitive to your environment, in which case you tend to notice everything.
I’m afraid that it’s not going to be that easy to disconnect the event from the circumstance / symptom.
So let’s look a bit deeper at what is going on and what other things can be happening that you may not be aware of.
What is the relationship between your eyes and Anxiety?
Eye anxiety is what people search for in their attempt to describe a situation, in which it feels like anxiety is having an impact on their eye health or at least they are experiencing one of the following temporary , semi-permanent or recurring conditions of the eye.
Typical symptoms include the following:
- Blurred vision – as if you should be wearing glasses or your prescription suddenly changed
- Floaters – dots, squiggly lines, odd shapes, blotches, rings, or circles seen in bright light or when eyes are closed.
- Eye flashes – may seem like a flash of lightning seen out of corner of eye.
- Eye strain – your eyes feel like you have been reading at the computer for excessive amounts of time
- Eye twitch – a muscle twitch in your eye that last for a while and won’t go away
- Watery eyes – like you’ve been crying or people might ask you if you have, you may have to remove your glasses to wipe them occasionally
- Dry eyes – this feels a bit like eye strain mentioned above, but it’s a burning feeling
- Light Sensitivity – The feeling you as if the light were significantly dialed up and your eyes have a hard time adjusting.
The problem is that it is often hard to distinguish a temporary problem from something serious.
It’s kind of like sore joints, tendons and muscles surrounding a sprain versus a broken bone.
What should you do if your eyes just feel weird?
I probably don’t need to say this, but since it’s online here is my down and dirty disclaimer. It is always recommended to seek the advice from a physician if you are really concerned or if the problem persists.
Listen, I’d rather search up things like this online as well since my insurance isn’t exactly the best. But – SOMETIMES, a physician’s opinion can be worth the price of entry if it provides you with peace of mind and the relief of knowing whether something is seriously wrong or not.
Based on my research, however, there are certain things that are more alarming than others.
Blurred vision and flashes of light are probably most concerning.
The Terrible Eye Twitch
Personally, I have never gone to the eye doctor because of an eye twitch, but I have a friend, Steve, who has had some pretty severe eye twitches lately. They have actually become kind of debilitating. It’s to the point where it interferes with his ability to work.
Now, let me explain the level of eye twitch we are talking about here. Anyone sitting two tables away from him in a restaurant would be able to see the twitch. It draws half across his face on one side, so we are talking serious eye twitch here.
Not the one that you have to say, stop the music and no buddy breathe although even the smallest eye twitch is super annoying.
So, my friend Steve went to seek medical care. The doctor injected some Botox to lessen the effects, but the problem has persisted.
I think most of us have experienced an eye twitch, so I would only get alarmed if it becomes serious or persists for a long time.
Things that you might want to look at are the following.
- What is your caffeine intake?
- How much sleep are you getting?
- Do you think you might be low on one or multiple of these three items: potassium, sodium, magnesium
Any time I am dealing with muscle spasms of any sort, I start thinking about my potassium, sodium and magnesium levels because a lack of them can interfere with muscle and nerve function. Think about whether you have been sweating a lot lately or maybe your nutrition hasn’t been the best.
Magnesium is easy to supplement. Believe it or not, it is well absorbed through the skin. I prefer to take chloride based magnesium baths. My favorite is:MagneSport 100% Dead Sea Bath Salts, 5. 5 lb bag
But you can usually pick this up at your local vitamin shoppe, gnc, etc. I prefer the magnesium chloride over the magnesium sulfate (epsom salt). But either way you should be better off after about 45 minutes of soaking.
Remember, that it is better absorbed when the bath water isn’t super hot. So think warm bath, not hot (scorching) bath.
Light Sensitive Eyes – Anxiety or stress producing eye light sensitivity
If you are suffering from light sensitivity, it could be due to an infection, or if you have been indoors or in a dim environment for a while this is pretty normal.
Some migraine sufferers say that this is what they experience when they are experiencing the onset of a migraine.
But you can also experience this is your are super stressed or experiencing a bout with anxiety. Consider that during these times, most of your muscles are tense. Your body is on high-alert and ready, so in the amped state your pupils are dilated and “ready” for anything.
If you suddenly go outside during this type of scenario, it is quite common to experience sensitivity to light.
For these moments, it’s a good idea to have sunglasses on hand or change your plans so you can accommodate the body sensations you are experiencing.
A friend of mine who suffers from anxiety told me that the biggest thing that helps him during these moments is to look at it as a “wave” of emotion and that the wave will soon move on.
Realizing that it isn’t permanent helps him relax and let the stress go.
Teary Eyes – anxiety producing excessive wetness or tears
Yes, this is a common problem in people dealing with stress and anxiety. Consider that your eyes do all kinds of things in response to your emotions.
You can cry because you are sad, and you can cry because you can’t stop laughing.Your Emotions and Your Eyes are Connected
Try not to get too in your head about what is going on here. I recommend you let people know that you aren’t upset, you are just dealing with watery eyes otherwise others might be trying to console you every where you go, and it might make you feel worse about the condition.
Giving yourself a bit of grace here will go a long ways. While stress can produce teary eyes (just like sweaty skin), consider that there could be other elements causing the issue like allergies, cold, heat, etc.
If you are ultra self-conscious about it, consider wearing sun glasses until the symptoms subside, and as always if it persists, don’t hesitate having a conversation with a medical professional (which I’m not).
Painful Eyes (Dry) – Stress and anxiety producing eye pain
Often this can be part of an overall sense of tension. If your eyes are painful and you are stressed, accept that is just what you are experiencing for the moment.
You may also need to think about hydration especially if your eyes are dry and burn. Think about what you have had to drink for the last 24 hours. Alcohol and caffeine can further dehydrate you resulting in your experiencing dry eyes.
You may have a headache, however, if you have painful eyes, a headache, demonstrate slurred speech or are moving slower than normal, you may want to get checked for a TBI (traumatic brain injury) like a concussion.
Typically, you will know if you have hit your head, but when my husband was a kid, he used to fall out of his bunk bed and wake up on the floor, so you will want to make sure you haven’t inadvertently done something, of which you are unaware.
Experiencing blurred vision or lack of focus from stress
Here I would encourage you to think about the effects of high-blood pressure on the eyes.
If you have ever had your eyes dilated, the optometrist can see the effects of high-blood pressure on the eyes. If you have been stressed, you might find that your blood pressure is up as well, although, it doesn’t have to be for you to experience blurred vision.
This is one of the areas where I would have a lower threshold to getting it checked out by a professional since blurred vision can be a result of many other things.
My husband is allergic to peanut butter. One day, he was working on some financial stuff.
He noticed that he started having trouble reading the numbers.
When he looked at a series of numbers (let’s say 123456), he could only make out the 1 and 2 and 5 and 6 when looking directly at the number.
His vision was significantly impaired directly at the normal focus level of his eye. Of course, he freaked out.
He later discovered that the kids had made themselves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and used the same knife. Inadvertently, they had put peanut butter in the jelly jar.
When my husband made himself some toast with the jelly, he experienced some level of temporary blindness, but it was only for a certain focal width / range.
It was a scary experience.
So, you may want to think about what things you have been eating / drinking. Could this have had an impact on your vision?
Again, these are simply areas to look, it doesn’t mean that the stress and anxiety in your life isn’t causing the issue all by itself. It’s just that you want to isolate any patterns possible.
What if your eyes seem to be playing tricks?
We have all probably seen the images that cause your eyes to play tricks on you. Do you know the ones I’m talking about?
For instance, there are images that can cause you to see a separate image if you stare at it for long enough.
This is because of how your eye processes light and dark. The one I think I saw most recently looked a bit like a blob of white and black, but after staring at it for long enough and then blinking, you could see an image that looked like Jesus.
How is that possible? When your eye gets overloaded with one image for a while (like staring at a light bulb), it can cause it to leave a residue of sensory stimulation, such that when you then blink or look away, you see some or all of the image.
If your experience is different than this, it could mean you are dealing with floaters or flashes that are a bit related to stress.
Eye – Anxiety – Floaters and Flashes
So as mentioned above flashes may be important to have a physician look into. The reason is that it can be a signal of a retina problem.
But it isn’t uncommon to experience this even in healthy eyes. Sometimes it can be like a someone took a picture that you just catch out of the corner of your eye or look like there was lightning that you just noticed out of your peripheral vision.
When it comes to floater, they can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and have to do with the gel (vitreous making up 80% of your eye) behind the lens of your eye.
When that gel bumps up against the retina, it can cause a flash.
In general, the floaters that you see can look like squiggly lines, rings, circles, odd shapes, hoops, loops, straight and jagged lines. But what you are seeing isn’t really the object. It’s actually the shadow of the object because of the light filtering in.
In most people, these get more severe with age. Most of the population will experience it by the time they are in their eighties.
Now if you are worried about it, and you probably don’t need to be, let me see if I can describe what is happening.
Have you ever been at a swimming pool where the sun is shining into the water and you can see weird lines at the bottom of the pool? The ones that are shadows because the light is blocked by something either on the surface of the water or in the water?
Your eye works in a similar fashion, so a very, very small dot can make a larger shadow appear for you. They typically appear to be swimming.
What is the link between floaters, anxiety and stress?
It is simple, when you are in a state of anxiety or feel stressed, you are more likely to take notice of these kinds of things, and they can make you feel more agitated.
Take a deep breath and realize that you are probably noticing it more in this state than it being a real concern caused by your anxiety.
This can go a long ways in helping you calm down. When you are calm, you probably will no longer notice it or it won’t bother you as much.
Mental Rest is one of the best ways to reduce the effects of eye problems due to stress and anxiety.
Notice that I didn’t say “rest?” That’s because people dealing with high-levels of anxiety can sometimes sleep all they want and it doesn’t alleviate the issues they are facing.
So rather than just sleep (although sleep can help), focus on activities that recharge you particularly.
Maybe you are busy with kids, parenting, school, work, career, obligations and the like.
Look I don’t have to tell you that life can be stressful, but the only one in charge of your care is you. You have to get clear on what recharges your batteries and create a plan to live that way.
My husband likes nature. He plans to get out in nature every Friday even if it is only for a few hours. My workout time is precious to me.
Find what fills your tank and go for it. Take a vacation even if it is only for 2 hours.
If you are even reading this, then chances are you could use and deserve a little R&R (rest and recreation). But one of the things that people who are stressed or who experience anxiety do is worry about what will happen if they take time off.
So how do you stop worrying about what might happen or not get something done? One of the best ways to deal with this is the “brain dump.”
Simply write out everything that you have to get done. Sit with a paper and a pencil. Once you get the ideas out of your head and onto a sheet of paper, you will not only feel better, you will have the ability to start prioritizing the tasks on the paper.
Make a mental agreement with yourself to allow yourself some time off once you get the most urgent matters dealt with.
If you don’t do this, you may find yourself on a constant treadmill, churning through life without any enjoyment.
I like to remember that at the end of this all, they are going to put me in a wooden box. I’m not trying to be morbid about this. My point is that if you aren’t going to start enjoying your life now, when will you?
You surely can’t do it once you are gone forever. Life is filled with tasks that have to get done, and it will never end. So, take the time sooner than later and give yourself the downtime you need to accommodate your body.
What does making good eye contact tell us socially, emotionally?
I wrote a whole article about why people might avoid eye contact with you. The article has some insights on what you might be doing and how people might be feeling around you if they tend to avert their eyes.
The take away is that humans share a lot of emotion through their eyes, and in our western culture healthy eye contact is considered, well, healthy for a lack of a better word.
In most cases, you will expect (and it will be expected of you) to pay attention with your eyes in most conversations for nearly two-thirds of the conversation. If you want to read a more in-depth article click here.
How can you go to work on the root cause of the eye problems, namely the anxiety and stress that is causing it?
If you are looking to reduce your anxiety and stress levels, you can look at my 21 point guide in recovering from anxiety. It goes over how to identify the triggers that cause the anxiety and what to do about it.
Often potential anxiety attacks or high levels of stress can cause the onset. It’s a vicious cycle. What helps, generally speaking, is identifying what thoughts are logical, what is real and what you mind is manufacturing to keep you safe.
The best advice I have heard up until now is doing the 5,4,3,2,1 thing, which involves stopping for a moment and engaging your senses during the anxiety onset and looking for: five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
It really can be any variation of that. Further, if you recognize that anxiety functions as a wave with a small beginning, a bigger center, and a small ending, you may be able to “ride it out” until you feel better.
Thanks for reading this article, I sincerely hope it helps!