Stress is a part of life, and stress affects the human body in many ways, including vision.
Stress can lead to symptoms of vision loss, and it can affect one eye or both eyes both intermittently or constantly.
Types of stress that can have an impact include anxiety, social isolation, depression, fear and worry.
Ways to prevent stress from having so many negative effects include meditation, deep-breathing exercises, eating better, sleeping better and getting more exercise.
Stress and Vision
Stress impacts your visual capabilities in different ways, and some of the tell-a-tale signs are dry eyes, double vision, eye strain, blurred vision, eye twitching and double vision.
Your body develops a natural response to any demand that upsets its natural equilibrium. Stress is a natural response, and it can either be physical, emotional, mental, visual or a combination of them all.
In the case of a visual response, when the body is stressed, the pupils dilate to allow in more light (so that you can see potential threats). Additionally, the rise in cortisol and adrenaline levels can place additional pressure on the eyes.
Researchers have found that mental stress can lead to symptoms of vision loss and vice versa. Symptoms can affect one eye, switch from eye to eye, be present at all times and be intermittent.
How Does Stress Cause Vision Problems?
The human body is naturally adapted to handle stressful situations and remarkably return to homeostasis.
But consistent and highly prevalent stressors can cause affiliated health issues such as vision problems and can even lead to vision loss, according to an extensive analysis of hundreds of clinical trials published in the European Association for Predictive, Preventive, and Personalized Medicine Journal in 2018.
Scientific links between stress and vision and their role in overall health include areas such as:
- Stress hormone
- Fight or flight
- Oxygen levels
The powerful hormone cortisol (often referred to as the stress hormone), is the first link to stress-related vision problems. This hormone is gradually released by the body as a reaction to stress and is responsible for the associated increases in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Cortisol is also most notable for temporarily regulating the reproductive and digestive systems during times of stress or crisis.
Experiencing cyclically anxious moments results in a dangerous increase in cortisol levels which disrupts blood flow from the eye to the brain, potentially causing vision problems. The issue can often be drawn out as stress-related macular degeneration or as a vision-related learning disability in children.
Fight or Flight
Periods of stress can cause our bodies to release adrenaline (also referred to as the fight or flight hormone). This hormone, in conjunction with cortisol, speeds up your heart rate, redirects blood from the non-essential reproductive and digestive systems, and moves it to the extremities and internal organs key to survival and perceived to be in danger.
Adrenaline has the effect of causing the pupils to dilate to allow in more light and make it easier to detect potential threats. Constant, severe stress levels and the associated release of adrenaline leads to constant pupil dilation and eventual sensitivity to light. This can lead to the tightening and twitching of eye muscles which causes eye discomfort and stress-related vision problems.
Periods of stress often come with spikes in adrenaline and cortisol. This means that over time, stress can cause potential vision problems or vision loss. Additionally, failure to breathe on top of all this stress could cause the blood oxygen levels to dip, leading to low oxygen in vital blood cells in the eyes and blood.
Lack of sufficient oxygen in the retina may cause potential cell damage and eventual death. For this reason, most doctors advise patients to practice breathing treatments in times of stress.
Severe and consistent periods of stress often trigger symptoms of vision problems in people with autoimmune disorders like lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and many more illnesses, all linked to inflammation.
In all these conditions, decreasing stress levels through various treatments have an improved and more holistic result than targeting inflammation alone.
Common Stress-Related Eye Problems
The majority of stress-related vision problems are temporary and often go away on their own. However, if you have an existing and consistent issue with your eyes, your vision problems might be a result of these issues as opposed to whatever is going on with your life and stress levels.
But stress does affect our eyes in many ways. In addition to pupil dilation, stress can also result in high levels of adrenaline which leads to a build-up of pressure in the eyes and a range of stress-related vision problems.
If several of your close family members are ill at the same time or you have massive deadlines (periods of extreme stress), you may notice these problems:
- Light sensitivity. Feeling like bright light hurts your eyes or makes seeing a challenge.
- Tunnel vision. Losing some peripheral vision and feeling like you can only see straight in front of you.
- Eye twitching. One or both of your eyes will randomly spasm.
- Extremely dry or wet eyes. Though opposite, both of these symptoms can be caused by stress depending on how your body responds to stressful situations.
- Blurry vision. If caused by stress, blurry vision will be mild rather than severe.
- Eye strain. Although commonly a result of prolonged intensive use of the eyes, such as staring at a computer screen for long, eye strain can also be caused by stress.
- Eye floaters. These are tiny spots that swim across your vision.
- Double vision
- Visual distortions
- Light flashes
- Dimmed vision
- Reduced blinking
These symptoms are typically not dangerous or terrible, and most people can often live with them without seeing an eye doctor.
Symptoms are more of an inconvenience than debilitating. But if these symptoms persist or become very uncomfortable, eyecare professionals recommend you have your eyes checked.
Vision Loss and Stress
Recent studies have found a link between stress and vision loss. As stated earlier, stress can cause vision loss or be a result of vision loss. For this reason, eye care providers are encouraged to advocate for stress reduction as a cure for some causes of vision loss.
The following types of mental stress can be caused by vision loss:
- Social isolation
- Fear and worry
A report published in the PMA Journal shows that prolonged mental stress can worsen vision loss. Continuous severe stress causes cortisol levels to rise, which negatively affects the brain and eyes.
This increase in cortisol leads to imbalances in the sympathetic nervous system, which can cause diseases of the visual system, including optic neuropathy and glaucoma. Because stress is both a cause and a consequence of vision loss, people can find themselves in a vicious downward spiral.
In fact, researchers believe that glaucoma patients are more likely to develop issues with depression because of their vision condition. They documented faster loss of visual fields in people with glaucoma who also exhibited symptoms of depression.
Types of Stress that Cause Vision Problems
Many types of stress can lead to vision problems. Various studies have established a connection between vision problems and the following types of stress:
- General stress
- Chronic stress (hyperstimulation)
- Severe stress
- Emotional exhaustion
- Conversion disorder (resulting from repressed emotions)
In most cases, once the causes of your stress are treated or the stress managed, the symptoms of stress-related vision loss are also relieved. Addressing the type of stress you have will help the body calm down and deactivate the stress response.
Symptoms of Stress
Various common lifestyle factors and activities can induce stress, such as working longer hours and constant use of digital technology. With the current technology, it is difficult to escape the need to use your eyes more frequently and for longer periods of time.
- Seeing stars, blurs, shimmers, shadows or halos
- Flashes of light
- Double vision
- Tunnel or narrowed vision
- Momentarily dimmed or brightened vision
- Unusual pulsing
- Visual distortions
- Sore eye muscles
Treatment Options for Stress-Related Vision Problems
The researchers from EPMA encourage a psychosomatic approach to treatment for people experiencing complications from stress and vision loss. In this regard, emphasis should be made on using relaxation and stress reduction techniques in addition to traditional treatment options. These techniques include:
- Stress management techniques
- Autogenic training (teaching the body to respond to verbal commands and relax)
- Social support
Incorporating these techniques into your vision loss treatment plan can be hugely beneficial. They could help prevent and reduce the progression of vision loss. In general, the treatment should be centered around reducing stress by reducing your exposure to stress.
Prevention: How to Reduce Stress
Stress is an inescapable part of life. As a result, learning how to reduce the effects of stress on our bodies, minds, and eyes is key. In fact, the majority of the basic steps for reducing stress are simple and cost little to nothing, including:
- Exercising at least 30 minutes for most days of the week
- Getting a full eight hours of sleep at night
- Eating a healthy diet
- Spending more time outdoors
Other recommended approaches that can slow vision loss include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Stress management training
- Talk therapy
- Guided meditation
If these approaches do not work and the stress-related vision problems persist, you need to see your eye doctor for immediate attention. Detecting and treating eye problems early can help maintain and restore good vision.
Will the vision return to normal after the stress has gone away?
Yes. The key to treating vision-related eye problems caused by stress is to reduce exposure to stress. If you are experiencing stress-related vision problems as an active stress response, doctors recommend that you take measures to calm yourself down and allow your body to recover from the spike in cortisol and adrenaline. Within 20 minutes or so, your body should attain homeostasis and normal vision should be restored.
- Mental stress as consequence and cause of vision loss: the dawn of psychosomatic ophthalmology for preventive and personalized medicine. (May 2018). The European Association for Predictive, Preventive, and Personalized Medicine Journal.
- Cortisol. (December 2021). Cleveland Clinic.
- The impact of low vision on activities of daily living, symptoms of depression, feelings of anxiety and social support in community-living older adults seeking vision rehabilitation services. (November 2011). Quality of Life Research.
- What changes can we expect in the brain of glaucoma patients? (November 2007). Survey of Ophthalmology.
- Fast Visual Field Progression is Associated with Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Glaucoma. (February 2016). Ophthalmology.
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