Can stress and anxiety affect your vision?


Felicity Mann
Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Felicity


25 September 2018

What happens when you are stressed?

Unfortunately, turbulent emotions like stress and anxiety are quickly becoming a pervasive part of many of our lifestyles, often spurned on by work commitments, family problems, and financial woes. This can create a number of health related issues due to the impact that stress can have on your body, stimulating what is known as your fight-or-flight reflexes.

When you experience stress or anxiety, your fight-or-flight reflexes are triggered and this can affect a number of different bodily functions:

  • Your heart rate will become elevated
  • Oxygenated blood and nutrients will be redirected to your muscles, heart and lungs
  • Your digestive system will slow down.

In short, all that matters to your body is your immediate survival.

As a consequence, you may experience symptoms such as constipation or diarrhoea, or find your skin flaring up due to an increase in inflammatory chemicals like cortisol. Your sleep patterns will undergo some upheaval and eventually, your immune function may become weakened. These are the most obvious side effects of a bout of stress and it’s likely you may already associate a few of these with that particular emotion but how does stress impact your eyes?

Does stress cause vision problems?

Your eyes are no exception to the physical impact of stress. When your body experiences a stress reaction, your pupils will dilate to allow more light to get into your eyes – this enhances your vision so you’re better able to perceive potential threats. This is all well and good if you’re facing down a tiger but it’s not so ideal for your eyes if this turns into a daily occurrence. 

If your eyes are constantly dilating it can cause a number of problems to arise, such as:

All of these problems can affect your vision and cause varying degrees of discomfort, elevating pressure within the eye itself. However, it isn’t just increased cases of pupil dilation you need to worry about. When you experience stress, it can cause the muscles around your eyes to become tense, constricting your blood vessels and leading to problems like muscle spasms and soreness, as well as increasing the likelihood of you experiencing a migraine. 

Not good news but, while the effects of stress on your eyes are usually limited to being short-term, there is some evidence arising that repeated instances of stress could have more lasting consequences for your vision. 

Research published in the academic journal Applied Ergonomics examined the relationship between increased intraocular pressure (the fluid pressure inside your eyes) and prolonged stress, taking a look at 33 university students in and out of exam conditions. 

The study showed that students had higher levels of intraocular pressure during exam time, when they were more vulnerable to stress.1 

These findings are quite serious as, although intraocular pressure is unlikely to lead to glaucoma on its own, it can be a contributing factor therefore drawing a link between stress and glaucoma. 

How can you protect your eyes from stress?

When it comes to protecting your eyes from the effects of stress, prevention really is better than cure. You can’t possibly hope to protect your eyes without addressing the underlying cause which means that you have to confront and learn to manage troubling emotions such as stress and anxiety. Our Mental Health Advisor goes into more detail about how to tackle these problems over at A.Vogel Talks Mood but here I’m going to go over a few basic steps, plus I’ll discuss how you can support your eyes during this time too!

1 – Talk to someone

The old adage of a problem shared being a problem halved really does come to mind here. If you’re struggling to cope with anxiety or find yourself confronted by stress on a daily basis then it really is important that you talk to someone, whether it’s a colleague, friend or family member.  You may not want to dump all your feelings on this person but trust me, they may help you to see your problems from a new perspective and even if they aren’t able to directly offer a solution, the simple act of talking about your worries out loud can make you feel a whole lot better.

2 – Keep an eye on your eating habits

Stress and anxiety can sometimes increase your appetite as you turn to food for comfort. However, these cravings for sugary, carb-heavy foods can be problematic as Marianna discusses in her blog, ‘7 suggestions for changing stressful eating habits.’ 

Your eyes certainly won’t thank you for binging on these types of foods either which is why you should try to maintain a balanced diet full of lean protein, antioxidant-rich fruit and veg and healthy fats. It’s also important you look at what you’re drinking too – dehydration can definitely impact your mood and energy levels so make sure you’re drinking plenty of plain water, at least 1.5-2 litres a day.

3 – Don’t become sedentary

When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, the chances are you won’t be feeling particularly active. These emotions can definitely drain your energy levels but it’s still important to stay active. Instead of wilting away indoors, try to get outside to soak up the vitamin D. Get your body moving and your blood pumping – not only can exercising help to release happy hormones like endorphins but it can also boost your circulation too, increasing the supply of nutrients and oxygenated blood being transported to your eyes!

4 – Take some time out for you

When stress takes hold you may feel like you’re a hamster, perpetually running at wheel, trying to balance a whole host of commitments without actually getting any further forwards. Nevertheless, it’s important that you do create time for yourself, especially if you’re in a position where you’re trying to support other people, whether it is young children or ageing parents. You won’t be able to help them unless you help yourself first so set aside at least half an hour each day to do something you want to do, whether it’s catching up with your favourite TV programme or indulging in a relaxing bath!

Herbal helpers

When it comes to stress, herbal remedies can be a useful tool to help you manage the condition. Unlike conventional medications, they are rarely addictive and aren’t associated with the same distressing side effects. This is because they are much gentler and have a more gradual impact. 

When it comes to tackling the symptoms of stress and anxiety, here at A.Vogel we usually recommend our Stress Relief Daytime remedy. A combination of valerian root and hops, this remedy has a calming effect and can even help to improve your quality of sleep. Just mix 10-20 drops with a little water up two times a day.

What about your eyes though? If you feel as though the symptoms of stress are starting to affect your eyes then keeping them hydrated should be a priority. Eyes that are dry are more likely to be prone to irritation and strain so you may wish to invest in eye drops such as our Moisturising Eye Drops which contain extracts of the herb Eyebright, as well as hyaluronic acid. These ingredients are great for soothing irritation and discomfort! 

1https://www.rnib.org.uk/nb-online/exam-stress-glaucoma

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