One of the common side effects of anxiety is some form of distorted vision. The effects can further fuel anxiety and cause the person to feel worse than they already are. In this Sharepost I’m going to focus on the main causes of visual disturbances before outlining a couple of techniques to help take the edge off the sometimes distressing symptoms.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time listening to the various symptoms of anxiety; visual disturbance and eyestrain being some of the most common. This is nearly always related to the surge in adrenaline that accompanies anxiety and there’s no harm in spending just a few moments describing what’s happening.
Primary and secondary forms of anxiety have different effects. Primary anxiety is that part of our fight-or-flight system that energizes us to deal with some threat. Our body floods with adrenaline, sugars, fats and other hormones to allow us to take action.
Secondary anxiety, by contrast, has no particular focus. It manifests itself in terms of worry and concerns over whether certain tasks or activities are within the grasp of the individual. It’s hard to control, it interferes with performance and it can feed physical symptoms such as shaking, difficulty with walking, nausea, giddiness and distortions with vision.
In the case of chronic stress and anxiety, the level of adrenaline within the body remains elevated. This can cause pressure on the eyes, sometimes resulting in blurred vision. Tunnel vision is another feature of excessive adrenaline. This tends to occur at times high arousal or during a panic event.
Many people with long-term anxiety find they experience eyestrain during the day. A common feature of anxiety is hypervigilance and the anticipation of events that will increase stress. Vigilance actually affects all the senses but as far as vision is concerned our pupils dilate in response to adrenaline order to take in more of the surroundings. We become highly sensitized to any slight movement. Over time this and the strain from other senses can cause muscular tensions and headaches.
In some cases certain kinds of light appear more problematic. Flourescent lights can be a challenge, especially banks of them such as in shops. Other people may find halogen lights, again often when used in shops for display purposes, a problem.
Some people with anxiety find that wearing tinted lenses or sunglasses reduces sensitivity along with their anxiety and helps to stop headaches. Some people who wear prescription lenses have permanent tints or use the type that react to light. For one thing it means they have fewer problems moving between environments where there are strong variations in light levels.
I got quite used to seeing people arrive in all weathers wearing sunglasses. However, it wasn’t always the case that these were being worn to prevent headaches due to light sensitivity. Some people wore them in social situations because that’s where they felt most uncomfortable. In such situations the dark lenses acted as a kind of social barrier.
Wearing dark lenses isn’t really the solution to the problem, although for some people they clearly seem to have a place. The lenses are being used due to high arousal, so the emphasis should still be on trying to find ways to reduce this state of arousal.
Relaxation techniques, such as relaxed breathing and imagery exercises, are key to reducing anxiety. In time and with practice, they can be done while maintaining situational awareness, that is, during an activity and without having to close the eyes.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.