Anxiety and Vision Problems

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

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 article, 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.

The role of adrenaline

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.

Variations of light levels

In some cases certain kinds of light appear more problematic. Fluorescent 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 and situational awareness

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.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of