Anxiety and the eye are not often connected. Your eyes are directly connected to an area of your brain that is generally less affected by hormones and neurotransmitters. Some people's eyes get dizzy or blurry during times of intense stress, but most people do not experience eye symptoms.
But a small number of people living with anxiety do experience eye pain, and because the symptom is not as common as other anxiety symptoms, many of those people worry their eye pain is caused by something else - something more problematic.
Eye Pain = Anxiety?
Eye pain can genuinely be caused by anxiety. If the eye pain is too disruptive, talk to an eye doctor first. But if you find that your eyes are in good health, anxiety is often the cause. Eye pain almost never occurs alone. Take my anxiety test to find out what other symptoms may be related to your anxiety and how they're all connected.
The Causes of Eye Pain
The easiest way to tell if a pain or feeling is a symptom of anxiety is whether or not it appears to get worse during times of stress. Still, for some that can be tricky - those with generalized anxiety disorder, for example, are often feeling stress, and this can make it difficult to tell when it's getting "worse" or "better." For some it may feel like the eye pain is what's causing the increase in stress.
My 7 minute anxiety test is the best place to start understanding your symptoms, since it will allow you to compare your symptoms to others and receive information on what your anxiety is like.
There are several potential reasons for eye pain. They include:
- Pupil Dilation Anxiety disorders are the uncontrollable activation of your fight or flight system - an evolutionary system designed to keep you safe in times of danger. One of the things that is activated during fight or flight is pupil dilation, which is believed to help your eyes draw in more light in case you need better vision to fight or flee. Unfortunately, when this goes unused, it can cause your eyes to experience more pain from the over-abundance of lighting, similar to looking at the sun.
- Eye Strain For similar reasons, anxiety can make your eyes a bit more blurry and make it harder to focus. So when you do focus, this may be causing you to experience some eye strain. Eye strain can be quite painful, and in some cases is made worse if you already have slightly affected vision.
- Migraines Stress also causes migraines, and migraines can cause both eye pain and vision problems. Not all migraines cause headaches either. Some people may experience "silent migraines" which can cause many of the same symptoms of migraines but without the associated headache.
- Muscle Tension Anxiety also tenses all of the muscles in your body, and in some cases this can lead to severe muscle tension around your eyes and face. That muscle tension can occasionally lead to very intense pain that may radiate around any single eye or both eyes, depending on where the tension occurs.
- Stress Responses Stress also simply changes the way your body works. It's highly likely that some component of stress alters hormones or increases tension in a way that hurts your eyes and vision.
Some of the causes of eye pain from anxiety are not entirely clear, but there are so many things that happen to people's bodies, and everyone's eyes are different, so the idea that anxiety can cause unexplained eye pain as well is not an unusual one.
Some people may also become more sensitive to eye pain, because anxiety does have the ability to force people to pay more attention to the way they feel, especially if it's something that causes them stress.
Overall, eye pain is still not the most common anxiety symptom, but it's by no means a rare one, and one that many people with anxiety deal with regularly.
Is There a Way to Reduce Eye Pain?
Eye pain can be problematic, and make it far more difficult to focus on work or life in front of you. That's why so many people hope to stop anxiety eye pain as quickly as possible.
The problem is that it's not that simple. There are some anxiety symptoms that you can control, but your eyes are a bit of a wild card. They tend to feel the way they're going to feel. Some people find that closing their eyes for a while can help - especially if there is some eye strain involved.
In general, what you need to do is learn to control your anxiety symptoms. Only then can you successfully beat and prevent future eye pain from anxiety.
I've helped thousands upon thousands of people with eye pain control their anxiety. Each one I start off with my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test is designed to look at each symptom, educate you on it, and devise a strategy for overcoming your anxiety altogether.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.