Anxiety May Cause Eye Pain

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Anxiety May Cause Eye Pain

It may seem strange that there should be a connection between anxiety and your eyes. 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 with anxiety do not experience symptoms related to their eyes or vision.

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 that their eye pain is caused by something more problematic.

The Causes of Eye Pain

The easiest way to tell if a pain or feeling is a symptom of anxiety is to determine 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 their eye pain is or is not connected to their stress. For some it may feel like the eye pain is what's causing the increase in stress - and this is entirely possible as well.

There are several potential reasons for eye pain. They include:

  • Pupil Dilation Anxiety disorders are linked to the activation of your fight or flight system - an evolutionary reflex designed to keep you safe in times of danger. One of the things that happens during the fight or flight response 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, this can also 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. Furthermore, some people may experience "silent migraines" which can cause many of the same symptoms of migraines but without the associated headache.
  • Muscle Tension Anxiety may also lead to tension spreading throughout 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.

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 during stress that the idea that anxiety might be linked to eye pain is not implausible.

Some people may also become over sensitive to their eye pain, because anxiety does have the effect of making people pay more attention to the way they feel, especially if it's something that causes them stress.

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 in this regard. In other words, it’s difficult to directly alter a bodily function that’s connected to a complex underlying neurological function. Nonetheless, 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 prevent future eye pain from developing as a result of anxiety.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

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You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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