People think of anxiety as a mental condition. But anxiety changes your body. During periods of intense anxiety – especially during anxiety attacks – your entire body goes into fight or flight mode, and you go through some immediate physical changes as a response.
During anxiety attacks, your body gets a rush of adrenaline. That adrenaline prepares your body to fight or flee, and one of the ways it does that is by dilating your pupils.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
Anxiety occurs when your fight or flight response is on overdrive. The more severe your anxiety is, the more that fight/flight response may trigger a change in pupils. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety severity, compare your anxiety to others, and see strategies to help you control it.
Malfunctioning Fight or Flight Response
Different anxiety disorders cause your fight or flight response to malfunction. For example, many believe that generalized anxiety disorder occurs when the body no longer knows how control the fight or flight response, often as a result of long term stresses.
What's interesting is that you can still regain control of your anxiety, and in turn stop your fight/flight response from malfunctioning.
Click here to take my anxiety symptoms checklist and get the treatment recommendations that you need.
Why Do the Pupils Dilate?
Dilated pupils can occur with any type of anxiety, but are most common during periods of intense anxiety that occur in the following conditions:
- Panic Disorder/Panic Attacks
Although it may occur during any period of severe anxiety.
Normally, when the fight or flight response is functioning properly, it should only activate during periods of intense fear – i.e., times when you will need to fight or run away. During those times, your body needs to have the best vision possible.
That is why your pupils dilate. When they dilate, your eyes are letting in more light and your vision temporarily improves.
Anxiety Attacks and Blurred Vision
Many of those suffering from anxiety attacks find it hard to believe that their vision improves, because they suffer from blurred vision, dizziness, or other visual symptoms.
But that blurred vision may be due to any number of factors. During fight/flight, the eyes may be too focused on one point, and the outside blurs. In addition, panic attacks often cause hyperventilation, and that can cause your vision to blur along with lightheadedness.
Finally, since the light isn't necessary to your anxiety attack, your eyes may blur as a reaction to the unnecessary extra light. Although pupils dilatation is meant to cause temporarily better vision, it's not better vision that you'll necessarily notice.
Pupil Constriction and Anxiety
Some people report pupil constriction when they suffer from anxiety. Constriction is when the pupils get smaller, rather than bigger as they do when they dilate. There doesn't appear to be evidence that anxiety causes pupil constriction, but when stress affects the body almost anything is possible.
Also, those with anxiety tend to be more prone to believing that something with their body is abnormal, so it's possible that your pupil constriction is normal based on your body's light needs, but looks abnormal to the person living with anxiety.
How to Reduce Pupil Constriction
Unlike other symptoms of anxiety, pupil dilation is not something you can control. There are no exercises to prevent pupil dilation, and you can't "talk your eyes down" from being dilated. Your pupils are a part of your body that are 100% automatic, so if they change size in any way, you simply have to wait for it to return to normal.
The "treatment" for pupil dilation is simply to control your anxiety. The good news is that there are plenty of techniques and treatments that are extremely effective at controlling your anxiety symptoms.
I've worked with many people that are upset over their pupil dilation, and I tell them all to start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. The test asks you about your symptoms and then compiles your information to give you a better understanding of your anxiety.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.