Physical Symptoms

How Anxiety Can Cause Sore Eyes

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How Anxiety Can Cause Sore Eyes

Anxiety - a common condition affecting nearly 20% of Americans and millions more around the world - also has its own vision symptoms. One of the most common is sore eyes, which can be both caused by anxiety and a secondary symptom to other anxiety issues.

The Causes of Vision Issues From Anxiety

Sore eyes may not seem like it should be an anxiety symptom. But there are literally hundreds of anxiety symptoms that don't seem to fall under the idea that people have of "anxiety."

Anxiety doesn't specifically make your eyes sore. What it does do is increase the likelihood of making your eyes stressed, which in turn leads to soreness. It can do this in any number of ways:

  • Dilated Pupils Anxiety causes pupil dilation. This is part of the fight or flight system, and while scientists aren't completely sure how dilated pupils improve your ability to respond to danger, there is some evidence that dilating your pupils helps you take in more information that may allow you to respond quickly to visual movements (like you would need to if you were in a fight). Unfortunately, since there is no fight, your pupils can be dilated for an extensive period of time, and that may lead to eye strain which causes sore eyes.
  • Blurry vision Anxiety does appear to cause the eyes to lose a bit of focus and become more blurry than they would be normally. This blurriness is usually minor (although not always) and in some cases you may not even realize it's occurring. But it will cause you to squint more and cause your eyes to work harder, and that may lead to eye pain.
  • Eye Muscles All of the muscles in the body are tensed when you have anxiety, and they start to experience tension. That can cause a feeling of strain in your eyes and that can lead to pains that start to ache more and more over time.
  • Lack of Sleep It may not even be that complicated. Anxiety can make it much harder for you to get a restful night's sleep. Tiredness and sleep deprivation commonly cause eye pain and discomfort, so you may simply be dealing with the effects of having your sleep schedule ruined.

These are just a few of the ways that anxiety may cause eye soreness. Another thing to remember is that when you have anxiety, you're also more prone to noticing every single discomfort you feel in your body. Your mind becomes so attuned to the way you feel that any soreness, even if it's normal, is noticed immediately, and when you focus on these types of aches and pains it's not uncommon for them to feel more severe than they normally would.

Since eye strain is pretty common these days, experiencing some eye soreness in your day to day life is common even if you don't have anxiety. If you also are more sensitive to your soreness and discomfort, it's going to feel far more severe.

Ways to Reduce Eye Soreness From Anxiety

Attacking this eye soreness starts by simply addressing the causes within your control. That means first going to an eye doctor and making sure your vision is in the best of health and getting a good night's sleep to reduce any normal eye strain. You should also:

  • Reduce Computer Eye Strain Focusing on small text, especially in the dark, already causes eye strain. If your vision is also affected by anxiety, the strain may increase. So make sure that you only use the computer in well-lit rooms, decrease computer time if possible, increase the size of text, and use your glasses when relevant. Computer eye strain is extremely common and possibly worse when you have anxiety, so addressing this issue directly can help.
  • Give Your Eyes a Break Generally it's best to avoid being inactive, and obviously when you close your eyes you can't exactly engage in many activities. But if you're starting to feel eye aches, it may be a good idea to sit back and close your eyes for a while. Give your eyes a bit of a rest from any computers, text, or anything that causes eye discomfort.
  • Go For a Run Running doesn't have a direct effect on eye strain, but it does relax the muscles and reduce anxiety. Running appears to release neurotransmitters in the brain that improve mood, and also has the ability to tired muscles out - even those in your eyes - to reduce anxiety tension.

Using these strategies you should be able to decrease some of the strain you place on your eyes on a regular basis, which in theory should reduce at least some of the eye soreness you experience. It won't stop all of the effects of anxiety, since these strategies are not designed for anxiety, but it should decrease some of the instances of eye strain. You'll still need to reduce your anxiety directly.

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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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