Everyday life can be stressful. With deadlines, work, social commitments and pandemic concerns — to name a few — we’re constantly being tested and pushed to the limit.
Researchers are trying to determine exactly why stress appears to affect eye health and cause a range of eye and vision problems.
Note: Before assuming that your vision problems are stress-related, schedule a prompt eye exam with your optometrist to rule out an underlying eye condition. If you come out with a clean bill of health, try some of the relaxation tips below to help relieve your symptoms.
How Does Stress Affect the Eyes?
When you're stressed, your body releases cortisol, the hormone that’s responsible for stimulating your 'fight-or-flight' response.
Picture meeting a wild dog on your morning jog or speaking in front of a huge crowd. The mere thought of it can trigger a physical reaction in your body.
When faced with a potentially threatening or frightening situation you may feel your heart beating faster as your blood pressure rises and your breathing becoming more rapid, leaving you feeling breathless.
All of these physiological reactions help to prepare your body to fight your potential threat or run away from the dangerous situation. (It also explains the sweaty palms, dizziness and nausea we’ve all experienced at one time or other during a stressful event.)
Unfortunately, this surge of cortisol can disrupt the healthy blood flow between your eyes and brain, and lead to vision problems.
Moreover, chronic high stress has been linked to elevated intraocular pressure — the pressure inside your eyes — which increases your risk of optic nerve damage and glaucoma.
In a ground-breaking study published in the EPMA Journal in 2018, researchers investigated the link between stress and being diagnosed with a serious eye disease. While prolonged mental stress is clearly a consequence of vision loss, they said, it may also worsen eye conditions ”and be one of the major causes of visual system diseases such as glaucoma and optic neuropathy.”
This creates a "vicious cycle" where initial vision loss creates stress, which further accelerates vision loss, creating even more stress, the researchers concluded.
Symptoms of Stress-Related Eye Problems
- Blurry vision
- Eye strain
- Eye floaters
- Dry eye
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Eyelid twitch
How to Treat Stress-Related Vision Problems
Your stress-related visual symptoms should fade once your mind and body are relaxed.
Therefore, the best way to treat your visual symptoms is to de-stress.
Managing your stress levels is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself, so make self-care a priority — your future self will thank you.
Here are some tips to help you unwind and keep stress levels to a minimum:
- Practice deep breathing
- Eat healthy
- Exercise daily
- Get outside
- Journal your thoughts
- Get enough sleep
- Join a support group
If your visual symptoms don’t improve, contact Eyes of New Mexico Family Optometry and Contact Lenses in Albuquerque for an appointment.
Q: Can excessive screen time cause visual stress?
- A: In recent years, the amount of time people spend in front of the screen has increased dramatically. Prolonged screen time and digital device usage can lead to a condition called ‘digital eye strain’, which typically causes blurry vision, eye strain, headaches, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. Digital eye strain can worsen visual stress, so try to limit your screen time as much as possible.
Q: What can I do to maintain healthy vision?
- A: Many of the same healthy habits that protect your general health and keep your stress levels to a minimum also promote healthy eyesight:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of water to hydrate your body and eyes
- Avoid smoking
- Wear ultraviolet (UV) protected sunglasses when outside
- Take appropriate vitamin supplements
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