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Is Stress Affecting Your Vision?

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Did you know that your eyes are an extension of your brain? There are six muscles connected to each eye, and they receive signals from the brain. These signals direct your eyes' movements and thus control their ability to focus. When you are stressed, your brain goes through a number of changes and signals some of your body’s glands to release hormones in an attempt to deal with the stressor. With the brain undergoing all of these alterations, the eyes may become impacted as a result of their close connection.

What is Stress?

Stress is largely a physical response. When a person becomes stressed, the body releases a variety of hormones and chemicals, including adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. This is the body's way of preparing itself for "fight or flight" mode--the stressor is perceived as an attack. To handle the assumed assault, blood is diverted to the muscles, unnecessary bodily functions are temporarily shut down (e.g. digestion), your pupils dilate to give you a better view of the threat, your mind becomes more alert, your ability to hear becomes quite impeccable and a rush of energy gives you that superhuman feeling. Great for when there's a fire or earthquake, or when you are trying to avoid a car accident, but chronic, long-term stress puts the body under duress.

Common Causes of Stress

Stress truly is individual. While there are common causes of stress that many people encounter and can relate to, some individuals are able to deal with them better than others and not internalize it to the point where it becomes a major stressor that impacts their daily lives. So, for instance, some who have gone through a divorce may find that they have become physically ill or emotionally wrecked because children are involved and finances have to be sorted, and the two parties can't seem to do so amicably.  However, others may find peace following a divorce because perhaps the relationship had been strained for years and the two had come to a decision together that they are better off without one another. This then can pave the way for them to decide, in good spirit, who will have the children and when, as well as how finances will be split. 

That said, there are additional events or circumstances that could produce stress:

•The death of a loved one

•Loss of a job or decrease in wages

•The burden of additional financial obligations

•Being unhappy in one's job or working in a high-pressure job

•Moving to a new city, state or country

•Chronic illness or injury

•Emotional upset (grief, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, guilt, anger, fear)

•Caregiving for a loved one who is chronically or terminally ill

•Trauma, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you

What Happens to Your Eyes When You are Stressed?

When you suffer from stress, adrenaline is pumped through the body at great speeds, putting pressure on the eyes and causing the pupils to dilate. When the pupils dilate, more light is allowed to enter the eyes, giving us a better view of the world around us. However, if too much light enters during a moment of stress, or if you go through repeat states of stress and light penetrates the eyes, the following can occur:

• Poor vision

• Light sensitivity

• Eye aches and strain

• Blurriness

• Eye twitching

• Eye floaters

• Tunnel vision

• Headaches

These symptoms may also develop due to the muscles in the face tightening and blood vessels in the eyes constricting, which are other ways the body reacts to stress. These eye conditions should only be temporary and last no more than one hour.

Quick Tips to Relieve Stress in the Moment

Studies show that stress has a much greater impact on your physical being than headaches and visual impairment. Stress, if not managed, can lead to heart attack, stroke, digestive issues, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.  Therefore, it is recommended that you attempt to relieve stress in the moment and control it by:

• Closing your eyes and perhaps even lying down or leaning back

• Taking deep breaths and/or meditating

• Finding a distraction to take your mind off of the stressor (e.g. looking at images of loved ones or squeezing a stress ball)

• Exercising (e.g. walking, running, yoga, etc.)

• Distancing yourself from the stressor

When Stress Relieving Tips Don't Work

If your vision problems persist over a matter of days or weeks, you may want to consider seeing your physician. He or she can perform a number of tests to determine whether there is a non-stress related cause contributing their occurrence.

If stress is simply the cause of your eye problems, an optometrist can prescribe tinted lenses or other visual aids. Oftentimes people with long-term anxiety and stress experience eye strain and hypersensitivity to light, especially during the day when light is at its greatest. Any slight movement can cause visual disturbance and, over time, the strain put on the eyes can lead to muscular tension and tension headaches. Wearing tented lenses can help with light sensitivity and ease eye strain, as well as minimize head pain.

Therapy, along with stress-relieving tactics, may also be used to help you overcome stressors or, at the very least, minimize the impact the stressor has on you, your health and your vision.