How Stress Can Affect Your Eyes

With the growth of digital media and online, work from home policies in the lockdown, people have been more stressed than ever before. Added to the anxiety of actually contracting the virus and possibly infecting loved ones too, this has taken a toll on the population’s well-being and only added to their skyrocketing stress levels.

We all know the dangers of stress and the chronic problems that too much of it can cause with regards to physical, mental, and emotional health. Yet, far too often, we overlook the life-long damage to the eyes that a stressful and hectic daily routine can bring about.

Also, read How To Deal With Entrepreneurial Stress

What is stress?

The Cleveland Clinic defines stress as the “reaction [that] the body has when changes [stressors] occur, resulting in physical, emotional and intellectual responses… Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations.” Simply put, stress is the body’s natural response to, well, stressful conditions in the environment.

How does stress affect the body?

The body’s automatic stress response— the fight-or-flight mode is regulated by the autonomic nervous system which is in charge of the heart rate, breathing, vision changes, and more. When exposed to stress, all these factors change with the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which boost the heart rate, rush blood to the extremities and prepare the body for uncertain and potentially dangerous situations.

Stress can be both positive and negative. On one hand, it boosts mental alertness and motivation and keeps one physically ready to avoid dangerous situations, but on the other hand, it becomes dangerous when such conditions are sustained for a long time without any relaxation. Chronic exposure to stress has been known to have adverse effects on the body and the mind, some of which are listed below.

What conditions are caused by stress?

Stress affects almost every major organ in your body, which in turn, impacts your overall health and well-being. WebMD lists a couple of the following diseases that have been linked to stress through proven research

  • Heart Disease
  • Obesity
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Diabetes
  • Migraines
  • Mental health issues
  • Accelerated aging and premature death

There are a lot of progressive and degenerative diseases which are also accelerated by the addition of stress. Some examples include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, ataxia, and asthma among others.

Can stress affect your eyes?

In short, yes. As mentioned above, there are many easily avoidable health conditions that are caused by unnecessary stress in your day-to-day lives. One of the most troubling among these is issues with the vision, which can quickly progress and become debilitating in the long run. Let us now take a hard look at how stress can affect your eyes.

How stress can affect your eyes

Barbara Horn, OD and president of the American Optometric Association says, “Many patients are not always aware of the impact of stress on their visual health and function… The ocular impact of stress may range from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating vision loss.” When the body experiences stress, the pupils in the eye dilate so that more light can enter the eye to allow you to see potential physical threats with clarity. This is facilitated by the production of adrenaline, and too much of this hormone puts pressure on the eyes, which ultimately causes blurred vision. You could also suffer from tunnel vision, increased light sensitivity, dry or watery eyes, light spots, eye strain, and even spasms.

Stress may also cause your eye to twitch repeatedly and become sore in a benign condition known as lid myokymia. This usually affects the orbicularis oculi where the muscle keeps contracting temporarily, but it resolves pretty soon once the causing factors are removed.

When the body is in a continuously stressed state, it causes elevated cortisol levels. High levels of cortisol in the blood have been linked to eye and brain damage since they disrupt the blood supply to these organs.  A few of the many serious eye-related conditions that you might develop with consistently high cortisol include glaucoma which occurs when the nerve connecting the eye to the brain gets damaged, diabetic neuropathy, light intolerance, and optic neuropathy.

Most importantly, stress can lead to temporary or permanent vision loss as well. A variety of factors like age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, Central Serous Retinopathy (CRS), nystagmus, or other prevalent eye issues, when combined with the effects of stress might eventually lead to impaired vision or total blindness.

Moreover, there have been reports of the psychosomatic effects of stress as well, where psychologically suppressed emotions like anger, sadness, or trauma can unconsciously cause a conversion reaction where the issues with the vision can be aggravated by stress.

In addition to causing all of these new factors, prolonged stress can also aggravate existing eye conditions and make them worse as time goes on, the old saying that prevention is better than cure has never been truer than in this case.

How to combat stress

There are lots of things that you could do to keep the stress at bay and lead a healthier life. Take a look at the following tips that will allow you to limit the stress on your eyes and in your day-to-day activities:

  • Practice mindfulness
  • Set aside time for simple or guided meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Take small 5-minute breaks at work
  • Limit your screen time and exposure to social media
  • Plan your schedule beforehand
  • Use blue lens glasses while working on your computer for extended periods
  • Stop procrastinating and organize your priorities
  • Enjoy time with your family and friends
  • Look into stress management training and talk therapy

Final Takeaway

Stress is an unavoidable aspect of the hectic, modern life, and especially more so if you’re an entrepreneur or a working person. However, there are also lots of precautions that you can take to stave off the not-so-great health effects of stress. By following them diligently, you are sure to notice a significant change in both, your physical and mental state in no time!