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Can Anxiety Cause Eye Pain?


Eye pain can be disconcerting at the best of times, after all our vision is one of the senses we use most often, but it has been linked to anxiety. This being said, eye pain can be a sign of many other conditions so if you are concerned please contact your doctor.


As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze. 


Why Can Anxiety Cause Eye Pain?

There’s a few reasons as to why anxiety can cause eye pain, the first being that when our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode our senses are heightened in order to successfully deal with the perceived threat that’s in front of us, including focusing our vision. This is fine in small doses, but when we’re anxious a lot these experiences tend to happen more often and for longer periods of time. When this happens, our eyes can feel strained and can either go a bit blurry or we experience pain in or behind the eyes. 


Another reason is that when we’re in this survival mode our muscles tighten to make us more resilient to harm. This isn’t just our larger muscles like our legs or back, but also the muscle around our eyes that help control our eye movement. So, the longer these muscles are taut and strained, the more sore they’re going to be afterwards.


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and allow it to become deeper and longer. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our senses, including our vision to return to their normal state.


Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.