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Can Anxiety Cause Light Sensitivity?


Whenever something happens to affect our eyes or our vision it can be very worrying to experience. After all, so much of our life is contingent on our sight. If we’re suffering with anxiety and a problem with our vision occurs it can lead to further worry about our health and the knock-on effects, causing a cycle of anxiety that perpetuates these physical symptoms. 


However, eye problems such as light sensitivity are not symptoms that occur in isolation. They’re normally accompanied by an increase in heart rate and hyperventilation. These symptoms are often triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our 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. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.


Why Does Anxiety Cause Light Sensitivity?

When our fight, flight or freeze response is activated, our heart rate increases in order to circulate blood and oxygen to the muscles and organs that need it the most. Our pupils also dilate so that we can see better and make quicker decisions about our safety. This is why our eyes feel so much more sensitive when we think we’re in danger. 


From an evolutionary standpoint this was to help us see better in the dark, or be more alert to slight movements. Nowadays, this is less necessary on a daily basis – life or death scenarios aren’t around every corner.


This light sensitivity can be unnerving and sometimes painful if our fight, flight or freeze response lasts for a long period of time. If this is the case, we can often worry that something is wrong with our sight, leading to further anxious episodes. 


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

As with many anxiety- associated symptoms, the key lies not in stopping the symptom, but treating the anxiety itself. However, in the moment, you can try breathing exercises to calm your nervous system and quell the fight, flight or freeze response. This should help to lessen your physical response to the anxiety and your pupil should return to normal.


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.