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Can Anxiety Cause Tunnel Vision?


Tunnel vision or narrow vision can be quite an odd sensation to experience. It can feel like we’ve gone from living in cinemascope to watching everything through a narrower television ratio. However, there is a perfectly reasonable, survival-based reason for why this happens to us in times of stress and anxiety.


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 Tunnel Vision?

Tunnel vision actually has quite a simple and logical cause. When our fight, flight or freeze response is activated our caveman brain takes over to give us the best chance of survival. That’s why our heart rate increases, our breathing quickens and our muscles contract and tense. Our body also becomes hypersensitive, including all of our senses. We become more aware of our surroundings, what’s going on around us and what perceived threats might be around the corner and how we can best tackle them. 


So, our vision becomes more focused on what’s in front of us, on the thing or person we’re directly dealing with, choosing to ignore anything in our periphery as extraneous information that’s not relevant right now. That’s why the phrase tunnel vision is also used to describe someone who is solely focused on one task or ambition.

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.