Starry-Eyed

images-2Some of the most disconcerting panic symptoms I’ve had have been visual; there’s nothing like going about your daily business when suddenly your field of vision narrows, small flashes and floaters appear, or your pupils dilate, turning the world around you into a dizzy, dissociated haze of sensory overload. A therapist once made me sit and stare at a blank white wall, noticing these bizarre and varied effects until they intensified, peaked, and finally faded from view. It was a  scary experience, despite the controlled nature of the experiment– the instinct to rub my eyes, close them, or look away, lest something “happen” to my vision, was strong. However, our little study reinforced the concept that, like all symptoms of anxiety, no real harm will come from these strange visual experiences, and facing rather than avoiding them will cause each one to eventually subside. This was very helpful. Though I still sometimes have to remind myself of this, I spend much less time fearing that I am randomly about to go crazy, deaf, or blind. Knowing that my odd symptoms are explicable and not remotely dangerous goes a long way toward helping me accept my anxiety, rather than fighting and fearing it.

Visual Symptoms Commonly Associated with Anxiety (not a complete list)

Light Sensitivity:

This can occur because anxiety’s fight-or-flight response causes your pupils to dilate, letting more light in than usual. While this can be helpful in an emergency, it isn’t generally necessary in our daily lives and can feel strange and uncomfortable.

Blurry Vision:

This is caused by anxiety provoking an increase in blood pressure and/or hyperventilation. It can be accompanied by dizziness and nausea. This can also be related to pupil dilation (see above).

Tunnel Vision:

This alarming sensation is not actually harmful– it just feels that way. Tunnel vision is your body’s way of eliminating any potentially distracting peripheral stimuli, creating a sort of laser focus to get you out of a dangerous situation. Allow yourself to accept the sensation and relax, and it will eventually fade.

Visual Snow:

Do you ever see a sort of “television static”, or graininess, in the air around you? Doctor’s aren’t exactly sure what causes visual snow, but it’s a common anxiety symptom, and won’t hurt you.

Flashes of Light:

Seeing flashes of light that aren’t really there can make you feel like you’re hallucinating. In fact, it’s just your eyes trying to adjust because they feel like they are being exposed to too much light. This can also be caused by an increased heart rate or by dehydration, and often accompanies pupil dilation (see above).

Do you have questions about visual symptoms, or want to share some of your own? Respond in the comments!

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