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How Your Eyes Respond to Stress

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Blog

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EyeQue

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September 5, 2018

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You’ve probably heard the term “fight-or-flight” before, but what exactly does that mean? Fight-or-flight is a physical response to acute stress, whether that comes from something that is physical (like a car about to swerve into your lane) or psychological (like taking a written test that could have a huge impact on your future). Some of the physical manifestations of the flight-or-flight response are rapid breathing, increased heart rate, flushed skin, and an adrenaline burst, but your eyes are also affected!

The fight-or-flight response dilates your pupils, which allows more light to enter your eyes so that you can see your surroundings better. Your eyes do this so you can be more observant of the threat causing the response, whether it’s physical or psychological. When more light is let into your eyes, your brain can process information about your environment more quickly. And even if the threat is imaginary, your brain thinks it’s real, so the flight-or-flight response is still triggered.

Interestingly enough, if the threat is so strong that your body is producing an extremely high amount of adrenaline, you might experience tunnel vision. This is when your peripheral vision shrinks, reducing your field of vision to a tight circle in front of you. This makes it so your eyes are focused more on the immediate threat than other environmental details, but tunnel vision is generally not a good thing.

When your body initiates the fight-or-flight response, your body is designed to pump out adrenaline and keep your pupils dilated until the threat is gone. This could last a few minutes or a few hours, but it’s common for the physical effects of fight-or-flight to wear off after a few minutes. This means you shouldn’t try to take a vision test when your pupils are dilated from a fight-or-flight response. Yes, your vision will be sharper for a little bit, but it’s going to wear off!

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