How Your Eyes Respond to Stress

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man user

EyeQue Team

man user

September 5, 2018


Fight or Flight

You’ve probably heard the term “fight-or-flight” before, but what exactly does that mean? Fight-or-flight is a stress symptom. There are physical triggers (like a car about to swerve into your lane) and psychological triggers (like taking a written test that could have a huge impact on your future). Some of the physical symptoms of the fight-or-flight response are:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Flushed skin
  • Adrenaline burst

But did you know your eyes are also affected by stress?

Visual Stress Symptoms

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 reaction. When more light enters into your eyes, your brain can process information about your environment more quickly. Even if the threat is imaginary or minuscule, your brain thinks it’s real, so the stress response is still triggered.

If stress is heightened, your body produces an extremely high amount of adrenaline, that can cause 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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