Anxiety disorders have a complicated network of causes. If visual stress is present, there is a reasonable likelihood that symptoms may be contributing to anxiety. For instance, visual stress is triggered by fluorescent lights and movement that can lead to physical discomfort and perceptual distortions in the environment, so it may be stressful to go to places with bright lights and busy crowds if pain and unexplained illusions or distortions are a common occurrence. If the anxiety is caused by the expectation of pain, nausea, perceptual distortions, or depth perception concerns, then visual stress should be investigated as a possible contributor to the anxiety.
Visual stress is not often diagnosed as contributing to learning, reading, concentration, writing or mathematics. Unfortunately, if it is not recognized and accommodated for, individuals may feel inadequate at school or work. The physical and perceptual problems associated with visual stress can make it harder to process and interpret visual information and therefore take longer to complete tasks, harder to understand the material, and more difficult to concentrate. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem and frustration.
We received referrals from Clinical Psychologists and Psychiatrists for clients who are experiencing “not yet diagnosed” symptoms of visual discomfort, perceptual distortions and vestibular issues, including some with reported anxiety in public spaces and when driving. We have been able to help these clients with individually prescribed coloured filter lenses that alter the visual triggers in their environment, neutralizing the effect of the images, removing the perceptual distortions, and reducing anxiety.
All of our clients have been pre-screened for symptoms and report perceptual distortions of some sort and to varying degrees. Seeing (in fact perceiving) things that are not there or that appear to be moving can be quite unsettling.
"I can’t drive anymore because I see things coming at me that I avoid, but they aren’t really there."
"I have trouble navigating patterned floors in public spaces, they look like they are moving and I’m afraid I’m going to fall."
"I avoid malls where there are open stairs and escalators as I start to get overwhelmed by all the movement and lights."
It is fair to say that these scenarios are uncomfortable and could quickly lead to stress, depression, anxiety and other adverse reactions, especially if they are thought to be made-up or malingering, as is often the case with these types of reported symptoms that have no apparent cause.
We recommend a full investigation with a specialist optometrist, in particular, a neuro-optometrist, to rule out any eye health, refractive error, or binocular issues that may be contributing to visual symptoms. Since visual stress can be present as well, we also recommend investigating for visual stress if any perceptual problems are identified.