This article discusses mental health concerns. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts, you can dial 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
In healthcare, the intricate connections between aspects of the human body often unveil surprises. One intriguing association is the link between eye health and mental well-being. In comparison, vision and mental health may seem like distinct domains, scientific studies increasingly show that the health of our eyes really does impact our mental health. What does this connection mean for you? At Medical Eye Center, our passion for research and new advances enhances our comprehensive patient care. Here are a few ways that your eye health can impact your mental wellness:
Digital eye strain and stress:
In the digital era, prolonged screen time has led to the widespread issue of “digital eye strain.” This condition is characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, dryness, headaches, and blurred vision. A study in the BMJ Open Ophthalmology in 2018 revealed a compelling correlation between extended screen use, the onset of digital eye strain, and heightened stress levels. This connection suggests that the impact of excessive screen time extends beyond physical discomfort to significantly influence mental health. The reasons behind this correlation are diverse, including reduced blink rates, dry and fatigued eyes, triggering stress responses, and the disruptive effects of blue light on circadian rhythms. Some things that are recommended to help this phenomenon are utilizing the 20-20-20 rule and making screen adjustments.
Light exposure and circadian rhythms:
In addition to screen exposure, a lack of natural light can impact our body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms, governing our sleep-wake cycle, are intricately linked to the daily ebb and flow of light and darkness. Acting as crucial receptors for these vital light signals, our eyes actually initiate a series of physiological responses that influence our body’s internal clock. In 2014, a study published in Nature Neuroscience showed the impact of natural light exposure on mental health. Disruptions in this process have been associated with imbalances in circadian rhythms, leading to disturbances in sleep patterns and mood regulation. Acknowledging this complex interplay emphasizes the importance of cultivating an environment that supports healthy light exposure. To combat this, experts recommend regular exposure to natural daylight and minimizing artificial light in the evenings.
Neurological health and aging:
As we age, changes in both eye health and cognitive function become more pronounced. Some researchers suggest “that vision and hearing loss is correlated with age-related cognitive decline, and with a higher risk of developing dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease” (Source). This revelation emphasizes the importance of early preventative care in maintaining visual and cognitive health. At Medical Eye Center, we emphasize timely intervention for conditions like glaucoma and cataracts, in the hopes of mitigating risk of decline in daily activities and independence. Because of this, we recommend maintaining your annual comprehensive eye exams, and addressing any potential visual issues right away.
Depression and eye health:
According to the CDC, one in four adults with vision impairment also suffer from anxiety or depression. Recognizing the psychological impact, the CDC recommends routine screenings for depression and anxiety among individuals with vision loss. Moreover, the emotional toll of vision loss extends beyond depression, encompassing feelings of loneliness, isolation, and worry. The predominant emotion is helplessness, signifying the acknowledgment that not everything can be controlled and highlighting the significance of what one values. For instance, the loss of independence, such as the ability to drive or handle daily needs can trigger feelings of deep loss and grief. One common theme is that unsolicited assistance can exacerbate feelings of helplessness in individuals with vision loss. Therefore, it’s crucial to have healthcare providers who respect and uphold their autonomy.
Amidst the added complexity of eye health, coupled with the seasonal affective disorder that can often affect many of us in the Pacific Northwest, it’s crucial to be aware of your mental health. Check-in with yourself and with loved ones, especially over the holidays. This can be some of the hardest times of year for many people, so please don’t try to battle it alone. Ask for help, talk to someone, seek options. Recognizing the potential struggles and proactively seeking assistance can make a significant difference during these times of the year. As always, our compassionate team here at Medical Eye Center is here to support and uplift you, and you can access additional local resources here.