Physical Symptoms of Depression
Depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a mood disorder that causes recurring and sometimes constant feelings of sadness and lack of interest. Someone diagnosed with depression may find it difficult to do simple, everyday tasks or feel that life isn’t worth living.
It’s not known what exactly causes depression. A variety of factors may be involved, such as biological differences, brain chemistry, trauma, hormones or inherited traits.
Depression can’t always be quickly solved, and it is a mental health disorder that may require long-term treatment with medication, psychotherapy or both. While we typically associate depression with emotional pain, signs and symptoms like crying and feeling hopeless, depression can also manifest in different types of physical pain.
For some, depression may occur only once, like after a challenging life event such as the loss of a job. However, people typically have multiple episodes of depression. During these depressive episodes, symptoms can occur the majority of the day or sometimes every day. These symptoms include:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability or frustration
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Trouble thinking and making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems and pain
For many people with depression, their symptoms are severe enough to affect day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities and relationships with others.
Depression hurts—and not just emotionally; depression can manifest as physical pain, too. Treating physical symptoms of depression is just as important as treating the emotional symptoms. Some of the most common physical symptoms of depression include:
- Sleep Problems: Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Chest Pain: Not very common, see your doctor to rule out other causes. Depression can also raise your risk of heart disease
- Fatigue and Exhaustion: Feeling too tired to complete everyday tasks, even if you’ve gotten eight hours of sleep. Depression and fatigue combined tend to make both conditions feel worse
- Chronic Bodily Pain and Headaches: Because depression and physical pain share chemical messengers in the brain, depression can often lead to chronic aches and pains
- Digestive Problems: Our brains and digestive systems are strongly connected, which is why many of us experience stomach aches or nausea when we’re stressed or worried
- Changes in Appetite or Weight: Some people lose their appetite with depression. Others can’t stop eating
- Agitated and Restless: Lack of sleep and overall unhappiness can cause agitation
- Sexual Problems: You may lose interest in sex. Some prescription drugs that treat depression can also affect libido
There’s no sure way to prevent depression, as everyone responds to treatment differently. However, these strategies may help:
- Take steps to control stress by finding a healthy outlet for your emotions; this can increase your resilience and boost your self-esteem
- Reach out to family and friends, especially in times of crisis
- Consult a mental health care professional and seek treatment at the earliest sign of a problem
- Consider getting long-term maintenance treatment, such as therapy and medication, to help prevent a relapse of symptoms
Pain is Another Way Your Brain Communicates
Because depression and pain are influenced by similar chemicals in the brain, depression and any accompanying physical symptoms must be treated together to reduce and/or cure signs and symptoms.
If you’re experiencing any of these physical problems for a prolonged period of time, make an appointment with your doctor. If you suspect these physical issues might be related to mental illness, request to be screened for bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. This way, your healthcare provider can connect you with the medical treatment that you need.