Contrary to popular belief, emotional distress isn’t “all in your head.” Major depression is a chronic illness that can both cause physical symptoms that are just as real and debilitating as any other health condition.
Some of the most common physical depression symptoms can include fatigue, chronic pain, and even weight loss. But there are other, more surprising physical symptoms of depression that you may not be aware of. In this article, we’ll explore some of the lesser-known physical symptoms of major depression, persistent depressive disorder and postpartum depression, as well as how to cope with them. If you experience depression, it’s important to be aware of the physical symptoms as well as the emotional ones. Recognizing these early signs can help you get the treatment you need before symptoms worsen or lead to severe depression.
How Depression Causes Physical Symptoms
Like many mental disorders, clinical depression doesn’t just affect your mood—it can also cause physical symptoms. In fact, clinical depression, also called major depressive disorder, is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and body aches. Depression can be diagnosed when 5 or more depression symptoms persist for two weeks or more time. According to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) and the American Psychiatric Association (AMA), there are several types of depression, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), bipolar disorder, perinatal depression, seasonal affective disorder, manic depression and persistent depressive disorder, as well as conditions that often co-occur with depression including anxiety disorders, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and other medical conditions. There are also many risk factors that can trigger depression, including abuse of recreational drugs, lack of emotional support, genetics, family history, trauma, and major life events. Depression is common and depression affects approximately 15% of adults in the United States at some point in their life.
It’s not entirely clear why depression or other mental disorders cause physical symptoms, but it is thought that even mild depression is related to chronic inflammation, which can also cause somatic and other symptoms. If you’re dealing with physical symptoms of depression or depressive disorders, it’s important to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. They can help you manage your depression and find ways to cope with your physical symptoms.
There are also some things you can do on your own to help manage your physical symptoms. As we explore the different physical signs, we will also look at some self-care tips that can help.
One of the most common physical signs and symptoms of depression is fatigue and difficulty sleeping. Fatigue difficulty sleeping is more than just feeling tired—it’s a deep exhaustion that doesn’t go away with rest. If you’re dealing with severe cases of fatigue, it can be hard to get through your day-to-day activities. It’s common to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed and have little energy to do anything about it.
Coping with fatigue:
Take short naps during the day if possible.
Exercise regularly (even a short walk can help).
Eat healthy foods and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Fatigue can be caused by numerous culprits when it comes to depression—poor sleeping habits, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition. You may also find that your depression is causing insomnia, early-morning awakening, and hypersomnia (sleeping too much). If you’re struggling with fatigue, it’s important to look at your lifestyle habits and see if there are any changes you can make to help improve your energy levels.
To help manage fatigue and other depressive symptoms, it’s important to get enough sleep. This can be difficult when you’re dealing with depression, but there are some things you can do to help yourself sleep better. Creating a bedtime routine and avoiding caffeine before bed can help you get the rest you need. Exercise can also help reduce fatigue. Even a small amount of exercise can help increase your energy levels. If you’re not used to exercising, start with some simple activities like walking or swimming.
Headaches can be a pain —literally. Depression is one of the most common causes of headaches, and they can range from mild to severe. If you’re dealing with headaches, you may find that over-the-counter medications don’t help as much as they used to. The pain can be constant or intermittent and can range from mild to severe.
To manage headaches, it’s important to identify the trigger. If you can avoid the trigger, you may be able to prevent the headache from happening in the first place. Common triggers include stress, bright lights, and long periods of screen time. If you can’t avoid the trigger, there are still things you can do to help relieve the pain.
Coping with headaches:
Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
Apply a cold or hot compress to your head.
Massage your neck and shoulders.
Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.
3. Muscle aches and pains
Depression can cause muscle aches and muscle pain, especially in the neck, back, and shoulders. The pain may be constant or come and go. Body aches due to depression are generally characterized by a dull, aching pain. The pain may worsen with stress or anxiety.
To manage muscle aches and pains, it’s important to get regular exercise. Exercise can help reduce symptoms, stress and improve your overall mood. It’s also important to stretch regularly and practice good posture. If you sit at a desk all day, make sure to take breaks and move around every few hours.
Some other general coping mechanisms include:
Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
Apply a heating pad or ice pack to the affected area.
Do gentle stretching exercises.
Take a hot bath or shower.
4. Gastrointestinal problems
Depression can cause gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. Many of these symptoms are related to depression, but can also be a result of some oral antidepressants that cause GI side effects. When dealing with gastrointestinal problems, it’s important to eat a healthy diet. A diet that is high in fiber can help with constipation. Avoiding triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food can help with diarrhea and nausea. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Water is the best option, but tea and clear soups can also help.
Here are some tips for coping with gastrointestinal problems:
Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fiber.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Talk to your doctor about medications that can help with constipation, diarrhea, or nausea.
5. Weight loss or gain
Weight gain or weight loss is a common symptom of depression. The changes in weight can be due to changes in appetite or how the body metabolizes food. Depression can cause a decrease in appetite, which can lead to weight loss. Alternatively, depression can cause an increase in appetite, which can lead to weight gain. Changes in weight can also be due to changes in activity level. Depression can cause a decrease in energy, which can lead to a decrease in physical activity. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain.
To manage weight changes, it’s important to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. If you’re not sure how to make these changes, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help you develop a plan that is right for you.
Some tips for eating a healthy diet include:
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Choose whole-grain products.
Limit saturated and trans fats.
Limit sugar and salt.
Some tips for getting regular exercise include:
Find an activity that you enjoy.
Start with small goals and gradually increase your activity level.
Exercise with a friend or family member.
Join a gym or fitness class.
Hire a personal trainer
6. Sleep problems
Depression can cause sleep problems such as insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much). This can be caused by chemical changes in the brain, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and a host of other factors. To manage sleep problems, it’s important to establish a regular sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day – even on weekends. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. It’s also important to create a relaxing bedtime routine. This could include taking a bath, reading a book, or stretching.
Some other tips for coping with sleep problems:
Establish a regular sleep schedule.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
Talk to your doctor about medications that can help with insomnia or hypersomnia.
7. Concentration and memory problems
Difficulty concentrating and memory problems are common depression symptoms. These problems can be caused by the changes in brain chemistry that occur with depression. To manage concentration and memory problems, it’s important to establish a routine. This could include setting aside time each day to work on a specific task. It’s also important to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. Some other tips for coping with concentration and memory problems:
Establish a routine.
Break down tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Use a planner.
Set reminders on your phone or computer.
Organize your thoughts and write things down.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
8. Sexual problems
Depression can cause sexual problems such as low libido, erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation. This can be due to the changes in brain chemistry that occur with depression. Sexual problems can also be caused by fatigue, depressed mood, negative body image, low self esteem, or relationship problems.
To manage sexual problems, it’s important to communicate with your partner. This can help you identify any factors that may be contributing to the problem. It’s also important to make time for intimacy and to be patient with yourself.
Some other tips for coping with sexual problems:
Communicate with your partner.
Make time for intimacy.
Seek counseling or therapy.
Join a support group for people with sexual problems.
Be patient and don’t pressure yourself.
Major depressive disorder can trigger symptoms of anxiety or make existing anxiety worse. While anxiety is usually characterized by feelings of fear, worry, and nervousness, it can also cause physical symptoms. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include trembling, racing heart, sweating, and dizziness.
To help cope when anxiety symptoms occur, it’s important to identify the things that trigger your anxiety and to avoid them if possible. It’s also important to develop healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and positive thinking.Some other tips for coping with anxiety:
Identify the things that trigger your anxiety.
Avoid the things that trigger your anxiety.
Develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.
Talk to a mental health professional.
10. Irritability and anger
Much like with anxiety, depression can cause irritability and anger or make existing irritability and anger worse. This can be caused by the changes in brain chemistry that occur with depression. It can also be caused by relationship problems, work stress, or other life stressors. The irritability and anger may be directed at yourself or others.
To cope with the anger – like with anxiety – it’s important to identify the root cause. Once you know what is causing the anger, you can develop healthy coping mechanisms. It’s also important to avoid making decisions when you’re feeling angry.
Some tips for coping with irritability and anger:
Identify the root cause of your anger.
Avoid making decisions when you’re feeling angry.
Develop healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, journaling, or talking to a friend.
Talk to a therapist or counselor.
Join a support group for people with anger management issues.
These are the ten most common physical symptoms of depression.
Depression is a medical condition and the physical symptoms of depression can be debilitating, but there are resources that can help. With a proper diagnosis and adequate depression treatment, it is possible to improve depression symptoms, their associated emotional and physical problems, and even go into full remission. Neuro Wellness Spa offer many effective treatments for depression and treatment resistant depression, including medication, talk therapy, TMS, ketamine therapy and more. It’s important to seek treatment. Give us a call today to find a depression treatment plan that works best for you.