physical signs of depression
By Michelle Robinson

The health of our mind and the health of our bodies is undeniably linked, though often they are treated as being separate from one another. Think about when you’ve been going through a stressful time and your shoulders have ended up full of knots. Or if you’re worried and your stomach can’t settle; this is your emotions impacting on your physical health.

With depression, the major indicators are emotional. You feel sad, hopeless, and empty. But what many people soon come to realise is that depression comes with physical symptoms too. You might get aches and pains, get a stomach ache, or your weight might change. Physical symptoms that accompany persistent feelings or sadness can be among the first signs of depression. Knowing what they are can help you seek treatment sooner.

The physical signs of depression

Aches and pains

If you are depressed you can get aches and pains all over your body for no apparent reason. But it’s not just in your head. Depression and pain are governed by the same nerve pathways and the same brain chemicals. So this might explain why people with depression can often feel physical pain.

The nature of the illness itself can result in aches and pains too though. Back and muscle aches might result from a lack of exercise, or a lack of self-care in general. This is a problem for many people who have depression.

When people are depressed, they often get headaches from muscle tension, and chronic pain can often get worse. Heat packs or ice packs can help to soothe tense or achy muscles, but if you find that the aches and pains start to become unmanageable, speak to your doctor about a pain management plan.

Digestive problems

When you’re stressed or anxious, the levels of the body’s stress hormone cortisol can increase. This puts our body in a state of ‘fight or flight’, and blood is moved away from our digestive systems to the muscles. This can lead to digestive issues. Symptoms similar to IBS are common in people suffering from depression. If you already have Crohn’s disease or an ulcer, you will notice symptoms flare up when stressed or depressed.

You might find that your appetite changes when you’re depressed. This can be due to the illness itself, or the side effects of medication. You might lose your appetite or you may find that you eat more. Eating a balanced diet is important to keep your mood and energy balanced, and light exercise can help your digestive system to function normally. It also has a huge effect on reducing anxiety.

Trouble with sleep

Good quality sleep is crucial for our mental and physical wellbeing because it gives our bodies and minds time to rest and regenerate. People with depression have trouble getting to sleep. They might also wake up through the night and find that they’re unable to get back to sleep. Around a third of people with depression also sleep much more than normal. Everyone suffers bouts of insomnia from time to time, but if your sleep troubles are becoming the norm, it might be a sign of depression.

Chest pains

Depression increases the risk of developing heart disease. Research into the exact link is ongoing, but it’s thought that stress and the hormone changes that depression causes in the body are to blame. To reduce your risk, avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol, and eat a balanced diet and take regular exercise.

Anxiety and panic attacks can cause chest pains, shortness of breath and palpitations. Of course, if you are getting other physiological signs of a heart problem, it’s sensible to get it checked out. But if you notice your chest pain is triggered by an emotional response, it could be a sign of depression or anxiety.

Weak immune system

Depression can weaken your immune system and make you more prone to getting ill. Not looking after yourself properly, plus the effects of feeling anxious and isolated, can lead to you picking up every bug going. To give your immune system a boost, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.

Moving, speaking, and doing everything slowly

When you have depression, you can feel very fatigued, as if your mind and body are weighed down. This can make you feel as if your brain has slowed down, and it’s hard to process information and make decisions. If you feel like this, it’s okay to take things slowly. Just take baby steps, and use techniques like mindfulness to boost your concentration and focus.

Tired muscles

Depression can make you feel exhausted. This means you move around less and this can weaken your muscles so they ache more with any exertion. Vigorous exercise can be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re depressed. Remember you don’t have to push yourself hard. Gentle exercise like yoga or walking is beneficial for mind and body.

Weight changes

Depression can affect your appetite. It can either reduce your appetite so you lose weight, or it can increase your appetite, and you may end up eating for comfort. The tiredness depression causes can reduce your motivation to cook so you might end up relying on unhealthy convenience food. You may also spend longer in bed which can lead to weight gain, just because you’re less active.

If you experience any excessive weight loss or gain, see your doctor, as this could be a sign that you have depression.

When to see your doctor

Depression is so closely associated with emotional symptoms and mood changes that the fact it can cause physical symptoms is often forgotten. But the state of your mind has an impact on your body and vice versa. If you are experiencing physical symptoms which can’t be explained by another health condition, see your doctor. Get the treatment you need, sooner rather than later.

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