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Depression Symptoms: What Does Depression Feel Like?

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 2/14/2021

Are you worried that you might be depressed? While it’s normal to feel unhappy from time to time, persistent, severe feelings of sadness, despair and a loss of interest in life can be a sign that you’re suffering from depression

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting an estimated 21 million adults in the United States, or slightly more than seven percent of the entire adult population, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Like other mood disorders, depression can vary in severity. While some people experience a range of severe symptoms, others go through periods of mild depression.

If you suffer from depression, you may experience certain negative changes to your thoughts, feelings and behavior. 

Depression can also cause physical problems, ranging from changes to your body to difficulty maintaining healthy sleep habits.

There are numerous different forms of depression, including major depressive disorder (MDD, or clinical depression), persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), depressive psychosis, postpartum depression in both men and women, and several others.

If you think that you’re depressed, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms and reach out to a professional for help if you think you need it.

Below, we’ve listed the signs of depression, from the feelings you may experience to the changes that depression can cause to your day-to-day life. 

We’ve also talked about what you can do if you feel depressed and want to talk to someone about treatment options.

Emotional Symptoms of Depression

Depression can cause a large, diverse range of symptoms that change the way you think, feel and behave. 

It’s important to understand that depression can vary in severity, with no two cases exactly the same. 

While some people with severe depression may experience a wide range of severe, persistent symptoms, others with a more mild form of depression may only experience a few symptoms that come and go over time.

There are also a range of different types of depression, such as seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder, that may present with different symptoms than major depression.

Simply feeling sad or frustrated every now and then doesn’t necessarily mean that you suffer from depression. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, to be diagnosed with depression, you’ll typically need to experience one or several depression symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer. 

Below, we’ve listed the most common symptoms of depression, along with more information on how each symptom may affect your mood, behavior and daily life. 

Feelings of Sadness, Emptiness and/or Hopelessness

Persistent feelings of sadness, low mood, hopelessness and a bleak, empty outlook on life are all symptoms of depression. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), if you’re depressed, you may feel that your life isn’t getting better and that you have little or no ability to improve your situation.

While these feelings of worthlessness or sadness can occur from time to time for everyone, they can often be persistent and severe in people who suffer from depression.

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Anxiety, Restlessness and Irritability

It’s common to feel anxious, irritated and easily agitated when you’re depressed. You may feel stressed and have a shorter “fuse” than normal, causing you to become irritated when a person does something you don’t like. 

In general, you may feel like you have a low tolerance for certain things. In some cases, people with depression may even feel severely agitated or physically violent.

Reduced Interest in Hobbies, Socializing and Other Activities

People with depression often feel less interested in the hobbies, social activities and events that once pleased them. 

If you’re depressed, you may stop spending time on your hobbies and make less of an effort to take part in the activities you used to enjoy. 

Depression can also affect your level of interest in maintaining a social life. You might feel less motivated to talk with other people or attend social events. You may also withdraw from friends and family members.

Lack of Interest in Sex

In addition to affecting your level of interest in hobbies, socializing and maintaining relationships, depression can affect your sex drive and cause you to lose interest in having sex. 

Individuals with depression often have an imbalance of certain brain neurotransmitters. This may cause you to have a low or nonexistent level of interest in sexual activity. Sex may also feel less pleasurable than it normally does.

Difficulty Concentrating and/or Making Decisions

If you’re depressed, you may find it difficult to focus on certain tasks, whether work-related or in your personal life. 

You may struggle to concentrate and find that you can’t recall things as easily as you normally would.

Depression may also affect your ability to make decisions. According to an article published by Harvard Health, you may feel indecisive and struggle to make clear choices, adapt your goals to changing situations and take the necessary steps to get certain things done.

Self-Loathing and Harsh Self-Criticism

If you’re depressed, you may be overly harsh towards yourself and have a negative opinion of yourself as a person. 

You may criticize yourself harshly for what you perceive as weaknesses, faults, deficiencies or mistakes. Low self esteem is a common depressive symptom.

Reckless, Coping and/or Escapist Behavior

Some people with depression engage in risky, unhealthy coping behaviors, such as dangerous driving or sports. 

According to an article published in The Canadian Family Physician, escapist behavior, such as spending a lot of time at work or engaging in substance abuse, is also a common symptom of depression.

Thoughts of Death or Suicide

People with depression may think frequently about death and suicide. Some depressed people may even engage in self harm or make suicide attempts. 

If you have suicidal thoughts, you should seek help immediately. If you’re located in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free, confidential support and assistance.

Physical Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression can also mimic physical ailments like digestive issues and upset stomach. In fact, it’s quite common that depressed people will find their stomach ‘in knots,’ while experiencing feelings of hopelessness. 

Here are some additional physical symptoms that can happen with mood disorders (including depression) according to the National Institute of Mental Health: 

Difficulty Falling Asleep and/or Staying Asleep

If you suffer from depression, you might find it hard to fall asleep in a normal amount of time and stay asleep for the entire night. 

You may wake up often in the night or early morning, or spend a long amount of time struggling to fall asleep after going to bed.

Research published in the journal, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, shows that approximately 75 percent of adults affected by depression also experience some symptoms of insomnia. 

Sleep issues related to depression can often have a bidirectional relationship, meaning they may also contribute to the development of depression.

Difficulty Waking Up at a Normal Time

In addition to making it difficult to fall asleep at nighttime, depression may cause you to struggle to wake up at a normal time in the morning and feel excessively sleeping during the daytime.

This is known as hypersomnia, or excessive time spent sleeping. Data published by the Sleep Foundation indicates that around 15 percent of people with depression struggle with hypersomnia. 

Hypersomnia and insomnia may come and go during periods of depression, causing alternating sleep issues.

Fatigue or Lack of Energy

When you experience a depressed mood, you may feel like you have less energy than normal. 

You may feel sluggish and less capable of doing physical tasks than you normally are, and even small physical activity levels might make you feel fatigued and exhausted.

In general, your limbs and body might feel heavy, causing you to feel physically drained during the day.

Appetite Changes

Depression can affect your appetite, causing you to have a reduced level of interest in food and eat less than you normally would.

Depression may also increase your appetite, causing you to experience cravings for food and start over eating. 

Weight Fluctuations

Depressed people may rapidly gain and/or lose weight. While you might see weight loss as a good thing, talk to a healthcare professional if it’s unintentional, sudden and/or paired with other symptoms of depression. 

Unexplained Aches and Pains 

People with depression often experience physical symptoms that include pain, headaches and cramps without a clear, obvious cause. 

These symptoms range in severity and may not improve, even with a specific form of treatment.

Digestive Problems

Depression can also cause digestive issues — for example, research published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that between 50 percent and 90 percent of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) suffer from a psychiatric disorder which could include depression, an anxiety disorder, or other mental health disorders.

Slowed Movements or Speech

Some people with depression begin to talk, walk and move slower than normal. You, or your friends, family or colleagues, may notice that your speech and actions are “slowed down” when you have depression. 

Feelings of Restlessness

Many people with depression feel restless and experience difficulty resting, relaxing and sitting still. 

You may notice that you move around and fidget, wring your hands, pace or make other purposeless movements throughout the day.

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Understanding Depression: Final Thoughts

Depression is a serious mental illness that can have a lasting, significant negative impact on your life if it isn’t treated. 

If you’ve noticed one or several of the symptoms above and feel concerned that you might be depressed, it’s important to reach out for help from a trusted friend, family member or mental health professional.

You can discuss treatment options such as antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT or “talk therapy”) or online counseling. 

If therapy isn't your speed, online support groups are available right here on the hims platform.

Finally, your healthcare provider may recommend making certain changes to your lifestyle and habits. 

These may include setting goals for the near future, staying active, spending time with friends and family and avoiding social isolation.

For immediate support, contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on their 800-273-8255 hotline.

Most importantly, don’t wait. By identifying your symptoms and seeking help, you’ll put yourself in the strongest position to treat your depression and progress towards recovery.

14 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.