Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/21/2021
From the way people around you talk, it can sometimes seem like everything is a sign of depression. Sleeping late? Depression. Can't eat? Depression. Weight gain? Depression. Can depression also cause symptoms like physical pain? You bet.
Depression affects your body in more than one way, and emotional symptoms during periods of depression are what we tend to think about. But symptoms aren’t limited to how your brain feels — they can take on more specific, physical forms, too.
Chronic pain is just one of many physical symptoms of the mental disorder depression, and while things like lack of energy and avoiding social activities may be better known to most people, it's the aches, pains and other physical symptoms of this mental illness that can be the most difficult to address and treat.
If you think your physical symptoms may be related to depression, it's important to seek help for both, because depression is treatable.
Read on to learn more about depression and how it can manifest physically in your body.
You likely already know this: Depression is a mental health condition — and a mood disorder characterized by recurring patterns of “down” or sad thoughts.
If you experience these ‘low’ feelings at least once a day for a period of at least two weeks, you may have a depressive mood disorder.
Sometimes depression can be seasonal, or abrupt and intense (for example, stemming from grief), while other times it can be a condition that gradually develops over time.
Major depression is a more severe form of depression than persistent depressive disorder, and can last for years with varying levels of severity.
It’s not entirely clear what leads to depression, but there is evidence suggesting that depression may have certain genetic, environmental, biological and psychological causes, and that the condition might be caused by more than one thing.
Depression can affect different people in different ways — including how physical symptoms might manifest.
As mentioned above, there are symptoms of depression that are more well known. For example, it’s fairly well established that depression may cause anger, exhaustion or irritability, and that it’s linked to sleep issues for some people.
Some depressed people might have bad decision-making skills or make poor judgements, and partake in reckless behavior.
Others experiencing depression might have suicidal thoughts or deal with substance abuse.
Symptoms of depression can also mimic physical ailments like digestive issues and upsets. 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:
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.
As mentioned above, depression can be something that you literally feel in your gut.
Physical symptoms of depression can include stomach cramps, constipation problems and a host of other digestive issues, though the exact correlation between depression and gastic issues isn’t clear.
It has been shown, however, that middle-aged people tend to experience digestive effects from depression more frequently.
Feeling in the mood less often? Another thing middle-aged people have to watch out for is decreased libido due to depression.
A decreased sex drive can often be a signal that something might be wrong upstairs, so address your symptoms with a healthcare professional, and be open to the idea that your mind may be to blame.
The inability to sleep on a normal schedule is just one way depression might manifest.
Conversely, a depressed person might also experience hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) and insomnia.
Either way, depression can affect how your sleep. Contact a healthcare professional if your sleep habits have seemed especially disturbed.
Recurring headaches, stomach cramps and other aches and pains can affect your daily life. Yet it’s not clear how and why depression can manifest as physical pain.
What we do know is that achiness and pain can be a sign to get yourself checked out by a healthcare professional, even if that means discussing your emotions and potential depression.
How do you treat symptoms of depression and depressive disorders?
Depression requires a multi-faceted treatment approach. Your healthcare provider may suggest a combination of treatment options to address depressive symptoms and depression itself.
Positive lifestyle habits like exercise and dietary changes might help keep weight fluctuations in check, for example, while also helping to boost your mood.
A healthcare professional will also likely recommend in person or online counseling and possibly medication.
Certain over-the-counter treatments and medications can help you manage physical symptoms of depression. For example, if you’re experiencing digestive issues, certain medications can help.
Consult with a healthcare provider to discuss what you’re experiencing, and to find a treatment plan for your depression that works best for you.
Here’s more information on common ways to treat depression:
Start with support. Find a therapy professional to treat your depression.
Different types of therapy will offer different benefits, but one type that’s been shown to help treat depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
A mental health care provider might employ CBT to address your reactions, thought patterns and habits, and help you make small and effective changes to better control your depressive symptoms.
Counseling as well as developing a meditation practice can also help you manage depression, especially if you prefer to stay home.
Antidepressants are often prescribed to treat depression and help by managing the levels of different chemicals such as serotonin in your brain.
It’s no secret that depression can negatively impact your life, whether it’s your emotional wellbeing, physical health or both.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, contact a mental health care professional for guidance and a treatment plan, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends and family for support.
Depression is incredibly common, and help is available.
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