Depressive disorders can affect not just your mental health but also manifest physical symptoms in your body. While many people are aware of the emotional toll associated with mental health issues, it’s important to note that depression, in particular, can cause significant physical symptoms that are often overlooked. Therefore, it is important to understand what these physical symptoms are and how to recognize them. These physical symptoms can be treated and potentially resolved over time.
Physical Symptoms of Depression
Let’s examine the physical symptoms that cause depression and find ways to alleviate them.
Depression can have a decelerating effect on your entire body, which is why individuals with depression may often appear to be moving and speaking at a slower pace than usual, to the point where it is noticeable to others and can even impede their ability to function. Experiencing fatigue is a common occurrence in this condition. Fatigue affects roughly 7% of people aged 18 and above in the country.
Body aches and pains
Depression can cause physical symptoms such as body aches. Those who suffer from chronic pain are at greater risk of developing depression. In fact, as many as 85% of people who have chronic pain also meet the criteria for severe depression. The body aches that arise from depression can vary in intensity, ranging from general discomfort to chronic and severe pain. Based on the polyvagal theory, feelings of pain, whether physical or emotional, may emerge as a way to prevent you from expending unnecessary energy. Muscle aches and other forms of pain may hinder you from engaging in work or social activities.
Studies indicate that there is a correlation between depression, anxiety, digestive problems, and medically diagnosable digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), among others. Symptoms of digestive issues and disorders include nausea, diarrhea, changes in appetite, cramps, and a sensation of sinking in the stomach. These symptoms are often linked to emotional stressors and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Any disturbance or imbalance in the digestive system can affect one’s mood, just as emotional stress can have an impact on digestion.
Dizziness and headaches
Psychological disorders like anxiety and depression may include symptoms of dizziness or lightheadedness. Studies suggest that up to 20% of individuals who experience dizziness also exhibit elevated levels of psychological distress. Depression headaches are a prevalent physical symptom of depressive disorders. People with depression often report experiencing cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraines.
Low sexual drive
Depression does not only affect one’s hobbies but can also impact physical aspects such as low sexual drive. This can lead to problems like erectile dysfunction, difficulty achieving orgasm, and a complete lack of interest in sex due to the physiological stress caused by depression. Anhedonia, the decreased ability to experience pleasure from activities that are usually enjoyable, is a significant symptom of depression.
One notable physical symptom of depression, especially among older people, is vision problems. Research indicates that among older adults, visual impairments and vision loss are among the most frequently reported conditions linked with depression. People with impaired vision have a higher risk of experiencing depression. Likewise, those who are currently depressed often describe their perception of the world as “dull” and have reduced sensitivity to visual contrasts.
Depression contributes to the development or worsening of skin problems. When a person is depressed, their body may experience changes in hormone levels, which can cause skin issues like acne, rashes, or dryness. They may also engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking alcohol, or neglecting their personal hygiene. Stress and anxiety, which are commonly associated with depression, can also exacerbate existing skin conditions or cause new ones to arise. In addition, certain medications used to treat depression may have side effects that impact the skin, such as dryness or rashes.
Changes in appetite
When a person is depressed, they may experience a decrease or increase in appetite, which can result in weight loss or weight gain. One possible explanation is that depression can affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which can influence appetite and eating behavior. Another explanation is that changes in appetite may be related to changes in hormone levels that occur when a person is depressed. Finally, changes in appetite may be related to emotional factors, such as loss of interest or pleasure in activities, which can lead to a decrease in motivation to eat, or stress and anxiety, which can lead to an increase in food cravings.
Restlessness can manifest as an inability to sit still, pacing, fidgeting, or constantly moving. Depression can cause feelings of nervousness or anxiety, which can lead to physical restlessness. Some people with depression may feel a sense of internal tension or agitation. Restlessness can also be a symptom of certain types of depression, such as bipolar disorder or atypical depression, which may have symptoms of increased energy and activity levels. In these cases, restlessness may be a sign of a manic or hypomanic episode.
Slow psychomotor movements
Depression can affect a person’s psychomotor abilities, leading to slowed movements and reaction times. This is a common symptom of major depressive disorder, and it can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities. It is believed to be related to changes in the brain’s chemistry and function. Depression has been linked to changes in the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which play a role in movement and mood regulation. Additionally, negative thoughts and feelings associated with depression can lead to a lack of motivation or interest in engaging in activities, which can further contribute to slowed psychomotor movements.
In addition to the physical symptoms of depression, there are various other signs that a person may be experiencing depression. These can include a loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable, a persistent low mood, emotional detachment or numbness, frequent crying, heightened irritability or agitation, the development of an eating disorder or unhealthy habits, a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness, social isolation, thoughts of suicide or actual suicide attempts, as well as difficulties with concentration and focus.
If you suspect you may have depression, seek help from a healthcare professional who can accurately diagnose you and guide you towards appropriate treatment. Typically, the first step is to make an appointment with a medical doctor, such as a psychiatrist or primary care physician, who can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe medication if necessary. They may also refer you to a therapist or counselor for additional support.
You can also search online for a therapist, check with your insurance company for coverage options, look for local low-income resources, or try online therapy. It is important to be open and honest about your symptoms and any related information, such as a history of depression or childhood trauma, to receive effective treatment. Mental health professionals are there to help, and their treatment is more effective when they have a comprehensive understanding of your situation.
If you are looking for a treatment program for depression, visit Mindshift Psychological Services. Learn more about their therapies on their website. You may also contact them at (714) 584-9700 to schedule an appointment.