Depression is a widespread mental health problem that affects up to 7% of the US population. Depression is most often associated with psychological symptoms, including low mood, feeling sad and hopeless, or a loss of interest in everyday activities. If the symptoms persist for a few weeks, it may be a sign of a major depressive disorder that requires treatment.
Common symptoms like sadness, irritability, or guilt are easy to recognize and may prompt an individual to seek help from a medical professional. However, most people don't know that depression can also manifest as physical symptoms that are not as easy to pick. Some people don't feel depressed, yet they often experience physical problems like difficulty sleeping or weight loss. This presentation of depression is more common in men who are less likely to present with the cognitive effects.
Let's have a look at how depression affects you physically.
Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep is a classic physical symptom of depression. You may experience increased sleep latency, which basically means you will be rolling on the bed for hours without falling asleep. If you finally succeed in falling asleep, you may wake up multiple times during the night due to poor sleep quality. On the other extreme is hypersomnia, which means that a person with depression will feel tired even after adequate sleep and will want to sleep more during the day, resulting in dozing off and daytime naps. Both these conditions can have a toll on your physical well-being, and you may feel tired and irritated throughout the day.
Fatigue is a common physical manifestation of depression, and it can affect the quality of life. While it's normal to experience the usual off-day where you feel sluggish and tired, having low energy levels throughout the week may be a sign of depression. Most people with depression will prefer to stay in bed and watch TV all day long rather than getting up and doing something productive. This low energy affects all aspects of life and reduces one's ability to concentrate on the important stuff. If you are experiencing fatigue with other symptoms of depression like hopelessness or guilt, it may be time to consult a doctor.
Reduced pain tolerance
If you are suffering from depression, your pain tolerance may be reduced from average. It is common for someone with depression to have body aches and joint pain without other cognitive symptoms. There is no concrete link between pain and depression, and scientists are still trying to understand the relation between these two, but there are some theories. Depression is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine. The same hormones may cause a disturbance in pain pathways leading to the chronic body ache usually seen in depression.
Disturbed eating patterns
Depression disturbs the appetite significantly, and you may experience one of the two extremes, just like sleep. Either your appetite will reduce to the point that you aren't interested in food anymore, or you'll get food cravings throughout the day. Neither of these is good for your health and will cause a negative impact on your weight and general health. It is best to consult a doctor if you lose weight rapidly as it may cause heart and kidney problems.
Decreased Sexual Drive
It is fairly common for someone with depression to have a disturbed sexual life, and often it is due to the physical inability to get aroused. Depression may affect the sex drive, reduce sexual pleasure or reduce the ability to have orgasms altogether. This has a detrimental effect on relationships and may cause a rift between partners. Therefore, it is important to recognize this physical sign of depression.
Depression is a state in which the brain neurotransmitters are messed up, which increases the inflammatory signals all over the body. This inflammatory response affects the immune system and reduces the body's ability to fight off harmful invaders, which may cause you to get sick more often. Another reason depression reduces immunity may be linked to a lack of self-care. Depressed people often stop eating healthy and ignore exercise and physical well-being, which affects the immune system.
Depression is often linked to a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, and while most people may pass them off as something else, it is important to recognize if your gut problems are linked with depression. Abdominal cramps and pain are the most common, and if this pain gets worse with stress, it may be a sign of depression. Other problems like bloating, nausea, or reduced appetite may also be seen. These symptoms may be caused by the inflammatory signals which irritate the gut, and they are often mistaken as inflammatory bowel syndrome. The problems may also be caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines, as these good bacteria are essential for a healthy gut.
Headaches are a common occurrence for most people and having a headache once in a while is not an alarming sign. However, if you notice an increase in the frequency of headaches, or if you have one every day, it may be depression affecting you physically. While depression headaches aren't as excruciating as a migraine, they still hinder your daily activities. They usually manifest as a throbbing pain behind the eyes and are more common in men. You can take an over-the-counter medication to relieve the pain, but the headache usually comes back until you get the root cause treated.
Depression is a debilitating condition that may present in more than one way. Some people show apparent symptoms of depression, while others may be smiling and laughing yet battling the problem while alone. Not everyone exhibits the classic signs associated with depression, and recognizing the physical symptoms is just as important as the mental ones. If you or your loved one is experiencing such problems, it is a good idea to share the problem with family and friends so that everyone can get the help they need!