Physical Depression: What Depression Can Do To Your Body

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 08/08/2022

Are you waking up still feeling exhausted? As you go through your day, do you notice your body is getting achy? You know you aren't sick, but you're concerned because this isn't normal for you. Maybe you're wondering if your physical symptoms are connected to your diagnosis of depression. You may be right. Physical depression is very real, and you're not alone when it comes to experiencing it.

Young woman sitting on bed suffering from stomach ache

We know that depression affects our moods. When we are sad, we are aware that it's a symptom of depression, but can mental depression manifest symptoms in our physical bodies? And if so, what kind of symptoms does it bring about?

Before we learn about physical depression, let's take a look at what depression is since that causes the physical symptoms in our bodies.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mental condition that can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness that we can't just power through. It's estimated that 16.2 million American adults experience depression each year.

Because depression can make navigating our days difficult, it isn't something we can ignore or wish away. By ignoring depression, we risk the manifestation of serious physical health issues that can be even more damaging.

Who Is At Risk To Develop Depression?

While there's no guaranteed way to say if you will struggle with depression or not, there are some factors that can increase your risk. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Your gender. Women are more likely to experience depression than men.
  2. People between the ages of ages 45 and 64 are at a higher risk of being depressed.
  3. Abusing drugs or alcohol can lead to an increased chance of developing depression.
  4. Being divorced can increase your depression chances after going through a difficult situation.
  5. Being the victim of abuse (any type of abuse) can lead to depression.
  6. If you're unemployed, unable to work, or don't have health insurance, your chance of being depressed increases (also at a higher risk to not seek treatment for depression).
  7. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can develop depression.
  8. Low self-esteem can cause feelings of depression.
  9. Genetics can put you at a higher risk for depression.
  10. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender puts you at a higher risk of developing depression.
  11. Having other mental health disorders, like anxiety or bipolar disorder, can be connected with a depressive disorder.
  12. Certain medications may cause depression.
  13. Living in a region that has less sunlight can cause depression.

12 Symptoms Of Depression

Tired mother with cute daughter resting on bed in cozy room

There are many different types of symptoms that depression can cause. Some of the more common ones include:

  1. Not enjoying the activities that you participate in
  2. Feeling hopeless, empty, or sad
  3. Changes in your sleeping patterns
  4. Feeling sluggish or tired and having low energy
  5. Changes in your appetite
  6. Being worried or agitated
  7. Feeling, moving, and talking sluggish
  8. Struggling with past failures, blame, guilt, or feelings of worthlessness
  9. Difficulty remembering things or making decisions
  10. Suicidal thoughts

If you're still wondering about depression, you may want to take a depression quiz to see if you are currently experiencing some level of depression symptoms. This can be a good first step to take.

If you already know for sure you are dealing with depression, and physical issues are cropping up, you'll want to learn more about physical depression and handle it.

What Is Physical Depression?

When we think about depression, we think about the emotional and mental aspects of the diagnosis. However, depression can also display itself in our bodies as physical symptoms.

If you're feeling any of the symptoms listed below, you may have physical depression.

15 Symptoms Of Physical Depression

Young man in sleepwear suffering from headache in morning

  1. You feel fatigued. Sure everyone has episodes where they wake up and feel exhausted. However, a continual pattern of waking up tired could be a sign of physical depression.
  2. Your body hurts more. You feel as if your nerves are exposed, and you have a lower pain tolerance than normal.
  3. You have back pain.It's easy for us to believe our back pain results from poor posture, but it could be physical depression. Research shows a possible connection between inflammation in our bodies and depression.
  4. You're experiencing an increase in headaches. If you notice you're getting more headaches that aren't connected to a new stress, it may be depression.
  5. You think your vision has changed. Physical depression can cause differences in seeing black and white.
  6. You have unexplained stomach pain.Pain that increases when you're stressed and isn't related to gas or menstrual cramps could signify depression.
  7. You struggle with digestive issues.Emotions that come with depression can cause an imbalance in our digestive tracts.
  8. You get sick more often.Depression can cause a lowered immune system.
  9. Your blood pressure is on the rise. Depression can cause us to be under a lot of stress, which can increase our blood pressure.
  10. Yourweight is changing. When you experience depression, you are more likely to overindulge in junk food or eat less than you should. An unhealthy diet due to depression can lead to other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
  11. You have a loss of libido.
  12. You're diagnosed with Heart disease. Depression can cause stress hormones to speed your heart rate and constrict blood vessels. When you live with depression, if left untreated, it can lead to heart disease.
  13. You have an ulcer. Depression can cause an increase in stomach acid, which can cause ulcers
  14. You struggle with GERD. Depression can cause us to have anxiety, which can increase the chance of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  15. You have irregular heart rhythms. Depression and stress tend to go hand in hand. When you don't manage them, it can cause irregular heart rhythms.

Why Does Physical Depression Occur?

Doctors once believed that if we had depression and increased physical issues, the depression kept us from taking care of ourselves. However, more recent research shows a physiological change in your body can cause it.

How To Treat Physical Depression

You may need to seek treatment from a professional for some of your physical depression symptoms. However, there are many ways you can ease the symptoms of physical depression by dealing with the symptoms of depression itself.

10 Ways To Ease Depression

Woman in Gray Tank Top Lying on Bed

  1. Develop a consistent sleep schedule.Lack of sleep can make depression worse, so work towards eight hours of sleep a night. Going to bed at the same time each night can help set a sleep routine.
  2. Choose a healthy diet plan.Include a diet consisting of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats.
  3. Eliminate or limit caffeine. I know it's hard forgoing coffee and soda, but caffeine can elevate stress in our bodies.
  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks.It seems like a glass of wine before bed would help lift our mood, but it can lead to dependency and cause other issues.
  5. Get exercise.I know it's hard to even think about exercising when you're in pain. However, doing some form of exercise can release the chemicals that elevate your mood. Exercise is a structured plan to improve or maintain physical health.
  6. Don't isolate yourself. Often it seems easier for us to stay away from other people when we're depressed. However, spending time with close friends and family can help keep our focus off our depression.
  7. Get some form of physical activity every day. Physical activity is anything that works your muscles and uses energy. Cleaning the house, yard work, and gardening are a couple of examples you could try.
  8. Pray or meditate. Spending time praying or meditating can quiet your inner chaos, which can lead to lowering your blood pressure.
  9. Drink water. Dehydration can impair short-term memory function. By the time we feel thirsty, we are more than likely already dehydrated.
  10. Try yoga. Yoga uses different body poses, breathing techniques, and meditation to help ease stress.
  11. An hour before bed, shut off the television, computer, and phone, and allow your mind to rest and prepare for sleep.
  12. Take a break from watching the news and social media. Removing stressors can help to reduce the physical feelings of stress and anxiety, which can impact depression.

When Is It Time To Seek Professional Care?

Here are a few of the signs that indicate you should look for treatment for your depression:

  1. If your feelings of depression aren't going away after two weeks.
    The longer you wait to seek treatment, the greater chance you have of developing physical symptoms.
  2. If you aren't able to keep your work schedule or perform the tasks required for your job.
  3. When you notice you're experiencing increased physical issues
  4. If you find yourself using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.
    You increase your chances of becoming an alcoholic or drug abuser when trying to treat your depression without a professional's care.
  5. When you start to isolate from other people

To get the most from your visit to the doctors or therapy, it's beneficial to make a list of your symptoms ahead of time. We often think we'll remember what we want them to know about our situation, but more often than not, we forget to mention a few important symptoms, and that's where being prepared will help.

Two Women Holding Pen

It's important to include all of your symptoms, explaining the way you feel emotionally and physically. If your doctor focuses only on your physical symptoms, they may miss the depression that is the underlying cause of your symptoms. They may also only focus on your emotional health and ignore the physical symptoms you're experiencing. This is why it's important to communicate all of your symptoms.

You may benefit from working with both your doctor and a mental health professional as you address the physical, mental and emotional challenges of depression.