Physical symptoms, causes and how to deal with them
Depression is a common mental health problem that can cause physical and psychological symptoms. Possible physical symptoms include fatigue, more or less sleep than usual, and changes in appetite.
These symptoms can occur as a result of changes in brain activity, hormone levels, or neurotransmitter levels. Treatments for depression can help relieve physical symptoms, as well as psychological symptoms.
Read on to learn more about the physical symptoms of depression, including their causes and how to deal with them.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. This can cause them to feel sad, worthless, or numb for long periods of time. Typically, people feel a loss of interest or pleasure in the things they usually enjoy.
Emotional symptoms are well known, but depression is also associated with a range of physical symptoms. These include:
- tiredness or fatigue
- sleep more or less than usual
- an increase or decrease in appetite
- slow speech or movements
- unexplained pain or headaches
- loss of interest in sex, known as low libido
- constipation or diarrhea
Fatigue or feelings of listlessness can also affect a person’s behavior. The person may spend less time than usual on personal care, which can lead to changes in their appearance. For example, they may lose or gain weight, or not shower or bathe as often as before.
However, not all people with depression will have obvious physical signs of the disease. Some affected people will continue with their daily activities without appearing ill.
Research suggests that the physical symptoms of depression are likely the result of multiple physiological changes occurring in the body.
Changes in appetite
A Study 2019 on the relationship between major depressive disorder (MDD) and eating behaviors found that eating disorders were more common in people with MDD than in those without. In women, researchers have also observed elevated levels of the hormone leptin, which reduces a person’s appetite.
The authors speculate that changes in appetite-regulating hormones may explain why depression can cause changes in appetite.
For example, a study involving people with MDD found that during REM sleep, the limbic and paralimbic systems of the brain exhibited similar activity to that of an awake person.
This finding may explain why people with depression often wake up frequently during the night. However, sleep is complex, and researchers are still trying to understand how sleep and depression can affect each other.
A 2018 review notes that a lack of energy and fatigue may be linked to certain neurotransmitter systems that aren’t working as they should. Affected neurotransmitters can include norepinephrine or dopamine, but more research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind this dysfunction.
Certain emotional states and physical health problems can cause feelings similar to those that people with depression may have. These include:
Sadness or sorrow
It is normal to feel sadness or grief in response to difficult situations. Sometimes these emotional states can also cause physical symptoms, such as feeling tired.
However, sadness and grief are different from depression. Typically, mourning does not affect a person’s self-esteem. It can cause emotions in waves and involve a mixture of positive and negative feelings.
In contrast, depression often causes feelings of insignificance or self-hatred. Emotional changes tend to be consistent, affecting a person most of the time.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD, or major depression with seasonal tendency, is a condition that causes depressive symptoms in the fall and winter. People with SAD often feel tired, sleep more, and experience changes in their appetite. usually, a person with this disease wants to eat more food, especially carbohydrates.
Experts believe lower levels of sunlight cause SAD by triggering a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Certain conditions that affect female hormones can cause a bad mood. In some cases, the mood swings can be severe.
For example, people with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) may experience depression, irritability, and physical symptoms during 7-10 days before a period. Symptoms usually improve soon after your period starts.
PMS and menopause can also come with emotional and physical changes that can resemble depression.
Other conditions or medications
Several other conditions and medications can cause a bad mood, as well as physical symptoms that may seem similar to depression. Here are some examples :
Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of talk therapy and medication. Medicines, such as antidepressants, can reduce symptoms of depression. Talk therapy aims to tackle the underlying causes and help a person deal with their thoughts and feelings.
There are many styles of therapy. People are likely to find that they benefit more from some styles than others. One of the best-studied options is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which aims to help a person understand the relationships between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
For forms of depression that have a specific physiological cause, such as seasonal or hormonal changes, treatment may involve additional steps. For example, a person with SAD may benefit from light therapy and safe exposure to the sun.
The physical symptoms of depression can be difficult. They can make a person feel overwhelmed with everyday tasks, especially if they are feeling tired, loss of motivation, or in pain. Strategies that can help a person cope include:
- Establish priorities: When someone has limited energy, it can be helpful to focus only on essential tasks. These can include personal hygiene practices, meal preparation, and pet care. A person might find it helpful to write down the most important tasks for each day and put the list on a bulletin board or on the refrigerator as a reminder.
- Break down the tasks: People can make big jobs more manageable by breaking them down into small steps and focusing on one step at a time. For example, instead of trying to clean their house in one go, they can focus on cleaning a small area.
- Setting a timer: If completing a task is difficult, a person may try to set a timer and focus on that task for a set amount of time, even if it is just a few minutes.
- Batch cooking: Preparing multiple servings of a meal allows people to cool or freeze extra servings for later. It can help when a person doesn’t have a lot of energy or motivation to cook. Simple or slow-cooked dishes are useful because they require less effort and less dishes to clean.
- Reduced cleaning: A few simple changes, such as placing a doormat on the front door or removing shoes before entering the house, can reduce the amount of cleaning required.
- Ask for help : Social support is an important part of recovering from depression, both emotionally and physically. A person may be able to contact understanding friends, family, or neighbors for additional help.
Depression can make things desperate, but help is available. It is advisable to consult a doctor or mental health professional if any symptoms worry you or interfere with your daily tasks. These professionals will be able to make a diagnosis and talk to someone about treatment options.
You don’t have to wait for symptoms to get worse before seeking help. However, anyone who is having thoughts of suicide should seek help as soon as possible.
The physical symptoms of depression can include fatigue, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, and pain. Research suggests that these changes often occur due to levels of hormones and neurotransmitters, which are different in people with depression than in people without.
The physical effects of depression can make it harder to manage tasks, but treatment and other strategies can help a person cope.