People battling depression often feel immense sadness, emptiness, and loneliness, among many other complicated emotions. Unfortunately, that’s only part of the toll depression can take on someone. For many, the emotional and mental struggles brought on by depression are often made worse by the painful physical symptoms.
Let’s explore some of depression’s most common physical symptoms, why they happen, and what you or a loved one can do to help.
What Are the Most Common Physical Symptoms of Depression?
People suffering from depression often report:
- Chronic pain in the back, muscles, joints, and head
- Chest pain
- Digestive issues such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite
- Sleep problems
- A weakened immune system (getting sick more often than others)
- Overall fatigue and exhaustion
However, for people with clinical depression, these aren’t one-time symptoms. They’re chronic. This means that they feel these symptoms almost all the time for periods of six months or more.
In a study of 1,000 patients, researchers found that people with chronic pain are more likely to be suffering from mental illness. The same study found that 60% of people who reported 9 or more symptoms of chronic pain were also suffering from mental illness. But why exactly is this true?
Why Does Depression Make Me Hurt or Feel Tired?
To explore the link between physical pain and depression, let’s look at these symptoms and explain how they’re tied to depression.
Depression and Chronic Pain
Living with depression is stressful even if you don’t struggle with anxiety. This may cause chronic pain in your muscles, joints, back, and other parts of your body. Medical professionals think this could be due to increased cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases blood glucose levels and helps the body prepare for fight-or-flight situations. It makes the blood pump faster and narrows arteries. When you’re depressed, your body senses something is wrong and releases cortisol, resulting in chronic pain.
Depression, High Blood Pressure, and Chest Pain
However, sometimes chronic pain from depression isn’t in the extremities, but deeper in the chest and around the heart.
The link between chest pain and depression isn’t fully understood, but researchers have found that people with depression suffer from more frequent chest pain. It may be because people with depression also suffer from different forms of anxiety that raise their heart rates and blood pressure to unhealthy levels.
Digestive Issues May Cause Depression and Vice Versa
Our brains and stomachs are strongly linked. When you’re in a stressful situation, your brain may tell your gut to start working differently to prepare to fight or flee. Anxiety and depression may cause such a reaction.
This can also work the opposite way. Researchers have found that people who have had digestive issues since childhood may be more prone to depression.
Depression and Trouble Sleeping: Linked By Serotonin
Many people with depression have low amounts of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that acts as a mood stabilizer and makes people happy. However, serotonin has another important job — it regulates sleeping patterns.
This turns the relationship between sleep and depression into a vicious cycle. In fact, around 75% of people with depression have trouble sleeping.
Exhaustion and a Weak Immune System: A Natural Response to Constant Stress
All of these factors combine to make exhaustion one of the most common physical symptoms of depression. When a person suffers from depression, their mind, body and organs are all in a constant state of emergency. As hormones and other natural chemicals try to bring the body back to balance, they force the body to be in a taxing, ever-changing state.
The same can be said for the immune system. Like other physical symptoms, how depression affects the immune system isn’t completely understood by doctors, but because a lack of sleep, a poor diet, and stress weaken the immune system, it’s no wonder people with depression feel sick often.
How Do I Fight the Physical Symptoms of Depression?
Hopefully, that biological approach to the physical symptoms of depression makes one thing clear: depression is more than a psychological problem and is in no way the fault of the person plagued by it.
With that being said, if you’re battling depression, finding professional help and perhaps the right medication could be vital. However, if it feels like the puzzle of your mental health is missing a piece, add one or multiple of these tools to your arsenal:
- See your general practitioner. Whether physical symptoms cause or are the result of depression, your general practitioner may be able to diagnose them.
- Try light exercise. Because some of the physical symptoms of depression may be caused by high cortisol levels, exercising could help your body regulate them and help you rest better at night.
- Aim for a balanced diet. If high blood pressure, heart problems, stomach problems, frequent illness, or fatigue come with your depression, a protein-rich diet could help. However, no one diet helps depression. See a professional for guidance.
- Be understanding towards yourself and your loved ones. If you or a loved one struggles with depression, remember that it is both a physical and psychological fight. There isn’t a cure-all, so understanding that everyone’s mental health journey is individualized and unlike anyone else’s is critical.
Never make drastic changes to your diet or routine without medical advice. Always talk to a mental health or physical health professional first.
When You Can’t Get Relief
People with severe clinical or treatment-resistant depression may have already tried many of these tactics. However, an FDA-approved treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy (TMS) may help, especially if your depression has numerous, stubborn physical symptoms.
In this non-invasive, FDA-approved treatment for depression, a licensed medical professional uses a magnetic device to stimulate the central nervous system and brain. Because depression is so closely associated with physical illness and under-active neurotransmitters in the brain, this stimulation may help in ways that certain medications cannot.
To learn more about TMS therapy and if it could help you in your fight against depression and its many physical symptoms, contact Oasis TMS. We’re happy to answer any questions about TMS therapy and want to help you start feeling better today.