Other symptoms like lack of concentration, poor focus etc are related to the mental state. But depression hurts in more ways than one. More often than not depression manifests itself as physical pain, making it all the more challenging for the individual.

Let’s look at the physical symptoms of depression and see how they manifest:

  1. Chest pain

While chest pain could typically be a sign of heart, lung, or stomach problems, it could sometimes be caused by underlying depression. Depression is also known to increase the risk of heart disease. It is best to see your doctor to identify the cause of chest pain if you are experiencing it.

  1. Appetite changes

Various studies have found that there is a relationship between eating disorders and depression. A 2019 study found that disordered eating is more common among those with major depressive disorder than those without it. In women, scientists observed high amounts of the leptin hormone that reduces a person’s appetite.

Since disturbance primarily impacts the mood of the individual, people with MDD often reach for various coping mechanisms. Some of these coping mechanisms are maladaptive such as eating disorders that include bingeing, restricting or purging. People with depression commonly display feelings of low self-worth leading to appetite challenges and eating disorders.

physical symptoms of depression

  1. Pain

Individuals with depression often complain of vague aches and pains that adversely affect their joints, limbs or back. Many complain of overall body pain that is chronic and sometimes debilitating.

On the other hand, a person suffering from chronic pain may also be depressed. Scientists are still trying to understand the connection between pain and depression and how the two influence one another.

One possible cause is that both physical pain and depression are caused by dysregulated neurotransmitters. As a result, some people with depression benefit if they consume antidepressants that improve the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine.

  1. Gastrointestinal Disorders

Doctors often find individuals suffering from MDD complaining of stomach issues like bloating, nausea, diarrhea or constipation. The brain chemical linked to depression, serotonin is also known to play a role in maintaining optimum digestive function. In fact, a large part of the body’s serotonin is produced and stored in the gut. The gut-brain connection is very potent and scientists call this second brain the ‘enteric nervous system’ or ENS.

Not only do individuals suffering from depression experience stomach issues but a higher than normal percentage of people with IBS and bowel disorders develop depression and anxiety.

  1. Headaches

Almost everyone has suffered from the occasional headache and we often write it off as stress or lifestyle-induced event. But if you notice a rise in the frequency of headaches, it may be a possible sign of depression.

The National Headache Foundation describes depression-related headaches as ‘tension headaches’ where the pain seems like a mild, throbbing feeling around the eyes.

Common symptoms of depression such as overthinking, loss of interest and excessive crying can play off of migraine symptoms.

  1. Sleeping challenges

When mental health practitioners consider a diagnosis of depression, one of the key symptoms they look for is a change in sleeping patterns. People with MDD often have sleep disorders. The pattern varies from struggling to fall or stay asleep, inability to get adequate rest while sleeping or sleeping too much.  Conversely, having trouble sleeping for any other reason also increases a person’s risk for depression.

  1. Fatigue

Fatigue is again a common symptom of depression. Exhaustion is not only caused by stress, it is also caused by depression. But unlike everyday exhaustion, depression-related fatigue leads to other issues such as trouble focusing, irritability and apathy. An interesting finding by Dr. Maurizio Fava, Director of the Clinical Research Program at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, shows that people with MDD often experience non-restorative sleep. This means they feel sluggish even after a full night’s rest.

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - physical symptoms of depression

Coping with physical symptoms of depression

The physical impact of depression can be overwhelming. This may cause the individual to feel additionally challenged even in completing day-to-day tasks. Speaking to a psychiatrist can help you decide the best course of action, be it talk therapy, medications etc. Additionally, it helps to design some strategies to cope better if you are struggling with routine. For instance, setting priorities and focusing on the most important tasks, breaking each task or activity into small tasks, setting timers, and seeking out help from friends and family. Remember, depression can make things seem impossible, but help is available.