The Physical Symptoms of Depression Explained
Readers of this blog may well be familiar with the “classical” symptoms of depression like feeling helpless, decreased motivation and loss of interest in simple pleasures. However, depression is often so much more than these symptoms; there are often challenging and painful physical symptoms that are associated as well. The trouble is, sometimes these symptoms surface with seemingly no logical explanation for their presence. It’s one thing to suffer, but another thing entirely to suffer without understanding where that suffering comes from.
In this blog post, we hope to provide some clarity into some of the most common physical depression symptoms — and why they may exist.
What you may not know about depression, is that many people who have it experience dull pains in their joints, limbs or back. Doctors are still trying to understand how physical pain and depression are interrelated. With that said, there is one theory.
The idea is that both pain and depression are associated with an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Antidepressants like SSRIs work by increasing the availability of chemicals in the brain (in this case serotonin). An imbalance of that same neurotransmitter is associated with increased pain, indicating a connection may be there. As further evidence of a relationship, taking an SSRI can decrease both pain and the classical symptoms of depression.
Fatigue and Insomnia
People who have depression often find that no matter how long they sleep, they never feel rested. This can make it difficult to do daily tasks, as they feel a persistent lack of energy.
Once again, the origin of this symptom is likely depression’s relationship to our neurotransmitters. In addition to serotonin, neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine are also implicated in depression, and all three “play important roles in regulating energy levels, sleep, appetite, motivation, and pleasure,” according to Amy Ricke, MD, of Your Doctors Online. Because of this relationship, people with depression often experience symptoms like extreme fatigue or lack of sleep.
Dr. Ricke recommends two main things for people with sleep dysfunction: keeping to a schedule and exercising in the morning. See this post for more tips on how to get better sleep.
High Blood Pressure
If you struggle with depression you might also have high blood pressure (HBP). There are two main hypotheses for this — both of which tie back to a commonly cited correlation between stress and depression. On the one hand, people who are depressed often experience stress for long periods of time as a result of their condition. On the other hand, there are new studies exploring that long term stress might cause depression.
Since chronic stress has often been linked to high blood pressure, it can in turn lead to the correlation between depression and high blood pressure.
Depression can cause massive shifts in a person’s appetite, resulting in either weight gain or weight loss.
One reason for weight gain: depression can lead to “emotional eating” a process by which “a person [uses] food to self-medicate feelings of depression.” In addition, decreased motivation and fatigue can lead to a large decrease in regular exercise.
One explanation for weight loss is that depression can cause hormonal shifts in brain chemicals that are responsible for maintaining a healthy appetite. This can lead people who are depressed to have a decreased appetite or lead them to lose their appetite altogether.
Be it pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, or changes in appetite, people struggling with depression can be victims to an array of physical side effects.
We hope this blog post was able to provide some possible clarity on why they occur. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or other symptoms of depression, it is important to discuss them with your doctor or mental health professional.