The Physical Manifestations of Depression

Jessie Prothero
May 8, 2023

Depression affects millions of people worldwide, transcending geographical, social, and economic boundaries. While most discussions surrounding depression focus on its psychological aspects, there is another aspect to this complex issue that often goes unnoticed: the physical manifestations of depression.

Our goal is to provide an educational resource that delves into the science behind depression and its physical symptoms, empowering people experiencing depression to take charge of their well-being, and advocate for those grappling with this condition. By understanding how depression influences not only our minds, but our bodies as well, we can begin to appreciate the full scope of this disorder.

Read on to learn how you can better equip yourself with the knowledge and insights to better support yourself and others with this multifaceted mental health challenge. If you or someone you know is interested in working with a professionally licensed therapist, consider booking a free consultation to get matched with a Resilience Lab therapist who specializes in depression today.

What is depression?

Depression comes in various forms, including Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), and Bipolar Disorder.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people across the globe suffer from depression, making it a significant public health concern.

The body's stress response system, known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, also plays a role in depression. When this system is disrupted, it can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can negatively affect sevral bodily systems.

With an increased level of cortisol and a disruption in the bodies natural regulatory systems, it becomes clear that depression has implications beyond just emotional distress.

How Does Depression Effect Us Physically?

The physical symptoms of depression can be just as debilitating as the emotional symptoms and in some cases, exacerbate the severity of the condition.

Fatigue and Energy Levels

One of the most common physical symptoms, people with depression often experience a constant feeling of exhaustion, even when they haven't engaged in physically demanding activities. This lack of energy can hinder daily functioning and make even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming.

Sleep Disturbances

Depression can significantly disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping). A lack of restorative sleep can further worsen depressive symptoms, creating a vicious cycle that's difficult to break.

Appetite and Weight Changes

Changes in appetite and weight are also common physical symptoms of depression. Some individuals may experience a loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss, while others may find themselves overeating and gaining weight. These fluctuations can have serious health implications if left unchecked, potentially leading to chronic illness.

Aches and Pains

Depression can manifest as unexplained aches and pains throughout the body. Headaches, back pain, and joint discomfort are frequent complaints among people with depression. These sensations can be persistent and add to the emotional burden of the disorder. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that individuals with depression were three times more likely to have chronic pain compared to those without depression.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Depression can also impact the digestive system, leading to issues like nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal discomfort. These symptoms can be distressing and further exacerbate the emotional distress associated with depression. Research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research suggests a significant association between depression and gastrointestinal symptoms, emphasizing the need to address mental and physical health concerns in people experiencing depression

Weakened Immune System

Depression has been linked to a weakened immune system, making infections and illnesses more likely to occur in people experiencing depression. The increased levels of stress hormones, can suppress the immune system's ability to function effectively, leaving those with depression more vulnerable to various health problems.

By acknowledging the impact of depression on our mental and physical well-being, we can better support those affected, and foster more informed conversations about treatment and management options.

The physical symptoms of depression, including aches, pains, and gastrointestinal issues, are a critical reminder that this mental health condition has far-reaching consequences beyond our emotional well-being. In fact, the impact of depression extends even further, as it is significantly associated with the development and exacerbation of more serious, chronic health conditions.

Can Depression Lead to Chronic Health Conditions?

While many are aware of the emotional toll of depression,  it can also contribute to the development and progression of various chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry highlights the association between depression and increased risk for several chronic health issues. The interplay between depression and chronic illness can create a vicious cycle that further exacerbates both the mental and physical symptoms.

Treatment and Management Strategies

Addressing the mental and physical aspects of depression is crucial for effective treatment and management. Our team of licensed professional therapists at Resilience Lab provided the following list of strategies that can help alleviate the physical symptoms of depression and improve overall well-being.

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy lifestyle changes while suffering from depression is understandably a tall order, but it can significantly impact both mental and physical well-being and is often the most accessible and affordable step to take. Studies have shown that regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can help reduce the severity of symptoms and improve overall health.

Meditating for Depression

By practicing mindful meditation, individuals can develop skills to better manage their thoughts and emotions, leading to improvements in their mental health, and ultimately, in their physical health as well.

An analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation programs involving focus on the present moment and acceptance without judgment, led to significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms for people with depression.

Integrated Care for Depression

For people with co-occurring depression and chronic health conditions, integrated care that addresses both the mental and physical aspects of their health is essential. Collaborative care models involve primary care physicians, mental health professionals, and other healthcare providers who work together to provide more comprehensive treatment plans.

Resilience Lab therapists often provide cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), which can help individuals with depression develop healthier thought patterns and coping skills. These therapies, combined with a primary care physician's guidance are essential to improving the quality of life for those affected by depression.

Interested in working with a licensed therapist for depression? Consider booking a free consultation with our team to get matched with a therapist specializing in providing quality care for your unique needs.

Get started with therapy today.

Our team can help you find the right therapist.