The physical effects of Depression

Depression is a mental illness, but we may experience physical symptoms as part of our condition.

In this post I outline the most common physical problems associated with depression, and share some tips.

For a change, it’s written in plain English!

ACHES AND PAINS

Depression can cause aches and pains all over our body. It can seem like there is no reason for them. But depression and pain share the same nerve pathways in the
spinal cord – This could explain why there is often a link between the two.
 
Heat packs can be very relieving when you have muscle pain, easily available in your local pharmacy. On the other end, we can try ice packs.
If aches and pains feel unmanageable, it’s important to discuss them with your GP. They can discuss whether a Pain Management Specialist may be required. There are pain management programmes too that are excellent for Mental and Physical health.

DIGESTION

Cortisol, a stress hormone, often increases when we are unwell – pushing our bodies into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

When this happens, our blood directs away from our digestive organs, because they’re not involved in the ‘fight or flight’ response. Over time, this can lead to digestive problems.
 
Appetite decreases frequently with low mood. Trademark symptom really.
It’s important to try and keep eating a good diet at regular intervals. I do know Depression saps appetite
 
Exercise can also help our bodies to digest food.Sound crazy? No, it’s proven and also stimulates the appetite. Just a small walk to start?

HEART

Depression regretfully has a link to heart disease. There is still research being done around exactly why there is a link – but stress changes most likely the cause.

To reduce this risk, it’s important to look after ourselves as best we can. It’s all that your doctor said to you! Don’t smoke. I would suggest not drinking at all, as alcohol is a depressant (You certainly can’t drink alcohol if on anti depressants)

I’ll repeat myself with reference to exercise and diet. Essential.

IMMUNE SYSTEM

Depression can weaken parts of our immune system and make us more prone to picking up bugs. Social isolation doesn’t help either.
 
Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep all boost our immune system. Paying attention to hygiene – for example, when washing our hands or preparing food – also helps.

MOVING AND SPEAKING SLOWLY

When we have depression we often feel very tired and everything can feel heavy and thick. It can feel like our brains have slowed down and it can be hard to process information. This can cause us to move and speak more slowly than usual.

There are a number of options to help you-reading a book, memory apps, memory games, crosswords, watching the news and Sudoku all help.

MUSCLE TIREDNESS

Depression can cause tiredness all over. It drains energy out of our body, including our muscles. You can be left with symptoms similar to those with Fibromyalgia/ Chrinic Fatigue Syndrome.
 
Also, the exhaustion that comes with depression can make us move less – and when we don’t use our muscles, they deteriorate. That’s a really important point to remember.The key therefore is to use the muscles , its tough, but a long walk will help. You’ll be sore initially, but you can work through the pain. Don’t dismiss yoga, Pilates, stretching exercises.
 

WEIGHT CHANGES

Depression can affect our weight. I’m evidence of this.. It can decrease our appetite, causing us to lose weight. It can also increase our appetite – or our drive to eat for comfort – and cause us to gain weight.  In addition, our tiredness and mood may reduce our motivation to cook: leaving us reaching for quick snacks or pre-prepared food which are not good for us.
 
Many of us struggle with our feelings about food and our weight – especially as society puts a lot of pressure on us to be ‘in control’ of these things. But there is no need to feel shame about our eating – especially when depression is affecting it.  

I thoroughly recommend a balanced diet.

Miscellaneous

Depression may impact other parts of our bodies, too – including our blood glucose levels, bone density, menstrual cycle, sex drive. All entirely normal.
 
If you’re troubled by any of the above, it’s worth consulting our GP. They can offer peace of mind by checking there’s nothing else going on. They can also offer advice on managing the pain and discomfort that may come with our Depression.

In summary guys, Depression causes physical symptoms. Let’s end any doubt, shame, stigma.

Take it conclusively from me.
Reach out if any of the above are persistently upsetting you. You’re Doctor/clinician should be the first point of call. Your doctor/clinician will know you have Depression, so what you express will be considered in light of the depression and also in its own right.

I hope you feel no shame if you put on weight or have digestive symptoms or shoulder aches and pain.

Depression is very real, but it affects your body in addition to your brain.

AOC