Depression is often seen as only a mental illness that affects your moods and behaviors, but it can often be much more than that. Depression can affect your physical well-being, causing weight gain or loss, trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping, and even a decrease in libido.
It can also change the actual make-up of your brain. People that were diagnosed as depressed showed that they had a hippocampus, a part of the brain that controls the limbic system and plays a role in memory and emotion, that was 25% smaller than those in adults that did not suffer depression.
What’s sometimes worse, is that depression can be triggered by outside sources. Seattle is often known as being rainy and gloomy and being in the Pacific Northwest people can see as little as 8.5 hours of sunlight often with cloud coverage.
Seattle psychiatrist Dr. David Avery Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine estimates that up to 10% of Seattle residents can suffer severely from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
In fact, Seattle with clear skies only 28% of the time came in second only to Anchorage, Alaska, with Spokane coming in fourth.
This can have an even bigger impact on our mental health when people won’t recognize the signs and symptoms.
Buck up, it’s all in your head!
Why don’t you get out more?
Just go for a walk, you’ll feel better?
Why don’t we ever have sex anymore?
You should just take (fill in supplement, oil, shake, diet) that helped me.
While all of these people mean well, and probably have your best interest in mind, the result is further depression because you know that you are not acting and behaving the way that you used to.
The physical symptoms of depression can just add to the toll that depression can have on your mind, body, and behavior. Below are five physical symptoms of depression that you may not have even noticed or accepted as a part of depression.
Do You Find Yourself Forgetting to Eat or Eating Absentmindedly to Excess?
Depression is often associated with weight gain but diet has also been linked to depression. Often, the question is is the poor diet and weight gain what led to the depression, or is depression causing the poor diet?
Many find enjoyment in eating, so a depressed person will eat to excess for the satisfaction and feelings of enjoyment, only to later feel more depressed because of the weight gain and the indulgence.
Many people that are depressed will crave comfort foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugars because it increases the serotonin levels in their brain. They are essentially self-medicating through food.
On the flip side, some people may lose the desire for any sort of enjoyment and as a result, start skipping meals and not eating, resulting in weight loss. They may start sleeping through meals and lacking the energy to eat.
Depression and the lack of energy plays a big role in people experiencing either weight loss or weight gain. Lack of energy can cause people to not want to get out. They don’t want to go to the store to buy proper food or meal plan.
This leads to not have the proper food or relying on fast food and ready to eat meals instead of whole foods with proper nutrition.
Do You Find You Have Trouble Getting Out of Bed or You Have Severe Bouts of Insomnia?
Much like eating disorders, sleep disorders can be linked to depression both as a symptom and a cause. You can have issues with either sleeping too much, not being able to fall asleep (sleep onset insomnia), not being able to stay asleep (sleep onset insomnia), not having restful sleep, trouble waking, or daytime fatigue.
This can especially be true in Seattle because of how far north they are situated they are exposed to less sunlight and have a particularly cloudy environment. Factors like sunlight, serotonin, and melatonin levels can have an effect on sleep patterns.
Being aware of sleep patterns or circadian rhythm can help you recognize between seasonal affective disorder and depression. You can help combat SAD with vitamin D, sun lamps, and alarm clocks that slowly brighten (simulating a sunrise). Severe cases may need something more and it is worth checking with your doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, etc. if you are concerned.
Lack of sleep either from insomnia or SAD can leads to feelings of fog, inability to focus, forgetfulness, lack of energy, and even diseases like heart disease. There is evidence that people that experience insomnia are ten times more likely to develop depression.
Oversleeping can also be an issue, this is called hypersomnia and goes much deeper than occasionally feeling tired during the day because you missed a few hours of sleep. People with hypersomnia can get a full night of sleep (7-9 hours) and still feel tired. People with hypersomnia can sleep up to 14 hours a day.
Hypersomnia is also different from the regular feelings of general fatigue and lethargy that is most normally associated with depression.
Do You Have Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is described as pain that takes longer than average to heal from an injury or pain lasting longer than three months. Chronic pain and depression have high levels of association. Unfortunately for the one suffering, they tend to feed off of each other.
Meaning that the more pain one is in the more depressed they feel, and the more depressed they feel the more pain they feel. This makes it somewhat difficult to treat as it becomes a cycle of depression and chronic pain.
While no one knows exactly why people with depression experience more bouts of chronic pain, it is known that they share the same parts of the brain that control mood management among other things. These regions are cortex, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, thalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala.
The overlap of anxiety, depression, and pain is especially apparent in chronic and sometimes disabling pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, headaches, and nerve pain.
Chronic pain sufferers often are misdiagnosed, misunderstood and miserable. They can lose their sense of identity because they can no longer do what they once could. Their doctors get tired of not being able to “fix” them, and family can become worn out from constant excuses and complaints. All of this can lead to isolation and worsening depression.
However, because they have found a connection between the mind and chronic pain it has become possible to incorporate other methods of pain management into a patient’s regimen other than the use of painkillers and other opioids.
“As recent brain research has shown, the mind and the body are intimately intertwined, including in how they sense and respond to pain. Both mindfulness and CBT involve the brain as well as the body. We found that these approaches were as helpful for people with chronic back pain as are other effective treatments for back pain. Our findings are important because they add to the growing evidence that pain and other forms of suffering involve the mind as well as the body. Greater understanding and acceptance of the mind-body connection will provide patients and clinicians with new opportunities for improving the lives of persons with chronic back pain and other challenging conditions that are not always effectively managed with physical treatments alone.”
Do Find Yourself Having Frequent Headaches?
People with depression also usually complain of tension, or stress induces headaches and migraines. This isn’t an occasional headache or a headache where you know the reason such as knowing the actual stressor or sitting in the same position for too long.
These headaches are chronic and present almost daily. Patients will often present with no underlying cause. Often, the physical symptoms, or headache, are more socially acceptable than having anxiety or depression. Many patients are certain there is some sort of cause for their pain.
In these situations, physical complaints are often presented first and then dominate the conversation so that the underlying depression is never discussed.
These headaches usually appear at regular intervals in relation to daily life, occurring during periods of great stress. The greatest proportion of “nervous-type” headache occurs early in the morning and in the late evening.
This headache consists of a steady ache, that doesn’t pulsate, and is often distributed in a band-like pattern around the head. They are often described as vise-like, a steady pressure, a weight, soreness or a distinct cramp-like sensation.
They follow no definite pattern as to location, although the occipital portion of the skull is frequently affected. Their duration is a distinguishing feature. A depressed person will describe their headaches as lasting forever or throughout their lifetime.
Do You Find Yourself Going Months Without Sex or That You Are Constantly Turning Your Partner Down?
Depression can also be linked to a low sex drive. When you’re busy, tired, or stressed many people are not “in the mood” and that is totally normal. However, a noticeably decreased sex drive, that deviates from the norm can be a sign of deeper, underlying issues.
One of the primary factors that are looked at when diagnosing depression is a lack of enjoying things that you used to. Jennifer Payne, M.D., director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins, says,
“Change in sex drive is a key symptom we look at when deciding if someone fits the diagnosis for major depressive episodes. People with depression also have decreased energy, feel badly about themselves, and might view their partners through a negative filter, all of which impacts sex drive.”
These feelings can affect men and women, but women are less likely to seek treatment because they assume that there is no treatment. Because of stigmas that exist in our society, it can often be embarrassing for women to admit that want or need help in improving their sex lives.
Medication for depression can also cause these symptoms. Christine Manley, PhD, a clinical psychologist explains that,
“Medications that are considered the gold standard antidepressants—like Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa—are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and a ton of research shows that they completely demolish your sex drive. That’s because they increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain, but too much of a spike can inhibit libido and make it harder to have an orgasm.”
The best thing that you can do is to keep open lines of communication between partners. Many times, the partner that is not suffering from depression or low libido often doesn’t understand why they are being turned down and this can lead to feelings of resentment on their part, and a worsening depression on yours.
Are These Symptoms a Cause for Concern?
Many of these symptoms, by themselves, can have other underlying causes that are not related to depression
Alone or infrequently, these symptoms are not a cause for concern. They are worth checking into, however, if they are intense or happen frequently. They may be signs of depression or they could be symptoms of other underlying medical conditions.
If these symptoms sound familiar, or if you feel that you are suffering from depression please reach out and contact someone for support. More information on treatments and available therapists can be found here at Mindful Therapy Group.