How Depression Can Affect You: 10 Common Challenges

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a complex mental health condition, with symptoms that can lead to physical, mental, behavioral and emotional challenges and impact various facets of life. If you’re living with a depressive disorder, understanding how it may affect you can be critical to safeguarding your mental well-being. Below, we’re discussing ten common effects of depression to provide you with insights into how living with depression may influence your life. 

Depressive symptoms can cause widely varying complications

An overview of depression

Depression is a mental health condition characterized by persistent sadness, a lack of energy, loss of interest, and fatigue. Depression actually comprises several different depressive disorders, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. While its exact causes are unknown, depression has been linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, and environmental influences. 

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness

  • Irritability

  • Sleep disruptions

  • Fluctuations in appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Unexplained aches and pains

Physical challenges of depression

Though depression is a psychological condition, it can lead to serious physiological complications. The mind-body connection closely links our mental and physical health, so challenges that affect our mood may also impact our bodies. The physical manifestations can include a lack of energy, fatigue, and body pains. 

These symptoms can cause difficulties in daily life and exacerbate the emotional symptoms of depression. The following are examples of the physical effects of depression.  

Fluctuations in appetite

Research shows that some of the brain regions associated with appetite are the same as certain regions associated with depression. Individuals with depression often experience either an increase or decrease in appetite. Some people may eat more to cope with the difficult emotions of depression. Others may struggle to eat enough due to trouble motivating or stress. Additionally, medication side effects, lifestyle changes, and an altered metabolism can all contribute to appetite changes. This symptom has the potential to significantly affect both physical and mental health and should be recognized and treated as soon as possible.

Change in sleeping patterns

Sleep is a vital aspect of our lives, and it's essential to maintain healthy patterns to ensure we get the rest we need. Depression can lead to excessive sleep or a lack of sleep. Insomnia commonly arises alongside depression, causing individuals to struggle to get sufficient sleep. One of the most common culprits is stress, which can keep our minds racing long after we've settled into bed. The inability to get to sleep or stay asleep may be influenced by lifestyle factors such as changes in diet and a lack of exercise. 

Depression can also cause an individual to avoid negative feelings by sleeping longer than normal. They may address these concerns, like learning stress management skills and making healthy lifestyle choices is crucial. The quality of our lives, as well as our energy and productivity levels, can be greatly enhanced by making sound sleep practices a top priority.

Muscle tension and aches

Muscle tension and aches are common physical effects of depression. An individual may experience increased pain due to staying in one position for too long or experiencing persistent stress. 

Let's say stress levels in the body have been high for a long time. As a result, you may experience nagging pain in various parts of your body, such as your neck, shoulders, upper back, arms, lower back, and legs. Getting help is crucial if you want to lessen the physical discomfort you're feeling as a result of your depression.

Emotional challenges of depression

The emotional manifestations of depressed affect are numerous, ranging from a constant sense of sadness and loneliness to a lack of motivation and interest in activities you once enjoyed. It's common to feel worthless and guilty, making it difficult to believe you're worthy of happiness.

Sadness or emptiness

People with depression may often feel tearful, empty, or hopeless. These feelings can be so intense that they interfere with a person's ability to function. You might have trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating, and you may withdraw from social activities and relationships. 

Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

Depression often causes individuals to struggle to experience pleasure from their hobbies, social life, and interests. Known as anhedonia, this symptom can exacerbate depression, preventing an individual from having outlets for their feelings. 

Low self-esteem

People with depression may develop a negative self-image, lack of confidence, and sense of inadequacy, leading to lower self-assuredness. Although low self-esteem can stem from various causes, including childhood experiences, societal pressures, and personal challenges, it can be worsened by depression. 

Cognitive challenges of depression

One of the primary symptoms of depression is a depressed or negative affect, which can impact multiple cognitive functions. For example, people with depressive symptoms often struggle with concentration and memory. 

They may also experience decreased motivation and energy levels, making it challenging to complete daily tasks. Additionally, individuals with depression may have trouble processing information and struggle with decision-making, problem-solving, and planning. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing cognitive symptoms of depression, it's essential to seek out professional help to manage and treat the condition effectively.

Negative thought patterns

Depression can lead to cycles of unhelpful thoughts that may exacerbate symptoms. One such negative thought pattern is the tendency to blame oneself for their feelings. This can lead to guilt, low self-esteem, and even depression. For example, a negative belief about one’s value may lead to feelings of sadness and behaviors like isolation or substance use. 

As a result, it is critical to recognize these thoughts and confront them with more positive and realistic self-talk. Self-compassion and mindfulness practices can also help break the cycle of cognitive distortions. If you engage in unhelpful thought patterns, a mental health professional can help you identify and replace them.  

Difficulty focusing

Making decisions and concentrating on tasks can be more difficult for those living with depression. Cognitive challenges are thought to be a primary factor in functional impairment related to depression. These concerns can be worsened by other depressive symptoms, such as sleep disruptions, low energy, and changes in mood. 

The cognitive challenges of depression can significantly impact your ability to focus for extended periods, potentially interfering with your ability to participate in school or work. According to the CDC, depressive disorders are “the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals aged 15-44”. 

Behavioral challenges of depression

Depression can cause us to act in ways we ordinarily would not, often in attempts to alleviate difficult emotions. Understanding common behavioral challenges of depression can help you recognize such actions if you engage in them. 

Substance use

Many people use drugs or alcohol as a maladaptive coping mechanism for difficult feelings associated with depression. There is a well-established link between substance use disorder and depressive disorders. Substance use can exacerbate the symptoms of depression and lead to further mental and physical complications. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Isolation

Many people with depression struggle to put themselves in social situations. Even spending time with family and friends might seem unattainable at times. This is frequently related to worry and the fear of being judged or rejected. It can also be related to trouble motivating or anhedonia. As a result, people with depressive symptoms often become isolated. 

Depressive symptoms can cause widely varying complications

Depression treatment

Though the above-mentioned effects of depression can be challenging and varied, depressive disorders are considered highly treatable conditions, with up to 90% of those receiving care responding favorably. Treatment for depression typically consists of therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Therapy can help you identify the sources of depression, process the emotional effects of the condition, and address co-occurring mental health challenges. 

There are several different types of medication for depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclic antidepressants. Always consult with a healthcare provider prior to starting or stopping any medication. If you believe you’re living with a depressive disorder, a mental health or medical professional can provide you with screenings and determine whether further testing, diagnosis, and treatment are necessary. 

Limiting the impact of depression with online therapy

Online therapy has emerged as an effective form of treatment for those struggling with the effects of depression. For example, in one study, researchers found that online therapy led to “significant reductions of depressive symptoms”, improvements that were sustained for a year post-treatment. The study also notes the ability of online therapy to connect people to mental health care in a convenient manner.

If you’re looking for guidance as you work through the effects of a depressive disorder or similar mental health challenge, consider getting matched with a licensed therapist online. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can chat with a therapist remotely, which may be especially helpful if depression makes it hard for you to leave home. Your therapist can also connect you with useful resources, such as at-home exercises geared toward helping you address therapy on your own time. 

Takeaway

Depression can manifest in physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges that may affect various aspects of life. Despite these complications, however, depression is also a highly treatable condition. If you’re looking for help as you navigate depression, consider utilizing an online therapy platform. With the right support, you can address the symptoms of depression and limit its negative effects.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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