Identifying The Physical Symptoms Of Depression And What To Do About Them

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated November 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Although it can sometimes be difficult to see, depression can profoundly impact a person's life, and it is one of the most common mental illnesses. When it comes to depression, many of us often think of the mental, emotional, or behavioral symptoms that come with it, such as a low mood, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in certain activities. However, depression can also have a range of physical symptoms. So, what are the physical symptoms of depression, and what can you do about them? Here, we will address these questions and how to find support for depression if you need it or think that you might.

Depression Can Be Painful And Exhausting

Physical Symptoms Of Depression

Depression can impact various people differently. Two people can meet the criteria for the same depressive disorder, but they might show symptoms differently. Some people may notice more physical symptoms than others, and this can be particularly true if there are comorbid disorders present, such as anxiety or substance misuse.

Here are some common physical symptoms of depression:

  • Tiredness and fatigue: Fatigue is one of the most prominent symptoms of depression. A person with depression may feel tired and low energy, and like even small tasks require a lot of effort. 

  • Body aches and pain: Not only are body aches a potential physical symptom of depression, but those who experience chronic pain are at a higher risk of depression. Some studies suggest that up to 85% of those with chronic pain are affected by severe depression. 

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) distress: Research suggests a link between depression, anxiety, digestive issues, and diagnosable digestive disorders, which include but are not limited to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • Changes in appetite: Some people who live with depression notice that they eat more than usual, whereas others experience a loss of appetite. This can result in weight gain or weight loss.

  • Slowed psychomotor activity: Slowed bodily movements are a common symptom that some people with depression experience. Even if you don't notice this yourself, the people around you might notice this in the form of slow speech, slow physical movements, and so on.

  • Trouble with self-care activities: Self-care activities with which a person with depression might have difficulty include brushing their hair, practicing consistent dental hygiene, showering, meal preparation, doing laundry, and more. Again, this can vary from person to person.

  • Changes in sleep patterns: Some people who live with depression experience insomnia, typically characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. On the other hand, other people who live with depression may sleep too much.

The physical symptoms of depression and those that are psychological, social, or emotional can affect daily life in various ways. For example, fatigue or low energy can make maintaining work, family, or school-related responsibilities pretty tough. Similarly, sleep problems can lead to sleep deprivation, which may have serious consequences. Depression can also increase the risk of various physical health complications, including heart disease, as well as increase the risk of developing other mental illnesses, such as anxiety. 

The above list is not by any means complete; there are a variety of other depression symptoms, emotional as well as physical, that may be experienced depending on the severity of depression, the individual, and circumstances.

Note that some of the possible physical symptoms of depression may also be attributed to conditions and concerns outside of depression. It is important to talk with your doctor to get individualized guidance and rule out any other possible causes or diagnoses.

Physical Health Conditions And Depression

Physical symptoms, like those above, can result from a depressive disorder. However, there's a link between existing physical health conditions and the development of depression, too. Physical illness is a potential risk factor for depression alongside other risk factors, such as adverse childhood experiences and family history. 

Higher depression rates are seen in people with rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, cancer, heart disease, heart attacks, and other conditions. 


What Can I Do About The Physical Symptoms Of Depression?

There are various treatment options available for depression that can help address its range of symptoms, including physical ones. Common treatments for depression include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Treatment can vary depending on the individual, the severity of depression, the symptoms experienced, and the presence of any other comorbid condition. Please consult with your doctor to explore medication options or changes.  

You don't need a diagnosis of depression or any other mental health condition to start seeing a therapist. Therapy can help individuals with various concerns, from mental health conditions to other challenges, like life stress, grief, social relationships, and more. Whether you live with depression or need support in another area, therapy is an option to consider.

For individuals with depression, the feelings of tiredness, fatigue, and low energy can make the idea of commuting to an office for an in-person appointment feel difficult. In these cases, online therapy may seem a little easier, as you can meet with your therapist from wherever you have an internet connection, including from home. 

And research shows that online therapy is an effective treatment in reducing depression symptoms. One such study found that "depression symptom severity was significantly reduced" after the use of the digital therapy intervention. 

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Depression Can Be Painful And Exhausting


Depression symptoms can vary from one individual to the next, but some possible physical symptoms include fatigue, body aches, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns. If you are experiencing depression, there are a variety of treatment options available, including online therapy.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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