When Mental And Emotional Pain Becomes Physical: Depression's Effect On The Body

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated August 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P

Depression can make an impact on a person in a lot of different ways. Many people are able to recognize the mental and emotional effects of depression but those aren't the only symptoms and side effects. There are actually mental, emotional, and physical depression symptoms. In order to overcome depression, or even to recognize that you have it, it's important to understand what this looks like.

Despite what some people might say, depression is not all in your head. Yes, it does have an impact on the way that you think, your motivation levels, and your emotions, but there's much more to it than that. Depression brings with it a wide array of physical symptoms that can make dealing with daily life difficult.

Physical Symptoms Of Depression

Curious About The Effects Of Depression and How To Treat It?

While there haven't been many studies on humans, there have been studies on animals that have shown the impact and connection of gut health and mental health. These studies have found that what you eat and how healthy you keep your gut, which is your internal organs working on digestion, has an impact on your mental health. It's also believed that it works the other way as well. Your mental health impacts your physical body.

This helps explain a lot of the physical symptoms that come with being depressed. And, it also helps to explain why paying attention to your self-care, such as what you eat and exercise, is able to have a positive impact on your mental health.

Chronic Pain

It's believed that depression is connected with the way that your nerve cell networks are able to process your emotions. What this means is that your emotional pain from when you are depressed can actually cause you physical pain.

This looks different for each person. Some people with depression experience headaches on a regular basis. There are others that experience back pain when they're depressed, or even muscle aches and joint pains.

Another common chronic pain that is connected with depression is chest pain. While many people jump to thinking that it could be a heart attack that they're experiencing or more serious problems, it could just be a symptom of depression. This is especially true of those that suffer from anxiety and panic attacks along with their depression.

Digestive Problems

It's common for people that are experiencing depression to also have problems with their digestive system. Some people experience constipation and others have diarrhea. Or there are some who just feel nauseous on a regular basis.

If the studies are correct that there is a connection between mental health and gut health, then this makes a lot of sense scientifically. However, it can also make sense because many people that are depressed also experience a change in their appetite which is related to digestion. Some people are not able to continue eating a balanced diet. They may fall into eating convenience foods that are highly processed and their body might struggle to digest it. Or, they may struggle with not eating anything at all which can then cause them digestion problems when they are able to eat something.

Problems Sleeping

It's common for people that are suffering from depression to also experience a change in their sleep habits. Some people find that they are sleeping a lot more than normal. Because they don't feel motivated for the day, it's difficult to motivate themselves to even get out of bed. This can result in them getting a lot more sleep than what they're used to.

Other people who are experiencing depression find that it is very difficult for them to sleep. They may be bothered by negative thoughts and anxiety constantly running through their head. This can make it very difficult to get the rest that they need each night.


When someone feels depressed it's not uncommon for them to also feel fatigued and exhausted. Regardless of how much sleep that they're able to get each night, they aren't able to wake up feeling rested.

Mental and emotional symptoms and pain can cause someone who is struggling with depression to feel hopeless. This feeling makes it very difficult to feel excitement for life, motivation, or other positive feelings that would help to get them going for the day. So instead, they give in to exhaustion and even small tasks are difficult for them to accomplish in the day.

Other Symptoms

While these symptoms are the most common physical depression symptoms, there are also others. Some of these can include eye problems such as reduced vision, lightheadedness, or dizziness.

If you're experiencing physical symptoms that you don't understand, it could be that they're related to your mental health. These are important to discuss with your doctor.

The cycle of physical depression symptoms

Your physical symptoms of depression and your mental and emotional symptoms of depression can create a vicious cycle.

When you are starting to feel depressed, it's easy to feel unmotivated to do the things that you need to in order to take care of yourself. This includes eating a nutritious diet and exercising. When you stop doing these things, you start to experience more of the symptoms of depression.

When you are not properly taking care of yourself, your physical symptoms will begin to have an effect on your mental and emotional symptoms as well.

For example, if you're starting to feel depressed and you find that you are less motivated to get out of bed in the morning, you probably decide not to exercise for the day. Since you're feeling so bad you aren't that concerned with eating, you don't take in the number of calories that you need.

Not getting exercise and not eating enough then causes you to feel more fatigued and exhausted. When you're not able to do the things in the day that you're used to doing it can cause you to feel guilty and ashamed. Eventually, as the cycle continues it can cause you to feel like the situation is hopeless and you'll never be able to regain control of your day, your energy, and your thoughts.

If you start to experience chronic pain, it can add to the emotional effects of depression that you're already dealing with.

Treatment Options

This cycle is the reason why it's so important that you get help when you are experiencing any symptoms of depression. If you are even beginning to suspect that it might be a problem for you, you should consult with a doctor and mental health professional.

Depression is a very treatable mental health disorder. There is no reason that if you're having symptoms of depression, that you should continue to just suffer from it instead of seeking help from a professional.

The longer you wait to get help, the more difficult it can be to make the changes that you need to. The cycle of your physical, emotional, and mental symptoms can spiral so much that it's hard to separate what's causing what.

Curious About The Effects Of Depression and How To Treat It?

Talking with a licensed therapist can help you sort through where your depression is coming from. And, it can help you learn how to address the symptoms that you're dealing with. Therapists can teach you important coping strategies that you can use to overcome depression and regain activity and tasks that you used to do each day and enjoy. They can help you to recognize symptoms that you may not have connected with your depression and learn how to address those as well.

It's important that you learn how to address all symptoms of depression and not just some of them. If you are only addressing a few symptoms it can be easy for the ones that you are ignoring to cause you to spin back into the cycle.

There are many different forms of treatment for depression. There are different types of therapy, medications, and many holistic options such as acupuncture and aromatherapy. However, with an option that you pursue, it's important that you also maintain proper self-care. Taking care of your body will help you with taking care of your mind and vice versa.

Finding A Therapist

There are many places that you can find a therapist to meet with. You can ask your general practitioner for a referral, you can check with your health insurance company, your religious organization, or you could even do therapy sessions with an online therapist.

There's not one right or wrong way to treat depression. It's just important that you continue to do the work that you need to do in order to find the best treatment plan or combination of treatments that will work the best for you, to help you overcome depression.

Don't hesitate in finding a therapist that you can work with. And if the first therapists that you try isn't a great connection, don't hesitate in making a change. It's important that you feel comfortable with your therapist so you can be honest about all of your symptoms and get the help that you need.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

Can emotional pain manifest physically?
What does it mean when your emotional pain becomes physical?
What are the 5 signs of emotional suffering?
What is the most pain a human can go through?
How do emotions manifest physically?
Can you manifest pain in your body?
How do you know if pain is psychosomatic?
How do you know if you are broken mentally?
What causes a person to shut down emotionally?
How do you get trapped emotions out of your body?

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