When Mental And Emotional Pain Becomes Physical: Depression's Effect On The Body
Depression can impact a person in a lot of different ways. Many people recognize the mental and emotional effects of depression, but those aren't the only symptoms and side effects. There are mental, emotional, and physical depression symptoms. To overcome depression, or even to recognize that you have it, it's important to understand what this looks like.
Despite what you may have heard, feelings of depression are not all in your head. Yes, it can have an impact on the way that you think, your motivation levels, and your emotions, but there can be much more to it than that. Depression brings with it a wide array of physical symptoms that can make daily life challenging.
Physical Symptoms Of Depression
While there haven't been many peer-reviewed studies on humans, there have been studies on animals that have shown the impact and connection between gut health and mental health. These studies suggest that what you eat and how healthy you keep your gut might impact your mental health. It's also believed that it works the other way as well; your mental health may impact your physical body.
This might explain many of the physical symptoms that come with being depressed. It can also help explain why paying attention to your self-care, including eating right and exercising, can have a positive impact on your mental health.
It's believed that depression relates to the way that your nerve cell networks are able to process your emotions. What this means is that emotional pain from depression can cause physical pain as well. This may look different for each person. Some people with depression experience headaches on a regular basis, for example. There are others who experience back pain when they're depressed, or even muscle aches and joint pains.
Another chronic pain commonly connected to 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 also be a symptom of depression. This is especially true of those who experience anxiety and panic attacks along with depression.
It's common for people who are experiencing depression to also have problems with their digestive system. Some people experience constipation or diarrhea. Others may 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. People who are depressed may also experience a change in their appetite, which is related to digestion. Some people are not able to continue eating a balanced diet as a result of depression. They may fall into eating convenience foods that are highly processed, and their body might struggle to digest them. Or they may have difficulty eating anything at all, which can then cause digestion problems when they do eat.
It's common for people experiencing depression to also experience a change in their sleep habits. Some people may find that they are sleeping a lot more than normal. With symptoms of depression, it's difficult to motivate themselves to even get out of bed. This can result in them getting a lot more sleep than they're used to.
Other people who are experiencing depression may find it very difficult to sleep. They may be bothered by anxiety or negative thoughts constantly running through their head. This can make it 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 they're able to get each night, they may not wake up feeling rested.
Mental and emotional symptoms and pain can cause someone who is experiencing depression to feel hopeless. This can make it difficult to feel excitement for life, motivation, or other positive feelings that might help get them going for the day. As a result, they may give into exhaustion, and even small tasks can become difficult for them to accomplish.
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 a professional.
The Cycle Of Physical Depression Symptoms
Physical symptoms of depression alongside mental and emotional symptoms can create a vicious cycle. When you experience feelings of depression, it might be easy to feel unmotivated to do the things that you need to take care of yourself. This includes eating a nutritious diet and exercising. When you stop doing these things, you may start to experience more of the symptoms of depression.
When you are not properly taking care of yourself, your physical symptoms could begin to influence your mental and emotional symptoms as well. For example, if you have feelings of depression 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 daily life 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.
Depression is a treatable mental health disorder. Talking with a licensed therapist can help you sort through where your depression is coming from. It can also help you learn how to address any symptoms that you're experiencing. Therapists can teach you important coping strategies that you can use to overcome depression and regain interest in activities you used to enjoy. They can even help you to recognize symptoms that you may not have connected with your depression and learn how to address those as well.
There are many different treatments for depression. These include different types of therapy, medications, and many holistic options such as acupuncture and aromatherapy. Whichever option you pursue, it's important that you also maintain proper self-care. Taking care of your body can help you with taking care of your mind and vice versa.
Finding A Therapist
There are many places where you can find a therapist to meet with. You can ask your general practitioner for a referral, or you can check with your health insurance company or your religious organization.
The very symptoms you’re trying to alleviate can sometimes get in the way of seeking treatment for depression, though. Physical and emotional/mental pain both have the potential to keep you couped up at home instead of going out in public for daily tasks like doctor’s or therapist’s appointments. In these cases, you might be better off scheduling sessions with an online therapist. Internet-based counseling enables you to meet with your mental health care provider from the comfort of home. Plus, you can schedule an appointment during a time that’s most convenient for you, whether day or night.
There's not one right or wrong way to treat depression. The research shows that online therapy is a suitable alternative to in-person counseling for treating a variety of conditions, including depression. One meta-analysis confirmed that the results of internet-based therapy are comparable to those associated with more traditional, office-based therapy.
Depression can cause all sorts of pain, both physical and emotional, but it doesn’t have to. There are effective ways to treat this serious mental illness, including online therapy. Reach out to BetterHelp today, and we’ll match you with a therapist trained to help you alleviate painful symptoms of depression.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the 5 signs of emotional suffering?
The five signs of emotional suffering are:
- Personality changes
- Exhibiting uncharacteristic anger, stress, worry, or other negative feelings
- Withdrawing or isolating from other people
- Poor self-care or risky behavior
- Seeming overwhelmed with hopelessness
These can lead to physical symptoms of depression.
Why does emotional pain hurt physically?
Emotional pain (such as anger and depression) can cause physical pain because of the mind-body connection. Our thoughts impact our biological functioning in a lot of different ways. That’s why it’s equally important to consider and take care of your mental health and process your emotional pain. That’s why pain and depression can go hand in hand, even though it’s not commonly discussed how intertwined pain and depression can be.
In the past, physical pain that did not have an obvious cause (such as a physical injury) was called psychogenic pain. Though this term is not used much anymore, psychogenic pain can be caused by mental health concerns (such as anxiety or depression) or originates in your brain in some way. When this occurs, your nervous system is telling your brain that something is wrong (such as it believes you are being hurt or in danger) and communicates this to your brain. Your brain (particularly the cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex) then creates a pain response.
Ever since medical research discovered the connection between emotional pain and physical pain, many medical professionals have looked to scientific and alternative treatments to ease the emotional causes of physical pain.
Can emotional pain become physical?
Yes. Emotional pain can manifest itself in a lot of different ways and in many different types of physical pain. Physical symptoms can include migraines and headache in back of head and elsewhere, neck tension, general aches and pains, chest pain, digestive problems, and exhaustion. If you have unexplained physical pain or physical symptoms, consider whether or not you might have a mental illness. Pain and depression often come together.
A mental illness can often cause or worsen sleep disorders, which is part of where the exhaustion can come from.
Weight gain and weight loss are already frequent side effects for people with depression. Weight gain can happen because we have trouble taking care of ourselves by eating healthy and partaking in physical activity. But having further digestive issues can cause either weight gain or weight loss.
If you believe you have a mental illness, whether major depression or not, it is important to speak to a doctor before you develop physical pain. They can give you a diagnosis or treatment based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Based on your diagnosis or treatment plan, you can seek out ways to relieve and process the depression and psychological pain you’re experiencing. Treat your psychological pain and depression.
One of the most important ways to do this is stress management. Your doctor or therapist should be able to help you with stress management techniques that can help you in the long term. That should help significantly with physical pain and physical symptoms, particularly in the long term. It can also benefit you outside of a mental illness.
You may also want to try talk therapy to process your emotional pain. A common type of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful for many mental disorders, including major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.
Patients with major depression or bipolar disorder might also be recommended antidepressant medications. You may be concerned about side effects. If so, make sure to talk to your doctor about possible side effects and ask what can be done to mitigate side effects you are most concerned about. Keep a record of any side effects that you experience so that when you follow up with your doctor, you can discuss those side effects. Your side effects may also improve over time. Common side effects include weight gain, dry mouth, sexual problems, and insomnia.
Common antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants. These all have a chance of side effects.
If you believe you have depression and want to learn more about the disorder, depression has its own page on the American Psychiatric Association website. Depression is quite common.
What is the most painful mental illness?
Borderline personality is considered to be a particularly painful mental illness.
How do you know if the pain is psychosomatic?
Psychosomatic pain (or somatic symptom disorder) is a fairly common condition. It is characterized by pain caused by emotional distress, psychological factors, or no other known reason. When evaluated, people with somatic symptoms do not show signs of any physical ailment that could be causing the pain. In past times, this type of pain was called psychogenic pain.
People who have persistent negative emotions (such as anger, anxiety, worry, and stress) and who live with mental health conditions often experience somatic symptoms and several types of physical pain that can’t be explained. However, studies have found that the prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex may be responsible for this pain response. If you have been evaluated for health conditions concerning your acute pain, but your doctor has not found a condition that explains it, then you may be living with psychosomatic pain.
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