When you think about depression, what comes to mind? Is it endless sadness or emptiness? Is it a lack of joy in life, reduced connection with loved ones? How about fatigue or irritability? Did you know your body can also show physical signs of depression?
Physical symptoms that depression can cause or exacerbate include:
Suppressed immune system
More frequent illnesses, longer recovery
Joint pain/ joint stiffness
Feeling hungry, eating more, weight gain
Not hungry, eating less, and weight loss
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Changes in psychomotor skills
Low sex drive (loss of libido)
Sleeping too much
While depression can cause and exacerbate physical pain and illness, physical pain and illness can also exacerbate depression. Below is an example of a feedback loop that can develop.
Pain, Illness, and Depression Feedback Loop
Experiencing pain, illness, and fatigue is physically and emotionally draining. Experiencing depression is also emotionally and physically draining. Both prolonged physical illness and depression frequently cause isolation as it can be hard to work, socialize, and engage in activities you enjoy. Additionally, sufferers often fear being judged by people who cannot see or understand their illness.
What you can do?
If you know someone who is experiencing these symptoms talking to them with kindness about the connection between their mind and body and how they influence each other could be helpful. It can be useful for suffers to feel as though they are not alone, faulty, or broken, because they are struggling with both mental and physical health challenges at the same time.
If you are struggling with concurrent physical and mental health challenges, the following strategies could be beneficial:
1) Be Kind and Gentle with Yourself
It’s easy to feel fed up with yourself when you are experiencing physical and mental health challenges, it’s easy to fall into the trap of judging yourself or feeling as though this challenging time won’t end. Remind yourself you are not alone. Do what you need to do to care for yourself while your mind and body heal. If you need rest, rest – without judgment. If you need some downtime from friends, activities or work – take that time, without judgment. Talk kindly to yourself and give yourself the space to heal.
2) Take Small Steps
Take small steps each day to improve your wellness. While you might take some down time to rest and heal, it is important not to cut yourself off from your support network and from the world in general.
Set some very small, easily achievable goals to move you towards wellness. The goals could be things like:
Get out of bet and take a shower
Phone or facetime with a friend
Get out of the house – perhaps get a coffee
When the weather is nice, take a walk-in nature
Do something kind for yourself
Talk kindly to yourself, if you would not say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself
Talk with your doctor – perhaps get a checkup including some blood tests
It can be challenging to include physical activity into your day when you’re experiencing physical pain and illness, however research by the Mayo Clinic demonstrates 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times per week is enough to reduce symptoms of depression as well as physical illnesses. This can be gentle exercise such as walking, stretching, and swimming. If you can not do 30 minutes of exercise, any exercise will help.
3) Reach out for help
Depression is an awful experience; the good news is it is it can be treated! There are many forms of therapy that can reduce the symptoms of depression and help you to manage any challenges that arise in the future. One research based therapeutic modality that has been confirmed to be beneficial for people who are experiencing depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps clients to change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to reduce mental health challenges such as depression.
Kristy Ambrose is currently offering reduced cost and pro bono counselling during her practicum at the North Shore CBT Centre. Call to book a session 778-928-9069.
Cronkleton, E. (2021). Depression and its physical symptoms. Medical News Today.
Gautam, M., Tripathi, A., Deshmukh, D., Gaur, M. (2020). Cognitive behavioral therapy
National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7001356/
Leonard, B, E. (2010). The concept of depression as a dysfunction of the immune system.
National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002174/
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2023). Depression and anxiety; exercise eases symptoms. Mayo Clinic
NHS. (2023). Symptoms – Depression in Adults. NHS [Website].
Schimelpfening, N. (2023). Physical symptoms of depression. Very Well Mind
Trivedi, M, H. (2004). The link between depression and physical symptoms. National Library of