Depression doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can catch a case of the blues. It’s not just in your head either. Depression can hit your physical health… hard. Here’s a closer look at how depression can make you sick.
A 2017 study found that 17.3 million adults in the United States had a depressive episode in the previous year. It affects everyone differently.
You may have depression if you experience any of these symptoms for 2 weeks or longer:
- feeling sad, anxious, empty, irritable, hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, worthless, restless, or helpless
- poor concentration, memory, or trouble making decisions
- loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- having suicidal thoughts
The gastrointestinal (GI) system and brain have a strong bond. In fact, there are so many nerves in your GI tract that some researchers have referred to it as a “second brain.”
Emotions can set off that lovely “butterflies in the tummy” vibe. But they can also trigger a pit-of-digestive-despair sensation.
If you don’t have a GI condition, your chronic digestive issues might be a symptom of depression. You can treat an upset tummy. But that won’t cure the cause.
Sick to your stomach
A 2018 study found that peeps with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) had higher rates of anxiety and depression. GERD is a condition where stomach contents are pushed into the esophagus. This causes heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms.
There’s also a proven link between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and depression. The uncomfortable symptoms can act as mental health stressors. Studies show around 50 to 90 percent of people treated for IBS also have a psychiatric disorder.
IBS symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
Double-edged sleep sword
Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Wake up throughout the night? Have poor quality snoozes? Or are you sleeping a lot more than usual but still feel tired?
Sleep issues can be the first warning sign of a major depressive episode. Continued sleep disturbances may predict future depressive episodes.
The immune system suffers
Mr. Sandman plays a major role in your overall health. Your immune system fights infections while you’re catching Zzz’s. If your depression is keeping you awake you’re at a higher risk of getting sick.
Evidence also shows depression is linked to inflammation. That’s your body’s response to stress, infection, and injury. Inflammation goes hand-in-hand with compromised immunity.
Chronic inflammation can lead to:
A real broken heart?
If your heart literally hurts after a breakup you’re not alone. Stress and depression can lead to heart problems. A 2013 study found depression can play a major role in high blood pressure.
Stress and depression can also lead to:
- irregular heart rate
- artery damage 💔
Surprises on the scale
Depression can affect your diet habits. Some folks lose their appetite. Others nosh for comfort. Either way, depression can cause weight fluctuations.
The connection between depression and weight gain/loss is a bit tricky. Some antidepressant meds might lead to weight gain. But, on the other hand, antidepressants can also improve your general mood and motivation to exercise — which might help you shed a few pounds.
A horrible headache is the last thing you want to deal with when you’re depressed. Alas, 30 to 60 percent of depressed people also have frequent headaches. In fact, headaches and depression may fuel each other. A lack of sleep doesn’t help the issue.
The link between emotional and physical pain is legit. Mood disorders can alter pain perception and heighten pain. People who suffer from chronic pain are also more likely to experience depression.
Depression can also contribute back pain, stiff joints, and muscle aches. This may be due to inactivity. Losing interest in physical activities is a common symptom of depression which can lead to stiffness and pain.
Read more about the physical symptoms of depression here.
There are lots of depression treatments out there. Sometimes symptoms may have to be treated separately. But certain remedies combat emotional and physical symptoms. Gotta love a twofer, right?
Most depression treatment plans will include several components tailored to your needs.
Pull up a couch
Psychotherapy is the bomb. It can really help you get to the root of your depression and find positive ways to cope. Keep in mind, therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. Which type of therapy you pick depends on your needs and style.
Popular options include:
- cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT)
- interpersonal therapy
- psychodynamic therapy
There’s no shame in taking antidepressants. They can help correct the neurotransmitter imbalances in your brain that might be causing your depression. They can also improve depression symptoms like:
- loss of appetite
- poor concentration
Ask your doctor what combination of medications would work best for you. It might take some trial and error to figure out the perfect medication and dosage. Most antidepressants take 2 to 4 weeks to reach their full potency.
Just relax, bb
The ultimate easier-said-than-done solution! It might seem impossible to start a new activity right now. But take baby steps. These options can help improve your mood:
- Do an exercise that makes you feel good (e.g. yoga, nature walks, and swimming).
- Meditate. Give yourself some time to clear your headspace.
- Spend time with “your people.” It’s normal to feel alone and isolated when depressed. But it’s okay to ask for help (and to let people help).
- Don’t put extra pressure on yourself. Postpone major life decisions until you feel like you again.
- Treat yo’ self! Whether that’s journaling, taking a bath, etc., do something that makes you feel good.
Other tools in your pillbox
Antidepressants aren’t the only medications that can help.
Consult your doctor to see if over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen) are right for your symptoms. Your doc can prescribe a muscle relaxer if the discomfort is really intense.
There are both prescription and OTC options that can help with GI symptoms including GERD and IBS.
A natural approach
You may be able to get some relief using herbal remedies. Check these out:
- Melatonin, passion flower, valerian root, and magnesium may help you sleep (though melatonin is recommended to help reset, not as a daily solution).
- Studies show peeps who take omega-3 fatty acids on the reg are less likely to be depressed.
- St. John’s wort is often cited as a natural treatment for depression. But its efficacy needs more research and it can interact with some medications.
PSA: Use caution with supplements and natural remedies. They’re not always tested or regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Always consult with your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen.
Asking for help can be hard. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. Make an appointment with a mental health professional or doctor if you’re feeling down for longer than 2 weeks. That’s how long it takes to receive an actual diagnosis.
Depression isn’t just in your head. It can affect your entire life, body and all. If you think you’re depressed just remember: You’re not alone. There are tons of resources that will help your mind and body feel better soon.