by Jaffor Bhuiya
Sadness, hopelessness, irritability, a loss of interest and focus in the activities you enjoy most… we all know the basic symptoms of depression by now. But can depression make you sick?
Yes. In fact it’s connected to a host of physical symptoms. This might explain why, according to the Mental Health Foundation, depression and anxiety account for almost 13 per cent of all sick days in the UK .
How can depression make you sick?
Here are some health issues that arise from depression.
1. Gastrointestinal issues.
There is a strong link between your brain and gastrointestinal (GI) system. This means that depression, anxiety, and stress can hinder the movement and contractions of your GI tract. Which can lead to diarrhoea, constipation, and nausea.
Your emotions can also affect the amount of stomach acid you produce, which increases your risk of developing ulcers. This study concluded that stress causes acid reflux and that the greater your level of stress, the more severe your acid reflux. And conversely, other research concludes that those with gastroesophageal reflux disease had higher levels of anxiety and depression.
2. Sleep problems.
Depression and sleep disorders are so interconnected they often come hand-in-hand. You may struggle to fall or stay asleep, obtain restful sleep, or find yourself sleeping too much.
Research suggests depression may be caused by disturbances in circadian rhythm (responsible for disrupting sleep). As a result, researchers are exploring new methods to treat depression, including investigating how to alter the sleep-wake cycle.
3. Weakened immune system.
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Your immune system creates cytokines and other substances while you sleep, designed to support your immune system. If you’re depressed, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation, and this hinders this process. The end result is that you are more susceptible to infection and illness.
Depression and stress can also contribute to inflammation, as per this study.
4. High blood pressure.
Depression and stress are connected, and chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension). If you have hypertension, you’re at greater risk of getting cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
5. Weight fluctuations.
Your mood can affect how much you eat and your weight. For example, weight loss can occur when you experience a loss of appetite from depression.
Or feelings of hopelessness cause you to eat unhealthy foods and draw your interest away from exercise. You may indulge in sugary and fatty foods to find relief from negative thoughts and emotions. In addition, some antidepressants cause increased appetite and weight gain as side effects.
According to this survey by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43% of adults with depression are obese.
You can also get headaches from depression, and if you’re not sleeping much, this will aggravate the issue.
The National Headache Foundation reports that frequent headaches occur in 30-60% of depressed people.
7. Aches and pains.
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There’s a connection between emotional and physical pain. Mood disorders can change how you perceive pain and increase your pain sensitivity.
If you suffer from chronic pain, you’re also more likely to experience depression.
If you’ve been inactive from depression, then you’re also likely to get back pain, stiff joints, and muscle aches. The stiffness and pain usually occur from losing interest in physical activities that would otherwise keep your muscles and joints strong.
What can I do if I am depressed and it’s making me sick?
You can try the following treatments.
Antidepressant drugs are sometimes used to treat depression. They work by correcting the chemical imbalances in the brain responsible for regulating your mood. But they can cause physical symptoms themselves, such as headaches, sleep changes, and weight gain, and it’s best to use them along with therapy as they alone do not change the root problems causing your depression.
2. Activities that reduce stress.
It might seem impossible to take that first step and start a new activity right now, especially with the loss of interest in activities that depression brings. Take baby steps and challenge yourself.
The following activities can give your mood a boost:
3. Talk therapy.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, is often offered for depression and anxiety, but also for those dealing with chronic physical pain and things like irritable bowel syndrome. So if your depression is giving you physical issues it might be the perfect fit.
Ready to stop feeling terrible all the time? We connect you to a team of London’s top talk therapists. Or use our sister site to find UK-wide registered therapists based on ratings by other users.
Jaffor Bhuiya is a content writer who likes to write about mental and physical health, and is fascinated by the role of nutrition, alternative medicine, mind-body techniques, and exercise in preventing and alleviating various issues. Find him on Twitter at @jbhuiya07.