17 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Depression

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

People often mistakingly view depression as simply an emotion. Sad, low, down, numb — however we describe it, we focus on how it affects our mind, rather than how it affects our whole being. But when we only define depression by how it affects us emotionally, we miss a big chunk of the experience — how it affects our bodies. Depression is not just an emotion. Its physical effects are real and shouldn’t be ignored.

To find out how depression affects not only the mind but the body as well, we asked people in our community to share one surprising physical effect they experienced because of depression.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “My sleep schedule is backwards. I want to sleep all day but then can’t sleep at night because I’m sad I didn’t do anything all day.” — Kalene P.

2. “Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.” — Michael R.

3. “Constipation. Somehow I made it to 25 before anyone ever even told me my chronic constipation wasn’t just a quirk and was, in fact, related to depression. I remember family members getting upset with me for being in the bathroom forever when I was in elementary school, and that’s also when my suicidal ideation began. Also my antidepressants keep me regular. I get a bit angry when I realize how much sooner I could’ve started treatment.” — Cort G.

4. “The only thing I can compare it to is tunnel vision. I only ever realize I’d had it once its been lifted and I can see the world around me. It’s almost a heaviness that clouds my vision and my mind.” — Pleshae M.

5. “My doctor calls it ‘vasovagal syncope,’ which is just a fancy term for ‘fainting.’ You can’t handle the amount of stress you’re dealing with so your heart rate and blood pressure suddenly drops and you just pass out. It’s only happened a few times and has to be something pretty traumatic for it to happen to me, but still even now if I’m triggered by something in particular that was really bad, I get lightheaded and know I need to stop thinking about it.” — Ashleigh C.

6. “My limbs become sore, like when you’ve been sleeping for too long, even if I manage to get up and move a bit, and my entire body becomes sluggish. It’s almost comparable to how you feel after working out for the first time in a while, except it isn’t just something you get every once in a while.” — CJ R.

7. “Everything is slow. My movements, my thoughts, my speech. I take longer to answer questions, and I stop in the middle of sentences because it’s almost like my brain gives up.” — Erin W.

8. “Acne. I’ve always had minimum maintenance complexion. Then during this decade of depression it just seems that my skin has gone backwards. On my face, on my back and chest. And dry skin where I’ve never had problems before too. It just exemplifies the depression and feeling of self-worth. Thanks for letting me vent.” — Ranee A.

9. “I get terrible blotchy skin and my scalp psoriasis lights on fire. I tighten up in my back and experience a lot of pain in my middle back. I break out in acne and I don’t have problem skin. I can’t get motivated and begin eating everything.” — Paige R.

10. “Lack of hunger. I cannot eat for days and hardly notice. This leads to fatigue and weakness. Speaking of which, is it nap time? I also lose time. I can get lost in my own head for hours. It’s not fun in there, but it’s so loud it’s hard not to get sucked in.” – Kendal Z.

11. “It depends on what level of depression I’m experiencing, but there are times when my body feels heavy and my head feels blocked. A constant grogginess and fog envelopes my head. It’s like I’m holding it under water. My body feels like it has large rocks placed on my shoulders. My joints are stiff and sore and I can’t move quickly because I physically can’t due to everything aching. It feels like I’m the tin man who hasn’t applied any oil.” — Molly L.

12. “I get lightheaded, fatigued and feel voraciously hungry but have no desire to eat whatsoever.” — Sean H.

13. “Along with the more common debilitating symptoms, sometimes if I’m in a really bad way and feeling suicidal, I get this really intense ache in my forearms, almost as if they’re begging to be opened up. A less than helpful suggestion from the confines of my very own mind.” — Destiney B.

14. “Massive back pain traveling up and down my spine, as if my body is carrying a painful emotion that can’t be released.” — Jacob K.

15. “When it’s very bad it hurts between my ribs. I feel strong feelings of hopelessness while this pain continues. And I feel exhaustion all the time even though I spend much time sleeping. (I don’t feel like this now, I’m OK.)” — Elenor H.

16. “The thing that surprised me most during my latest depressive episode was how physically drained I was. Emotional symptoms were one thing, but I couldn’t believe how horrible I felt physically. I was so exhausted, all the time and it felt like it would never go away. Even walking up a flight of stairs made me feel like I was going to collapse. No amount of forcing myself outside to walk my dog made any difference whatsoever, even though they say it’s supposed to help. When the depression finally started to lift, it was like my muscles had forgotten how to function. I started walking a lot more once my energy started to return and the first thing I noticed, that shocked me, was that stretching my legs before going for a walk was extremely painful. Doing basic leg stretches used to feel really good, any time, whether I was going to a walk or not, but it hurt so bad I was beginning to think there was something seriously wrong. It took over a month of continuously stretching before a walk to get my leg muscles feeling somewhat normal again.” — Keira H.

17. “It feels like there’s a hole in my torso, near my solar plexus. It hurts, so much. It starts as a low-key ache, but when it’s really bad it feels like someone’s stabbing me.” — Court N

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