Private Matters Psychotherapy Logo

The Connection Between Depression and Physical Health

. Written by Tricia Raynsford

Depression can manifest not only as mental health symptoms but also as physical health symptoms.  The impact of depression on overall well-being can look like: chronic joint/muscle pain and tension, back and chest pain, inflammation, weakened immune system, digestive problems, appetite or weight changes, headaches, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, sleep disturbances, as well as an increased risk for heart disease. It’s important to remember that the body and mind are one system, and an impact on one means an impact on the other.

Depression and Physical Health – an Infographic

The Link Between Depression And Physical Health Symptoms

Depression and physical pain have a biological connection. Hormones in the brain (neurotransmitters) like serotonin and norepinephrine influence both mood and pain in the body. Dysregulation in these chemicals is linked to both depression and pain. Kroenke et al. (1994) conducted a study that found that individuals with physical symptoms had an almost doubled likelihood of having a mood disorder (like depression). Additionally, the worse the painful physical symptoms experienced by someone, the more severe the depression is experienced (Trivedi, 2004).

“Depression doesn’t just hurt your feelings – it hurts your body.”

– Hilary Duff

            Not only depression, but stress on the body has a major effect on one’s physical health. When you are stressed your body releases chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline. This is also called our “fight or flight” response. When this response in the body is activated, your body reacts by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, disrupting or suspending the digestive system’s function, and even disrupting the immune system so your body can focus on the stress at hand. This stress on the body, especially when it is frequent, results in physical health symptoms and leaves us prone to fatigue, a lower pain tolerance, bodily aches and pains, sickness, disturbed sleep and digestive function, and of course low mood.

            Additionally, when feeling low mood or depression, we reduce our physical activity which can also contribute to physical health symptoms. The fact of the matter is, depression can cause physical symptoms, and physical symptoms can cause depression, in a vicious cycle.

Incorporating Both Physical And Mental Health In The Treatment Of Depression

As we just learned, physical and mental health are so closely connected that treating one without treating the other would put a client at risk for relapse after treatment. Treatment for depression often includes talk therapy and/or medication.

Tree on blue background
“Mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin. Take care of both to live a full life.”
– Hippocrates (Ancient Greek physician)

Depression can cause fatigue, loss of motivation, and pain which can make steps toward physical health recovery more challenging. Here are some tips to help cope with the physical health symptoms of depression:

  1. Plan physical activities or exercise
    • A little movement and physical activity can help us produce those “happy hormones” that will help improve our mood and make our bodies feel better.
  2. Getting outside
    • Sunshine, fresh air, and getting into the environment can act to increase our mood and can be good for the body. A short walk, or even just sitting outside, can give us the boost we need.
  3. Breaking down tasks
    • Daily activities can feel overwhelming when we try to get them all done in a short period of time. Try breaking down larger jobs into smaller activities so you can take breaks and reduce stress (i.e. cooking in batches, reducing unnecessary cleaning/chores, etc.)
  4. Try to prioritize your basic needs
    • As humans, we have basic needs like shelter, water, food, and sleep. If we can try to stick to a sleep routine, and make sure we’re getting plenty of water and healthy food, then it should help our bodies which we know helps our mind.

In the journey toward emotional well-being, it is essential to acknowledge and celebrate the small victories and accomplishments along the way. Each step taken toward feeling better, no matter how seemingly insignificant, contributes to the overall progress and growth. As we navigate the twists and turns of life, let us not underestimate the power of recognizing our efforts, no matter how small they may appear. Embracing the journey and taking time to revel in our achievements, no matter how modest, adds a sense of fulfillment and encouragement. So, in the pursuit of a happier and healthier life, let celebration be an integral part of the process, reminding us that every step forward is worth honoring.

Marleen Filimon - Business Owner - PMP Matters
Ready to feel better physically and mentally? Schedule your free therapy consultation today!
Yellow DividerBook A Free Consultation
Marleen Filimon is the founder and CEO of Private Matters Psychotherapy
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram