The physicality of depression and anxiety

I think that some people don’t fully understand how mind can affect body, especially in the case of mental illness. Even I underestimate how the effects of mental illness manifest in my body. I’m good at ignoring and neglecting my body. Which isn’t good! There are many symptoms you might notice in yourself or others. I’m going to talk about some common ones.

Changes in sleep patterns

You might find yourself sleeping more, less, or lighter/heavier than you normally do. I think this often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of fatigue. I know it’s hard for me to get a good night’s sleep when I’m very stressed or depressed. I could easily stay awake all night ruminating. I’ve always been a night owl and had troubles falling asleep. It’s really hard to maintain sleep patterns when you have depression and anxiety, but it’s still good to try. It’s easier to face the world when you’re well-rested.

Changes in appetite or diet

You might find yourself more or less hungry when you’re depressed or anxious. Personally, I’m an emotional eater; I try to distract myself from bad feelings with good-tasting food. Spoiler alert: this method doesn’t actually work. I find I have to keep in mind what my body needs rather than what my mind wants. Staying hydrated is really important too (and it keeps me from feeling hungry when it’s not time to eat).

Pain and tension

This one covers a lot – you could experience back pain, chest pain, joint pain, muscle pain, tension, pressure, etc. I’m lucky in that I don’t experience too much pain in relation to my depression and anxiety, but I do experience a lot of muscle tension. I’m incredibly tense all the time. I clench my jaw. My shoulders are often drawn up. My back and neck are held stiff. My brow furrowed and lips pursed in an unhappy expression. I’ve been trying to correct this. I do a little self-massage, and I practice muscle relaxation. These are both useful, but as soon as I stop thinking about being relaxed, I tense right back up again. I joke that tense is my natural state. I’ve unknowingly trained my body to always be tense, and now I have to train it to relax. It’s not an easy task, but I’ll keep working on it.

Headaches

I think headaches, especially tension headaches, are a really common symptom. I get quite a few headaches. I don’t know if this is entirely connected to my mental health, as headaches and migraines are common in my family, but the depression and anxiety certainly don’t help. I haven’t found a good way to prevent stress-related headaches. When I get a headache, I generally just take some aspirin or acetaminophen (a.k.a. paracetemol) and hope for the best. I know several people who don’t like to take any medication when they have headaches. I couldn’t do that! Kudos to them, I suppose.

Stomach aches

I don’t know exactly how common this symptom is, but it was my first and most noticeable bodily symptom. As a teenager, I had chronic stomach aches, often to the point that I felt quite nauseated. I would get so anxious and stressed out my body was producing excess acid (which I feel is a really weird ‘defense mechanism’). Turns out this hurts! My doctor prescribed me ranitidine (which you might know as over the counter Zantac) to reduce acid production. This worked fairly well for me; I used ranitidine for a long time just to able able to get through the day without an aching belly. My stomach is still sensitive, and I take ranitidine from time to time, but I’ve become more attuned to when my stomach is getting achey, and I’ll try to nip the problem in the bud by altering my diet and doing some stress and anxiety-relieving practices.

I’m of the opinion that recognizing these physical symptoms is important. Recognizing them can help you be more aware of your mental state (e.g. ‘I haven’t been sleeping well…possibly because I’ve been anxious about x‘). Plus, you can treat the symptoms if you notice them; this might not be as effective as treating the overall cause, but I think it could still give you a little relief and improve your quality of life.

If you have any experience with or tips for dealing with stuff like this, please do share! 🙂

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4 Comments

  1. Everything ties together,body and mind,that’s why we have to address what you mentioned as any one of these can throw us off course!

    Reply
  2. lifeofmiblog

     /  August 23, 2015

    Such a good post. I struggle to explain this to people because they always seem to want an answer that fits their belief system. But my life just isn’t that clear cut…something that is ok today may not be tomorrow.
    Thanks for this

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this post! For me, when the depression w/anxiety really kicks in, so do the early-morning (3 am) awakenings. This has been really hard to ward off… I will “bolt” awaken, usually with a sense of unresolved anxiety. For the next three hours, I try to relax and talk myself back into sleeping, usually without luck. A few days of this really puts me in a bad place!

    Reply
    • Oh, I hate those nights! Sometimes getting up and doing something helps me get back to sleep, but like you, usually I’m awake for the rest of the night :/ Perhaps we should just be extra grateful for the nights of undisturbed sleep…

      Reply

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