You or someone you know is probably dealing with anxiety, depression or maybe even both. I’ve dealt with both simultaneously for the past 4 years and I’m not yet fully recovered.
I’ve come a long way since the beginning, when I was unable to work and spent every day in bed ignoring phone calls and not eating or washing. My mind was so exhausted that I needed time to recuperate, to recharge before slowly coming to terms with my illness and how it affects my day to day life.
So I wanted to talk about the physical effects of anxiety and depression, from my own experience.It’s something that no one really warned me about, even though I was diagnosed by a doctor and have received treatment for several years. I’m not a qualified mental health expert, but I have lived through it for some time, so maybe it’s of use to you or someone you know who might be suffering.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety then I’m betting you already know how much it hurts. Like, physically hurts. A lot of people don’t realise just how painful mental illness can be, and how much your body can be affected by the chemical changes going on in your brain. I mean, it makes sense. Your brain is the control centre for your entire body, so if it’s having a hard time coping then OF COURSE you’re going to see the consequences of that.
Wondering if your symptoms are normal? Here is a quick rundown of those related to depression thanks to WebMB:
- Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may get worse if you become depressed
- Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse
- Chest pain is also associated with depression, but it’s very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away
- Digestive problems or nausea. You might have diarrhoea or become constipated
- Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out (can I get a HELL YES) Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible (sounds about right)
- Sleeping problems. Many people with depression can’t sleep or sleep way more than normal
- Change in appetite and/or weight. You may lose your appetite or even crave certain foods – like carbohydrates – and put on weight
- Dizziness or light-headedness
I found that establishing a good self-care routine alongside medication and therapy has been a key part of my recovery. Wondering how to implement some basic self-care? Check out my post below.
If like me, you’re lucky enough to have both depression AND anxiety (#blessed) then here is some more information. Anxiety comes with a whole other set of symptoms, some of which overlap with the previous list and some of which are different. Check out the NHS website for more details and advice.
- muscle aches and tension
- trembling or shaking
- dry mouth
- excessive sweating
- shortness of breath
- stomach pains
- pins and needles
Check out my tips below on how to deal with some of the most common physical symptoms related to anxiety and depression. You got this!
I spent the first few months in bed like I said, and when I wasn’t sleeping my only interest was going to the gym. A strange response for someone previously uninterested in fitness, but for whatever reason any energy I had I poured into my daily workout. This led me to lose more weight than I ever had previously, a happy side effect as far as I was concerned even if it wasn’t for the right reasons. Not a healthy mindset I’m sure you’ll agree.
After I began taking my prescribed anti-depressants I did experience some weight gain; whether this was a sign of the beginning of recovery or the increased appetite which was described in the pill packet I’m unsure. Overall, I’ve realised that my built in response to both anxious and depressed feelings is to eat. To be honest I’m at a loss as how to shake off this coping mechanism off completely, and it’s definitely attributing to my weight gain as well as low self-esteem which can have a more negative affect on my mental health.
It’s a vicious cycle I’m caught in at the moment without any real idea how to escape it. My way of dealing with it currently is to accept that recovery is a long road, and that changes in my mind and body are to be expected. They are not good or bad, or even permanent. They just exist and will adapt as my health improves over time.
I had anxiety and depression for years before I experienced a panic attack. It wasn’t even something I worried about. I think this is partly because I was too anxious to put myself in a situation difficult enough for it to occur. I’m very wary of new places and unusual social outings and can tell what will freak me out.
This has been a bad way to handle things, because when I did pluck up the courage to do something out of my comfort zone I had a panic attack as a result. The physical symptoms I had were nausea, blurred vision, needing the toilet, feeling faint, racing heart, shortness of breath and excessive sweating. Combine this with the mental symptom of feeling like you are dying and you have pretty terrifying scenario on your hands.
I’ve done some group CBT sessions and the best advice I learned was that you should remain where you are for as long as possible, instead of following the natural urge to leave for somewhere else, somewhere ‘safer’. The panic attack is inside you, not the room, and will subside naturally once you have relaxed.
Interestingly, if you leave the location (e.g. the supermarket) you are more likely to develop an irrational fear of that place because you fear it happening again. So panic attacks lead to more panic attacks; annoying right? The more you focus on your symptoms, the harder it can be to let it pass.
I’ve heard some people say they distract their minds by counting in their heads or remembering something that takes focus like their first car registration. I was alone on a train so I just focused on taking long deep breaths, even though it felt impossible. It did eventually help and I managed to stay on board and it hasn’t affected my ability to use public transport.
When I get anxious I instantly become very self-conscious. This is especially true in social situations where I’m expected to hold a conversation for long periods of time. One of my irrational fears which stems from when I had to leave my job due to depression was that people were going to ask what I did for a living. The answer would then be “Nothing, I’m unemployed because I have depression” a phrase which I was in no way willing to say out loud.
I was so ashamed of myself that I would ask my friends to pre-warn new acquaintances about the reasons of my unemployment so that I wouldn’t have to face the horror of that conversation. Even then, I was still so self-conscious that my entire body felt frozen whilst I floated aimlessly through these social outings. Unless I was plied with alcohol (a terrible decision) I would stare at the floor, hoping no one would ask me a question. If they did I would give a brief answer before turning to my partner or friend who received the usual ‘glare’, suggesting they should hijack the conversation and take it from here.
Ideally, I would stay near the perimeter of a large group of people where I could stand rigid, jaw clenched with my tongue pushed up hard against the roof of my mouth, pretending to listen to whatever the ‘normal people’ were talking about whilst I mentally drifted in and out of the room. This muscular tension which my body seemed to create as a defence mechanism became commonplace.
The one thing that I have found consistently rewarding throughout my depression is exercise. I was the perfect outlet for me to express myself physically, use up the nervous energy that was running through me and loosen up tight muscles. In particular, Pilates, Body Balance, Yoga and Willpower & Grace have all helped me with muscle tension.
If you can afford to go for a spa day and get a massage it will help immensely. It sounds patronising to say a massage will help your depression – it won’t – but it can help soothe the physical pain whilst you continue battle with the mental symptoms.
Have you experienced any of these symptoms?
I’ve suffered with depression for the majority of my life I’m now 46.
I’m still battling with it, when I was younger I was under weight now I’m over weight and have a very unhealthy relationship with food.
It is my friend and foe.
Any ideas would be great xxx
I personally have been trying to focus on accepting my body the way it is, even when I’m overweight. I follow lots of inspirational women on Instagram and Facebook that have a similar body type to me. I also completely stopped dieting because it was making my anxiety and depression so much worse. I’m about one year into my journey of body acceptance and I feel OK most of the time but I also have really bad days. It’s an ongoing battle that I’m committed to fighting. I’m not qualified to give advice, I can only tell you what’s worked for me so far! I hope you’re feeling OK today, sending you lots of love xx
Because these symptoms happen with many conditions, people with depression may never get help for them.
My name is Gracie, and I just recently got diagnosed with depression and anxiety… Saturday night i was out having fun and then all of a sudden my emotions hit at once I wanted to die i didn’t want to be here anymore… I’m so tired all the time even though I slept for a whole 13 and more hours… What do I do? How do I cope?
You say you’ve been diagnosed, which is a positive step. Recovery takes time, and it may get a little worse before it gets better. Have you been prescribed medication? This can make you drowsy but it will wear off once you get used to it in your system. Depression also makes you tired in general, unfortunately it’s just a symptom. When i feel like that I just sleep as much as I need to. I feel it helps in the long run, but that’s my opinion. If it gets any worse I’d make an another doctors appointment ASAP xx
Thank you for this blog
I too was diagnosed in 2012 with depression and anxiety
I lost my career and my family and myself. Thank god my husband stood by me. It took me a long time to find myself again(years)
But I feel I’m slipping into depression again, it’s starting to take a hold of me. I’ve taken days off work and sit in bed crying on and off and divulging in negative thoughts in my head. About how worthless I am now and how I fucked up my old life cos I couldn’t handle stuff. I feel everyone has moved on and I’ve been left behind.
I don’t want to tell anyone how I’m feeling because it was so bad before and I’ve come such a long way since then.
Why is this happening?
Sometimes I feel it coming on and think don’t look at things that will make you feel worse but I can’t help myself it’s like a comfort almost.
I’m fucked and I can’t do anything about it
That is good information about how to handle panic attacks.
Interestingly, I have a lot of anxiety, but I don’t think I have had a panic attack (yet). I have had social anxiety that was pretty close to what people describe as a panic attack.
But even without panic attacks, I have become reclusive. There are not many things left that I feel comfortable doing. With this episode, I have had major anxiety that has lasted so far for 6 months. I know getting out more would be therapeutic, but I needed a break from the anxiety because it was so incredibly painful. So now I have a very limited routine that has reduced the anxiety somewhat. However, my fear is that I will need to restrict my routine even more, and become even more reclusive to get the same effect.
This is really the worst. I went from being a man that traveled all over the world without a problem, a man that could lead large groups of people and easily make decisions, to a man that struggles to get out of the house.
Another thing: You say that you let yourself sleep as much as you need. My psychiatrist told me not to do that, to get up after 8 hours. I have not been able to make myself do that – I sleep 9.5 to 11 hours per night (with the last 3 or so involving me in and out of consciousness in my bed and just not wanted to get up and face another day of misery). Sleep is my only escape. In fact, while I used to exercise a lot and enjoy it, now when I do exercise, the only motivator is to make sure that I have made my body tired enough so that I can sleep. (I take Trazadone for sleep also). I believe the psychiatrist that it’s better to get up after 8 hours, but part of me suspects that if my body wants so much sleep, maybe there is some element of healing to it.
I have health anxiety ever since my mom died 3 years ago,She left me a fortune and the guilt that goes with it. I have been trying to learn how to combat this feeling,sometimes like my insides are shaking,my muscles in my back hurt,and I get light headed,not fun.I have lost 80 pounds and eat really healthy,in fact I am now a 61 year old vegan,but always in the background there is this feeling that something isnt right.would love to put this behind me,and move on with my life.
I really need to thank you for choosing this path. I just now found your site and it is the closest thing in over 20 years I can relate to and find some sort of comfort in (yes I agree, that’s dark) I’m guessing it’s your honesty. I will say that my heart hurts for you as well because I know all too well what you’ve been through and continue to go through. I am going through a MAJOR transition in my life right now and have never been this depressed or anxiety riddled. I want to say it’s almost to much to bear but in fact, it truly is too much to bear. All I can do is keep going day by day and hope one day it begins to lighten. I am currently taking medication, only one and a low dose. I was actually hoping to stop with all of it but years back suffered insanely unbearable withdrawal symptoms and so have sat at a low dose out of pure fear to quit completely. I do periodically take stuff for anxiety because I’ve been suffering some pretty fantastic panic attacks. They are the kind you run to the ER with. I’m tired. Tired from the depression and anxiety and tired of it. I’m exhausted and believe the people around me are as well. I’m undergoing TMS which has been way more of a rollercoaster than I could’ve imagined. I want so badly to believe it’ll help but it is definitely a process and far from a glamorous one. I am grateful to have found your writings and will continue to keep up on your postings. Thanks again