Surprising signs of depression

Surprising signs of depression

Are you experiencing one of these six telltale physical symptoms?

Depressed man sitting on bed with head in hands

Overall, we tend to associate depression with negative emotions—from sadness to irritability to anger. But unlike mood swings that stem from a bad day (or even week or month), depression is a health condition that can manifest itself in physical, and sometimes surprising, ways.

And, like any other health condition, getting proper treatment for depression is critical in overcoming it. But unless you know that you’re experiencing depression directly, the drive to seek out help might not be so strong.

Here are a few of the surprising ways that depression can show itself physically.

Sign #1: You’re sore all the time

That chronic back pain isn’t in your head—but your mind and body are connected. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, “Physical symptoms are common in depression, and, in fact, vague aches and pain are often the presenting symptoms of depression.”

This is because serotonin and norepinephrine—the neurotransmitters that influence mood—also influence pain. If you see your doctor for physical pain and he or she doesn’t find a physical cause, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling emotionally. Your pain could be a sign of depression.

Sign #2: Your sleep is out of sorts

Sometimes, when you wake up in the middle of the night, you may find it impossible to get back to sleep, no matter how many sheep you count. Interrupted sleep is a common sign of depression. You also may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or have trouble staying awake.

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep contributes to depression, leading to a vicious cycle. If you’re experiencing insomnia or middle-of-the-night awakenings, talk with your doctor about your options.

The National Sleep Foundation also offers these tips:

  • Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.
  • Get some form of exercise every day.
  • Avoid afternoon naps if you’re struggling with insomnia.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.

Sign #3: A migraine that won’t go away

There are few things as bad as a blinding headache popping up and bringing your day to a halt. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, as many as 40 percent of patients who have migraines also suffer from depression.

Depression can cause you to tense the muscles in your neck and back without realizing it, which can result in sometimes excruciating tension headaches. For mild headaches, try a relaxing bath, quiet rest in a dark room, or meditation. For more severe headaches or if over-the-counter medications don’t help, you should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

Sign #4: You can’t stay awake during the day

For someone with clinical depression, just getting out of bed in the morning can feel impossible. The fatigue can feel crushing.

Many describe this fatigue as “the feeling of having a wet blanket thrown over them, requiring much more effort to complete basic activities such as getting out of bed or walking across the room.” If you find yourself constantly drained, share this with your doctor and consider being screened for depression.

Sign #5: You want to eat a lot less (or a lot more) 

It’s more common for people to lose interest in eating when feeling depressed, but others—with what’s called atypical depression—can experience increased hunger or a desire to eat. If you experience a sudden change in your appetite, let your doctor know.

Sign #6: Your stomach is constantly upset

Feeling nauseated before a presentation. Getting butterflies before a big date. Our stomach can tell us a lot about how we’re feeling. When someone is depressed, they may experience digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, or even persistent nausea.

How to deal with depression

If you are dealing with these physical conditions, make sure to mention them to your doctor, and consider asking him or her to screen you for depression. There is no substitute for a professional assessment. Seek the care of a medical or mental health professional if you notice a pattern of these symptoms. 

For 24/7 information on mental health and available services, reach out to the free and confidential support resources below:

  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) for individuals with substance abuse and/or mental disorders who are seeking counseling. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to

Don’t forget you can visit the Behavioral Health section of 24/7 and access Magellan’s On To Better Health self-assessment tool.* This assessment offers confidential online access to self-help tools and resources proven to help emotional health and wellness. The resources include screening software and a resource library. Learn more.

*Magellan Behavioral Health, Inc., an independent company, manages mental health and substance abuse benefits for most Independence Blue Cross members