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5 Signs of Depression That’ll Make You Say WUT

Sadness. Despair. And…you’ve gotta poop? Depression can show up in your toilet, not just your emotions.
Woman sitting on top of toilet

“Mental health is just as important as physical health.” It’s a social media rallying cry, but strike four words from the sentence and you’ve got an even less-understood truth: Mental health is physical health.

Let’s take depression. It doesn’t just mess with your mind. There are physical signs of depression too, says Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, a licensed clinical social worker at Delphi Behavioral Health in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

If you’re experiencing a strange combo of symptoms—emotional symptoms like feeling hopeless, say, along with aches and pains—and don’t know what’s up, consider these five physical signs of depression that play out below the brain.

1. You’re Sick—Again

How much does depression affect your immune system? Tons. Quick anatomy refresher: Both your immune system and your mental wellbeing rely on serotonin, known as the “happy” hormone for its ability to stabilize your mood. When it’s low, you’ll not only be at higher risk for depression, but your immunity will take a hit, too. Result: a cold that never ends.

To wit, a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine looked at how your “emotional style”—positive or negative—affected what happened to participants when given a dose of rhinovirus, a respiratory virus that causes colds. Happier people showed fewer symptoms than those who were depressed, nervous, or angry. 

2. You’ve Got Digestive Troubles

Another fun fact about serotonin is that the majority of it, about 90 percent, is made in your gut. So when your gut’s hormone factory goes on strike, you may experience issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and cramping. Fun!

If you feel anxious or upset about these diarrhea days—and, well, most of us do—that can fire up another hormone called cortisol, which modulates your stress response. Over time, a cortisol spike can leave you feeling exhausted and depletes your serotonin even more, says integrative medicine physician Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure.

Mental Health Awards: 64 Best Mental Health Management Tools

“Elevated cortisol, on its own, is linked to depression,” Dr. Gottfried says. “It can also lead to other changes that can put you at even higher risk. For example, it may cause poor sleep and excess belly fat, which both have a ripple effect on your emotional health.” For instance, belly fat can raise inflammation levels, another physical issue that’s been linked to depression.

3. Pain Is Even More Painful

You stub your toe and it feels like someone cut it off. Your lower back aches for seemingly no reason, menstrual cramps are worse than ever, and headaches are debilitating. As much as all of this might sound unrelated to depression, a lower pain tolerance could be a sign.

“When you have depression, there is sometimes a shift that mental health professionals call a vital sense change,” says Dehorty. “That means you actually feel sensations in your body in a different way than you did in the past. “Pain is the biggest example because your brain isn’t releasing chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which block pain signals,” he continues. “So you feel all of it instead.”

4. Your Bed Is Your New Bestie

No amount of nitro-infused iced coffees can combat vital sense change. It can also cause tiredness, or, on the more extreme end, fatigue. You’ll feel like you’re dragging, and that leads to overall weakness. 

So can you just rest up? Seems intuitive, but lounging in bed too much and sleeping for long periods can make it all worse, says Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the University of Michigan Depression Center.

Dr. Sen’s research shows that a routine that’s out of whack can itself raise your risk for depression. Some degree of rest is fine—hi, we love a good nap—but sleep that’s as erratic as a nervous cat can turn into sleep deprivation and mood problems, he says.

“When your sleep is unpredictable in terms of how long or when you’ll be awake, not only can that negatively affect your daily mood, but it can absolutely be a sign of depression,” says Dr. Sen. “It can also make your depression worse over time.”

GOTTA READ: What You Need to Know About Depression and Sleep

5. You Last Showered… Umm…

When you’re depressed, your motivation functions on fumes, and not just for bigger stuff like exercising, seeing friends, and doing work. Self-care can end up in the “optional” category as well—particularly if you feel fatigued or generally indifferent, says Dehorty.

By letting your “self-care” go, we don’t mean you’ve stopped #FaceMaskFriday-ing. We’re talking a tank in basic hygiene, the kind that goes beyond a lazy-weekend. Hygiene indicates that you care for yourself and your body, so when that stops being true, it could mean some emotional issues are rearing.

How would you know? Check for effects like greasy or oily skin, dandruff and thinning hair, acne, body odor, and potentially even yeast infections.

GOTTA READ: Easy Get-Ready Tips, From a Beauty Editor With Depression

Now. While it’s true all of these physical symptoms can be a concern, they don’t automatically mean you have depression. But they should prompt you to talk with a professional, suggests Dehorty. Sometimes, it’s only when an issue shows up physically that you realize there’s a bigger problem.

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Depression and Immune System
Cohen S, Cuneyt M, Alper C, et al. Positive Emotional Style Predicts Resistance to Illness After Experimental Exposure to Rhinovirus or Influenza A Virus. Psychosomatic Medicine. November 13, 2006.

Happy People May Have More Immunities to Common Cold. Center for the Advancement of Health. July 22, 2023.

Brain Hormones. Endocrine Society. January 24, 2022.

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