The Sneaky Ways Depression Can Make Your Body Hurt (And Why You Need To Pay Attention)

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Soft Voice, Loud Pain: The Body Scream of Depression

Ask your expressive girlfriend to give you 3 words describing her feelings this moment about her boyfriend. It comes naturally. About her dysfunctional family members? In a nanosecond. She knows when she’s sad-mad-bad almost as easily as when she’s glad. She has a vocabulary of feelings. She’s self-connected.

Yet, many of us women have no clue when we’re sad-mad-bad in real time.

We’re too busy, too distracted, too-tuned out, or even too down to notice. These emotional feelings will intensify over time when unattended.

Depression — The Big D — will strike. The physical symptoms will appear. Our bodies will shout. We — and many of our doctors — will "hear" medical problems, not depression’s physical connection.

RELATED: Depression Steals Your Heart And Darkens Your Soul

Women in the United States are twice as likely to have depression as men. That’s 12 percent of women and girls. In fact, depression strikes 1 in 4 girls by the time they reach 14. (for women In Australia and South Africa, the number us up to 40 percent).

While it’s sad news to get depression, it’s sadder that depression often goes undiagnosed by doctors everywhere. This is because the physical symptoms — which are a part of depression — get separated out by the doctor and the patient!

Physical symptoms of depression that show in contrasting styles in women:

  • They have high energy and are super-productive. Involved in everything simultaneously, emotional, colleagues think they’re controlling, and are extroverts. It looks like they’re too excited to be depressed...but they are.
  • They move more slowly, are chill, speak less, and do less. The day is just a day, nothing special. Even their kid’s art or a pay increase brings little joy. Colleagues think they’re introverts. Nope, it’s depression.

Neither personality types are connected with their true emotions, which is different than being "emotional". However, both have physical symptoms that hurt.

Many of us women worldwide have learned to "code negative emotions" by describing our physical states instead. We indirectly describe our sad-mad-bad state because "who cares anyway?"

Some of us are just plain disconnected from our sad/mad/bad emotions. Using "physical coding" (head, neck, stomach, etc.) is convenient because these physical conditions are really happening.

We lack connection to an "emotion" vocabulary. In comparison, our self-connected, expressive girlfriend would be able to communicate the whole picture, physical, and emotional: "My team is giving me a big headache. I’m so pissed off at their decision!"

RELATED: Signs Of Mild Depression And Moodiness — And How To Alleviate Them

Physical coding is learned through our dysfunctional family systems (including multigenerational rules), our country cultures, educational, and spiritual cultures. It’s learned when we’re bullied. It’s learned when "secrets" like addiction drive communication underground.

We all get an occasional headache; but every day? Our doctors say it’s just stress. Hey, there’s no such ICD manual diagnosis as "Just stress". In fact, check your psyche. It may be depression and your depression is screaming out, through your physical symptoms. These symptoms hurt and they linger with depression.

Maybe we’ve had this interaction with family, friend, or colleague: "How’s your day?" or "How was your weekend?" The reply is a physical description rather than an emotion: "This headache’s holding on", "My stomach’s in knots", or "My back’s killing me." Sometimes, it’s a simple "Fine" followed by a contrasting, pained facial expression.

Be alert and decode. These answers are not about the day or the weekend. They’re about depression. Here are some physical symptoms:

  1. Headaches (migraine sufferers will notice they’ve become worse with depression)
  2. Chronic back pain
  3. Chest pain
  4. Digestive problems, including queasiness, nausea, chronic constipation, or diarrhea
  5. Exhaustion and fatigue (getting out of the bed in the morning is hard.)
  6. Sleeping problems
  7. Change in appetite or weight or food cravings
  8. Dizziness or lightheadedness

While we’re at it, check out these non-physical symptoms:

  1. Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  2. Fatigue and decreased energy
  3. Guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  4. Hopelessness and/or pessimism and tearfulness
  5. Irritability, restlessness
  6. Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  7. Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  8. Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts

Now, we must hear and believe our physical voice. Believe our non-physical symptoms, which unite with our physical voice. Most importantly, get treatment from a knowledgeable, respected psychotherapist. And, if needed, a psychiatrist.

Your healing is underway with the first step!

RELATED: There Are Two Different Types of Depression (And How They Each Sneak Up On You)

Paula-Jo Husack LMFTCGP is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Life & Performance Enhancement Coach, EMDR-certified Trauma Therapist and Founder of LeadLifeNow workshops. For 20+ years, she's guided diverse individuals, couples, and families in healing and empowerment in the San Francisco Bay Area and virtually all over the world. Contact her for more information.