Can depression cause physical pain? Find out the truth about a common symptom

Does depression hurt?

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” ― Stephen Fry

Depression is one of the hardest journeys anyone could ever go through.  It causes sadness, can destroy relationships, and in some cases hurt like hell.

Yep, depression can actually cause you physical pain.

Seems strange to think about our bodies and minds being so linked, but they really are.  Things that happen in our minds can affect the things going on in our bodies.  That is the next thing I wanted to explore in this “Physical Symptoms” series: Depression and chronic pain.

You can check out the first two posts here:

11 Physical Symptoms of Depression of Anxiety

Can depression cause fatigue?

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Why is depression painful?

Chronic pain has so many unpleasant side effects, as anyone who lives with it could tell you.  It not only hurts, obviously, but also can cause the following things:

  • Unusually high levels of stress hormones
  • Low energy
  • Mood disorders
  • Muscle pain
  • Lower-than-normal mental and physical performance.

I know many people that live with this, and I have lived with it myself.  I dealt with random aches and pains or many years, and still do on occasion.

Why does this happen to people?

According to Quartet Health, in an article by David Lim:

“As early as the 1970s, researchers found that pain and depression share the same neuromodulatory pathways. The brain normally moderates painful physical stimuli with serotonin and norepinephrine. Thus, when conditions like depression abnormally affect one’s ability to regulate these neurotransmitters, one can easily start experience symptoms of pain. Conversely, it comes as no surprise that targeting serotonergic and noradrenergic levels with reuptake inhibitors results in symptom relief of pain in addition to treating depression.”

It’s Not All in the Head: Pain is a Real Symptom of Depression

It’s unpleasant, but there are things you can do to get relief from your chronic pain. So, keep reading to find out my pro-tips.

can depression cause physical pain, girl hunched over in pain

What can you do to find relief?

First of all, it’s important to know that it’s not going to happen overnight. Your pain will not disappear in the blink of an eye. It’s gradual, like sand drifting down through a sieve. Try out one of these tips to start. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Significant overwhelm could potentially make your pain worse! For now, pick one that speaks to you, and you can build up from there.

Exercise

I don’t like to say regular physical activity is a cure all… But, I’ll be darned if it doesn’t help with so much! It benefits you physically, helping things like circulation and heart health. It helps your emotional health, releasing feel good chemicals into your mind, such as dopamine.

I cannot say enough about the benefits of exercise. Suffice it to say, we all need it. Period period. If you are looking to get started with some kind of workout routine, take my advice above: Start slow. No one expects you to be able to run a marathon after one session at the gym.

Here are some simple ways to get activity without getting too overwhelmed. The good news is they are all ones you can build on as your ease of motion increases!

  • Walk around the block
  • Do 20 squats
  • Practice 15 minutes of yoga
  • Try a fun challenge like below
can depression cause pain
Credit to: momontheside.com

Meditation

To be completely honest, I’m not that great at meditation. It’s easier for some than others to shut your mind off and focus on a word or image. But, there are a lot of benefits to this practice, so it’s worth a try!

If you aren’t sure how to start, set the time on your phone for 3 minutes. Then, try lying down and closing your eyes. Choose a positive word or happy image to focus on. Take deep breaths in and out and keep focusing on whatever you picked until the timer goes off.

You could also try guided meditation. Search on Youtube and you will find tons of options. All you have to do is sit there and they tell you what to do.

Try not to self medicate

I know it’s really tempting to reach for alcohol or nicotine (or other substances) when you’re in pain, but at the end of the day, these don’t really do anything to solve your problem. I’m not a doctor, but I don’t believe booze or cigarettes have any actually benefits for you. All the do is provide short term relief without actually helping you in any way. If anything, they have damaging affects on your body.

If you drink excessively, or smoke cigarettes, I am not here to judge. I have some bad habits myself that I could stand to kick. But please, look into getting some help. Your life can only improve by giving these things up!

Eat healthier

There is some research that suggests that the ways you eat can help your body manage pain. Here is a handy list of 10 foods you can incorporate into your diet to help manage pain:

  • Ginger
  • Blueberries
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Salmon
  • Turmeric
  • Cherries
  • Virgin olive oil
  • Chili peppers
  • Peppermint
  • Red wine

Make sure to check with your doctor before starting any sort of drastic diet changes, but eating a handful of blueberries a day can’t hurt, I would think.

Make sure to relax

It is super important to try to get some relaxation time each day. Time where you’re left alone, in a calming, quiet environment. For me, I love putting the kids to bed, then snuggling up in bed with a good book or Netflix series. No 5 year old talking my ear off, and no 3 year old bossing me around. Just simple peace and quiet.

Find a way to get this for yourself, even if you have to ask for help from a partner, family member, or sitter. It can be hard to ask for help, but your depression and chronic pain demand that you have some time for self care on a regular basis.

self care journal, can depression cause physical pain

Click the picture to snag a copy of this awesome journal to help you relax!

Here is my top list of ways to get self care

  1. Write in a journal. Write 3 things that went well that day, if you’re unsure of where to start.
  2. Eat a healthy breakfast. Grab a banana , if you have it.
  3. Drink plenty of water. At least 64 oz, but shoot for more if you’re super active.
  4. Go to sleep 15 minutes earlier. Or set your alarm to wake up 15 minutes later.
  5. Call a friend who motivates you and is a good influence.
  6. Go for a 20 minute walk. If the weather’s bad, walk around the house.
  7. Take a bath with epsom salt. There are a lot of benefits of epsom salt, and it feels so good!
  8. Take 5 extra minutes on your lunch break.
  9. Spend some time meditating. Even if you can’t quiet yourself completely. Try guided meditation if you do not know where to start.
  10. Take up a new hobby. I think learning something new can be a great distraction for brains, and really rewarding.
Click here to download this handy PDF!

Depression might hurt sometimes, but there is hope.

If you experience chronic pain, you are not alone. I’ve been through it and there are millions of other like you. If the pain is interfering with your quality of life, call your doctor ASAP. Let them know you are having a hard time. They can likely offer some suggestions from a clinical standpoint that can help you get relief.

can depression cause pain

Do you live with chronic pain? Tell me about your story in the comments below! And don’t forget to share if you found this post helpful.

Can depression cause physical pain? Yes.  But you can live a happy life.


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Related posts for depression and pain:

11 Physical Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

11 Easy Self Care Ideas

What Self Care Really Is + What It’s Not

How Physical and Mental Health Are Related

48 thoughts on “Can depression cause physical pain? Find out the truth about a common symptom”

  1. I met a lot of people during my life that were depressed at some point of their life, but I never knew how to help them. Now I know that I just need to be there for them!

  2. I liken the fact that you feel physical pain when you’re depressed, to heartbreak…. you literally feel as if there is pain where your heart is, which is possibly just chest tightening from the emotions.

  3. Thank you, so much, for this post! It’s definitely a subject that needs to be talked about. I haven’t seen many articles on depression and pain, so I appreciate you insight on this!

  4. This is such an important message for those without depression to understand.
    Depression does hurt. Many of us can’t just suck it up, put on a happy face and fake it because it hurts so much.
    I love all these tips too I have used many of them over the years but I easily forget how helpful they are.

  5. Exercise is so important to me feeling well, but I really struggle with motivation. I’m going to be using that spelling thing for sure.

    I love the Stephen Fry quote at the start too.

    1. It’s kind of fun! You can always start with first name one day, middle name the next day, then last name, to mix it up. And thanks! He is a hero of mine! Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. This is incredibly interesting! I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember, and I have chronic pain, though it only started recently. I never actually thought that depression could CAUSE the pain. There are some really great tips here…ones that I know I need to implement in my own life (it’s hard to motivate myself during quarantine). I know all of the above will relieve my depression and my chronic pain. I just need to try harder! Thanks!

  7. Every time my depression returns I feel this really heavy sinking in my chest that is almost painful. So I definitely agree that it can be a physical sensation as well.

  8. Can I use an alias? My first name alone has me doing 85 squats. 🤣 Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and advice. I get up super early to have my relaxing time alone before things get loud and busy. I don’t think I could survive without it. ❤

  9. I have always wondered if there’s a scientific explanation for why people who are depressed feel pain. I was intrigued by your point that they share the same neuromodulatory pathway. You also offer specific and actionable steps to allevalleviatminimize effects of depression like exercising and eating well.

  10. This is such an important topic so thank you for writing about this. I am someone who suffers from depression and I can truly say that gratitude really helps me. The simple act of writing in my gratitude journal every day makes such a difference. All the other self care activities you’ve mentioned also work wonders. When deep depression sets in it can be difficult to do anything, however with practice these little activities help heal 🙂

  11. I totally agree! I’ve noticed that when I feel more depressed my body tends to ache just a little more. Thanks for sharing some great tips! I’ll definitely have to try them out.

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