How to recognize the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety

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What does depression feel like for you? Does it feel like a darkness creeping over you? Or a deep pit you can never crawl out of?

How about anxiety? Is it racing thoughts in times of stress? Or sweaty palms before a big presentation at work?

Symptoms of depression and anxiety are going to vary for everyone. You could say that no two cases are alike. Every person with mental illness is like a snowflake, unique in its own way.

If you are unfamiliar with the physical symptoms that might present themselves with common mental illnesses, check out this checklist below.

Physical symptoms of depression


Those that live with depression know how tiring it can be. It is a heavy weight that sits on our shoulders. We often find it difficult to get out of bed.

The fatigue can have a few different causes. First of all, it could be caused by your medication. It is very common for antidepressants to cause tiredness. For example, toward the end of my journey with Zoloft/Sertraline, I was so tired, I could barely function.

Another cause of fatigue could be the lifestyle choices caused by our depression. Depression can make it so that having motivation to exercise and eat healthy food feels impossible. Sometimes, if we are able to push past that, and get in a good workout or healthy meal, we find that our energy improves.

A third possible cause of fatigue is the biology of the disease itself. There might be something about depression that simply makes you tired.

Pain flare-ups

If you live with depression, you probably notice that you get random aches and pains. This is incredibly common. Depression can exist in conjunction with other chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, in which the person experiences all over or localized pain.


Speaking of pain, depression can also cause headaches. Many people who live with mental illness can be chronic migraine sufferers. Unfortunately, headaches can be caused by many things so it can be difficult to determine if it is the depression or something else.

Vision issues

In a German study, it was found that people with depression can often have physical symptoms like difficulty with their vision. Specifically, they can have trouble seeing contrasts, such as black and white.

Have you ever noticed when you’re in a period of depression that the world seems a little fuzzy? This is a likely explanation!

Stomach aches

When I’m feeling depressed, I frequently have a stomach ache. There is more and more research emerging about the link between our brain and our gut. Often, when our brain isn’t right, neither is our stomach, and vice versa.

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Other digestive issues

Sometimes, people with depression can have more significant issues with digestion like acid reflux, nausea, or diarrhea. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is something that many people with depression live with.

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Another common mental illness is anxiety. Anxiety is actually the most commonly diagnosed mental illness.

Did you know that anxiety affects about 18% of adults in America each years, but only 36% of those people seek treatment? There are a lot of people who are suffering from the symptoms of anxiety.

So what are those symptoms?

Anxiety symptoms

Muscle tension

When you feel anxious, do you notice yourself tensing up, with tightness and aches in random places?

Well, you’re not alone! Because of my depression and anxiety, I clench my jaw at night and have to wear a mouth guard. Many people find themselves needing regular massages, or long soaks in epsom salt.

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Stomach aches

My anxiety really messes with my stomach and bladder. When I am nervous, I frequently feel like I need to go to the bathroom. It is usually made better by keeping my brain distracted, but the discomfort is very real! So, if you experience this, you are not alone.

Headaches and dizziness

Along the same lines as depression, anxiety can cause some neurological physical symptoms, like headaches and dizziness.

The psychological distress associated with GAD involves chronic worry for most of a person’s waking hours. Thoughts may race down a spiral of anticipation and fear about one topic or may bounce incessantly from one issue or scenario to the next. This psychological experience can result, literally, in an aching head. When accompanied by an increased heart rate and changes in body temperature, dizziness can also occur.


This one is very common for me. When I am feeling anxious, I am so desperate for relief and control that I become cranky. It can be difficult to cope with feelings of anxiety, so many people will lash out in anger or frustration.

I find journaling helps. Writing about the things that make you anxious takes away some of the power from the intrusive thoughts. It can also help you to understand the things you are feeling.


Having your head spinning in a billion different directions is super exhausting! It is very common for people who deal with anxiety to be tired a lot.

Fatigue in anxious people can also be caused by the fact that they often are unable to fall asleep at night. This causes them to get insufficient sleep, making them tired the next day.

Whether you have depression, or anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness, you will find one of more of these symptoms affecting you.

They are incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed. I personally have dealt with them all at one point or another.

Which physical symptoms of depression and anxiety have you dealt with? Are there any that I missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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23 thoughts on “How to recognize the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety”

    1. Hey Serena, definitely. The hard part is they could be so many other things! I hope lots of people find this helpful. Thanks for reading!

  1. The first sign that my depression is acting up once again has always been fatigue. I’m one of those people that is generally full of energy. Even if I don’t get a good night’s sleep in, I’m still ready to go. However, my depression can kill that and FAST. Suddenly I find myself craving naps or just wanting to curl up on the couch.

    1. Hey Britt, that is definitely a common one. I am prone to fatigue as it is, and I know how hard it can be. Tare care, and thanks for reading!

  2. Very interesting post. I would assume that almost everyone suffers from depression and anxiety at some point. Particularly in these difficult times. To be honest, I think I’ve had a bit of both over the last few months. Better now but it’s important to recognize and get better. Thanks for sharing,

    1. Hey Mark, you’re right. I would be surprised if almost everyone wasn’t dealing with it to some degree. Things are so uncertain right now. Take care, and thanks for reading!

  3. 100%! For me it’s fatigue. I remember a period of time in college when I was so depressed and I felt so, so tired. I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard to get out of bed, or cook, or go to class. It was years ago when I didn’t have the knowledge nor the experience to understand.

    Thank you so much for this post 🙂

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