According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depression affects roughly seven percent of the adult population of the United States at any given time; making this one of the most prevalent psychological problems. You have likely heard of the standard symptoms of depression; including feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, social isolation, loneliness, lack of energy, loss of interest, and worry. But did you know that many people experience other, common, but much less talked-about symptoms of depression in combination with or instead of the ones mentioned above? These include being quick to anger, difficulty making decisions, experiencing physical pain and discomfort, and sudden changes in weight. It is important to understand these signs of depression because they may impact and increase other common symptoms of depression and reduce overall quality of life.
Being quick to anger. Some people do not experience the typical symptom of sadness that we think of when we think of depression. Instead, for some depression may show up as pent up frustration, irritability, bouts of anger and rage, being more sensitive to the comments and actions of others than usual, and difficulty holding back harsh words or actions that are later regretted. These bouts of anger can often increase guilt, worry and overthinking, and low self-esteem. Depressed individuals can benefit from understanding that their anger is a symptom of depression rather than a “character flaw.”
Difficulty making decisions. Indecisiveness is a very common symptom of depression and is included in the criteria for this disorder. Experiencing negative changes in mood, low self-esteem, lack of energy, worry and overthinking, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest can all contribute to indecisiveness. Depressed people may struggle with making all kinds of decisions ranging from what to make for dinner to whether to ask for a pay increase at work. Not only is it difficult to make decisions because of the above mentioned symptoms of depression, but depressed individuals may also make less-than-optimal decisions. This is true because of the pessimistic thinking that often accompanies depression, and leads anticipating negative outcomes. Therefore, depressed individuals may want to put off making important life decisions such as changing careers, moving, or ending a relationship.
Physical pain and discomfort. Our body communicates a great deal of information to us through pain and discomfort; somatic symptoms without a physiological cause are a frequently overlooked sign of depression. Depressed individuals often experience a myriad of physical symptoms including joint pain and stiffness, digestive problems, headaches, back pain, and chest pain. These physical signs of depression may make it even more difficult to engage with the world and can lead to further social withdrawal, isolation, and loneliness; exacerbating depression. Therefore, it is essential to stay active when depressed, even if that means simply walking outside for thirty minutes per day. The chemicals released by our brains during physical activity reduce pain and increase positive mood, which is why exercise is an important component of overcoming depression.
Sudden weight changes. It is very common for depressed individuals to rapidly gain or lose weight due to a change in eating habits. Some people turn to “comfort foods” to help them suppress difficult emotions that frequently accompany depression. Meanwhile, other people may feel too fatigued and unmotivated to prepare balanced meals. Finally, some people may restrict food in an effort to “regain control” when they feel unable to manage their difficult thoughts and feelings. All three of these common relationships to food for depressed individuals lead to an increase in depressed mood symptoms because food, or lack thereof, has a profound impact on our bodies and brain chemistry. Depressed individuals can benefit from staying on a regular meal schedule, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining appropriate portion size.
The above described symptoms of being quick to anger, difficulty making decisions, experiencing physical pain and discomfort, and sudden changes in weight are all important and common indicators of depression that are sometimes overlooked. Depression is frequently a signal from our psyche that something needs to be worked through in our lives. If you have been experiencing any of the above described symptoms and think that you may have depression, working with a psychotherapist can help you make necessary changes in your life to overcome this painful condition.