Most of us would recognize classic signs of depression, with its heavy veil of sadness and hopelessness. But what if you just started getting stomachaches or were suddenly very snappy? Could you be depressed without knowing it?
Depression doesn’t always look like debilitating sadness. Patients are reluctant to consider depression as a cause of their symptoms—in part because they may equate it with weakness, but also in part because they simply don’t associate those symptoms with depression. Accurately identifying the problem is key, he adds, because the sooner you get treatment, the easier it will be to return your happy, healthy self. Here are surprising signs of depression you don’t want to miss.
You’re in pain.
Depression and pain share some of the same biological pathways and neurotransmitters. About 75% of people with depression suffer recurring or chronic pain, research shows. In a Canadian study published in the journal Pain, people with depression were four times more likely to have intense or disabling neck and low back pain than those who were not depressed. When you’re in a negative state, you’re apt to tune into your body more carefully, and therefore feel any discomforts more acutely. You might also notice other signs of depression like stomachaches and headaches, or just experience greater sensitivity to pain in general. A 2008 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that when people with depression anticipate pain, their brain activity indicates more emotion and less coping, so they’re less able to handle the hurt.
You’re busting out of your pants.
Where did that extra roll come from? Maybe from all the late-night ice cream you’ve been inhaling? Or from the frozen dinners you’ve been eating because you don’t feel like shopping or cooking? Although comfort food can raise levels of the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin, over time emotional eating can lead to weight gain and feelings of guilt and shame, plus it does nothing to treat the underlying causes of depression. A new study in the journal Obesity confirms that high levels of stress and depression make it tough to drop pounds and stick to effective weight-loss strategies. On the flip side, some people may lose weight, as depression zaps appetite.
You feel nothing.
Feeling blah? Neutral? Numb? Most of us have motivations that get us out of bed in the morning, whether it’s work, exercise, socializing, or making breakfast. But for people who are depressed, those pulls dry up. And things that once brought tears or smiles now barely register. This kind of zombie behavior is a hallmark sign of depression, and it can make you seem cold, distant or aloof, pushing away the people who would otherwise give you love and support.
Your evening cocktail is now three.
If you’re having several glasses of alcohol every night, it’s probably more than a rough day at work. (Are you overdoing it? Check out these 6 sneaky signs you drink too much.) Nearly one-third of people with depression also have an alcohol problem, research shows. And though one drink can take the edge off, a second or third can amplify negative emotions and signs of depression—anger, aggressiveness, anxiety, and greater depression. It’s important to note: You don’t have to be a raging alcoholic to be abusing alcohol. The healthy limit, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men.
You’re glued to Facebook…
Or gambling or shopping…basically doing anything in excess, especially online. Several studies confirm that people who go online compulsively and have more virtual social interactions than real ones may be depressed. They may feel deprived of real human companionship and/or may be using the online world to escape from their thoughts and feelings. While Internet addiction and depression are separate diagnoses, they often overlap. The quest for a short-term boost is a common coping mechanism.
Your head is in the clouds.
Daydreaming a lot lately? About becoming a movie star, falling madly in love, how your friend’s kid is smarter than yours, or the boss has it in for you? Psychologists from Harvard University have shown that we’re happiest when our minds are firmly rooted in the present moment, and when our minds wander, it can make us wistful, anxious, and unhappy. (Here’s how to become more mindful—no matter how crazy your schedule is.) While daydreaming can help find creative solutions to problems, more often than not it’s linked to signs of depression and low mood.
You’ve stopped combing your hair.
Even if your grooming routine was modest to begin with, it may disappear when you’re depressed. In a 2014 survey of more than 10,000 people, 61% who had poor oral health reported suffering depression. And the more dental issues they had, the more severe the depression was. It’s a spectrum. Neglecting your physical well-being and appearance is only problematic when it crosses over into distress or dysfunction. Ultimately, not caring what you look like on the outside is a strong sign of problems happening on the inside and a sign of depression.
If you’re worried you may be depressed, take our quick quiz for more information, and share your concerns with a health-care provider, so you can get the help you need to start feeling better.