Physical Effects of Depression and Anxiety

Most people think of depression and anxiety as conditions of the mind, influencing one's mood and outlook on life. But that's only part of the story. For many people, the more common manifestations of depression are physical, not mental, and they can have long-term consequences as well.

Headache. Chronic headaches, particularly tension headaches, occur frequently in people with depression and anxiety. They're most likely caused by contracting the muscles of the scalp and neck, a common physical reaction when you're under emotional stress.

Diarrhea/constipation. Anxiety is often linked with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can manifest as diarrhea or constipation. It's possible that anxiety may make you more aware of spasms in your colon or that anxiety affects the immune system and may trigger symptoms of IBS.

Nausea/vomiting. These may be considered symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders. One large study found that 41 percent of people who had major complaints of nausea in the past year were eventually diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and 24 percent were diagnosed with depression.

Heart disease. People who become depressed after a heart attack are at increased risk for a second, fatal heart attack, while people without heart disease who become depressed increase their risk of developing or dying of heart disease. The heart-mind link may also include anxiety, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, inflammation and behavioral issues, as people who are anxious or depressed are less likely to engage in heart-healthy activities like exercising and healthy eating and more prone to weight issues and smoking.

Osteoporosis. People with major depression may have lower bone mineral density, a measure of the strength of the bones, than those with no mood disorders.

High blood pressure. Evidence suggests that chronic anxiety may lead to high blood pressure. Anxiety is likely to produce temporary spikes in blood pressure rather than persistent hypertension. Frequent spikes can damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys and increase your risk of a stroke.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 19 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 19 Jun 2013