Depression is most often thought of as something relating to despair and misery, but it doesn’t always look like that. What is less understood, and therefore easily discounted, is the fact that, as well as changes in moods and behaviour, depression shares many of the same basic biological processes as physical illness. Perhaps you have noticed that when your mood is low you also feel physically ill. In fact, physical symptoms can be so prominent they actually take priority over the way we feel. Some of the most common physical ailments associated with depression include aching head, stomach, and back, but not necessarily all together.
There are various triggers for depression but change in mood is the number one characteristic most people associate with depression. But moods and emotions are really hard things to pin down and understand. Extreme sadness is considered typical of depression, but that’s only one side of the coin. A typical person on a typical day has various cycles of mood. You will have heard people say they are night owls or early birds. Some people come to life mid-morning, manage to tick-over during the afternoon and then have a resurgence of energy in the early evening. Actually these cycles can vary over days, as well. Even in cases of depression, moods such as irritability and anger can ebb and flow. The giveaway sign tends to be the overall increase in moodiness. So even if a person maintains a sense of humor and otherwise appears easygoing, the trend towards moodiness increases.
There is an overlap between mood and behaviour that is difficult to ignore, but not in all cases. Moodiness is seen through behaviour. Scowling expressions, drawers being slammed shut, lots of sighing, standing with hands on hips, fingers being run through hair. These are all signs of stress that come with changes in mood.
But a change in mood can also result in other forms of behaviour. Silence is one, and this is something associated with emotional numbness. If you are the type of person who is naturally a little introverted or simply quiet, there’s a good chance that your silence won’t even be noticed for what it is. Indifference is another type of behaviour: all those hobbies and interests that once took up free time become increasingly overlooked or ignored. Unless these directly affect other people, a change in the level of your interests may not be detected.
Some other behaviours include distractions. There might be an extra focus on work and pulling late nights. Other people may become addicted to Facebook, or binge-watching TV. And we mustn’t forget what’s inside the fridge. Turning to food or chocolate during times of low mood is very common.
- Can’t be bothered changing or washing your hair? Letting yourself go is a sign that your self worth is taking a beating.
- Who sees us when we sleep? Well, your partner may, but then again they may be sound asleep and not notice the fact that your sleep pattern isn’t all it should be.
- Concentration isn’t always noticeable until we start making mistakes. Even then they can often be covered over.
- Bowels. Yes we’re back to the mind and body connection. When we’re upset it affects us physically, so if there is no change in diet to explain why your bowels are upset, there’s a possibility that your emotions are working in an unhealthy direction.
Connecting the dots
Many of the issues I’ve identified are so common that we’ve become used to accepting them in ourselves and in others, yet none of them are what we should really consider normal. Yes, low moods may be normal for short periods of time, but the hidden and cumulative effects of “hidden” signs and symptoms should be taken more seriously. It can sometimes take another person to point out how things in us have changed; but really the best person to monitor your mental wellbeing is you.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.