As I mentioned earlier, depression leads to horribilizing, that is, always expecting the worst. When you're anticipating trouble, your body goes on alert, and your amygdala--the part of your brain that prepares you to deal with stressful situations--becomes more active. You go into fight or flight mode, which is a good thing if you're actually in danger. Blood flows from your skin to your muscles, which tense up, preparing to run or fight. Your heart rate increases, and your eyesight, hearing and sense of smell become more sensitive, alerting you to changes in your environment. Digestion is interrupted, because digesting your food is less important that preserving your life.
But if you aren't actually in danger, and you are on constant alert, consider the wear and tear on your body. Those always-tense muscles lead to aches and pains, including headaches. While increasing your heart rate temporarily--as in exercise--strengthens your heart, constant increased heart rate can lead to heart disease. Frequently interrupting your digestion causes upset stomachs, constipation, diarrhea and nausea.
Emotions are affected as well. You may be easily agitated, irritable, moody or frustrated. You might feel overwhelmed and unable to relax, leading to forgetfulness and inability to focus. Clenched jaws and teeth grinding often follow.
Your brain suffers, too. Constant stress depletes the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin regulates your mood, sleep, appetite and digestion, as well as memory and sexual function. Low serotonin levels also lead to impulsiveness and aggression. Low dopamine levels affect your memory and ability to concentrate.
One study I came across concluded that 50% of Americans with major depression don't seek treatment for their depression. Instead they look for "something to help me sleep," "something to help me relax," "something for my upset stomach or muscle pains."
Why don't they seek help for the cause of their health problems? One reason is that many people still fear that seeking psychological help will stigmatize them. Another--more important--reason is that many of them don't realize they are suffering from depression. They see their lives as being inherently stressful and are unaware that much of that stress is coming from within themselves.
If you experience more than a couple of the symptoms mentioned above, consider that you may actually be suffering from depression.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.