In the movies, depression is larger than life. It’s those dark moods that look almost romantic. Those dramatic displays of sadness with lots and lots of angst and tears. But depression symptoms in real life can be much less camera-worthy, and much harder to spot.
Picture a giant blob of heavy gray Jell-O sitting on top of you. You can try to push up on it, or poke into it, but it just oozes itself back into all the space you made. That is how depression often feels to me. It’s heavy, it’s flattening, and nothing I do while I’m in it seems to matter. When nothing matters, it’s almost impossible to have hopes, desires, cares, or opinions. And without those things, life is the opposite of dramatic. In fact it’s not very lifelike at all.
Slideshow: Surprising Signs of Depression
Is your shopping out of control? Find yourself covering up your spending? For some people who are depressed, it is not uncommon for compulsive buying — in locations or on the Internet — to serve as a distraction or self-esteem booster. But “retail therapy” is a short-lived high because it doesn’t address underlying depression. Also be aware that shopping sprees could also be a sign of mania, in bipolar disorder.
Nearly a third of people with major depression abuse alcohol. If you feel that you need to drink to cope with anxiety and depression, you may be one of them. Although a drink may seem like it provides a lift when you’re down, alcohol is a depressant, so overdoing it can make depression episodes worse and more frequent.
Depression may be one reason for feeling foggy or forgetful. Studies show that prolonged depression or stress can raise the body’s levels of cortisol. This can shrink or weaken the part of the brain associated with memory and learning. Depression-linked memory loss seems to be worse for older people. The good news: Treating depression may also improve depression-related memory problems.
Excessive Internet Use
Prefer virtual social interactions to real-life ones? Spending excessive amounts of time on the Internet? It may be a sign of depression. Studies have shown a link between high levels of depression and excessive Internet use. People who overuse the Internet tend to spend their time on pornography, online community, and game sites.
Binge Eating and Obesity
A 2010 study from the University of Alabama found that young adults who report being depressed tended to gain weight more around their waist — a risk for heart disease. Other studies have linked depression with binge eating, particularly in middle-age people. Treating depression can help treat these problems.
About a third of shoplifters suffer from depression. For some people who feel powerless and insignificant from depression, shoplifting provides feelings of power and importance. It can also provide a rush to counter depression “numbness.” For people who shoplift because they are depressed, these feelings are more important than the item they are stealing.
Got a backache that won’t quit? Studies show that depression may be a risk factor for chronic lower back pain. One study showed that up to 42% of people with chronic lower back pain experienced depression before their back pain started. Yet depression can often go ignored or undiagnosed because people don’t associate it with aches and pains. By the same token, having chronic pain puts you at risk for depression.
Risky Sexual Behavior
Depression is more commonly associated with lost libido than with an increased interest in sex. But some people use sex to cope with depression or stress. Increased promiscuity, infidelity, sexual obsession, and high-risk behavior such as unsafe sex can all be signs of depression. It can also reflect problems with impulse control or be a sign of mania in bipolar disorder. And they can have serious, negative effects on health and in your personal life.
Often people who are depressed show little emotional expression. Other times, they show too much. They can be suddenly irritable or explosive. They may express exaggerated feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worry, or fear. Some are caught up in a sense of worthlessness or a feeling of excessive or inappropriate gult. The key is a sudden change in behavior. If a person who is usually flat with their feelings becomes hyperemotional, depression may be the cause.
Gambling can make you feel excited and revved up. But if you gamble more than recreationally, you may be depressed or you may suffer from a gambling addiction disorder. Problem gamblers are much more likely than others to be depressed and abuse alcohol. Many say they were anxious and depressed before they started gambling. No matter how much of a quick rush gambling causes, it won’t provide the big payoff — relief from depression.
Having trouble quitting smoking? Being depressed doubles your risk of smoking. Heavy smoking – more than a pack a day – and having a cigarette within 5 minutes of waking are common habits among smokers who are depressed, according to the CDC. While depressed smokers are less likely to quit, they can. Quitting programs that use techniques similar to those used to treat depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or antidepressant medications, seem to help.
Not Taking Care of Yourself
What does fastening your seatbelt have to do with depression? Suddenly neglecting basic self-care can be a sign of depression and low self-esteem. The signs may be as small as not buckling up or brushing your teeth or as big as skipping physical exams or not tending to chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Get help for your depression and you’ll likely begin to take care of yourself again.