Depression symptoms are usually thought of by their emotional components — deep sadness, disinterest in life, and frequent crying. However, depression can have physical symptoms as well, affecting your appetite, sleep habits, and energy levels.
“Depression is known to have two sets of symptoms that can move up and down relatively independently of each other,” says Richard C. Shelton, MD, vice chair for clinical research in the department of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “One set consists of distress-related symptoms, such as depressed mood, worry, negative thinking, and dread. The second broad set includes items like fatigue, energy, motivation, and enjoyment.”
Some depression treatments tend to be more effective against distress symptoms than fatigue and lack of energy. What’s more, says Dr. Shelton, some antidepressant medications improve those distress symptoms, but often cause an unmotivated, fatigued state in the process.
Sleep, Depression, and Fatigue
When you’re in the midst of a period of depression, sleep is often disrupted, which can make you feel completely exhausted and drained of energy. As part of your overall treatment, you can make adjustments to your sleep habits, which may help you fight depression and fatigue. Try these strategies:
- Have a scheduled bedtime and wake time that you follow every day of the week, including weekends.
- Set this schedule to allow for eight hours of sleep each night.
- Create a good sleep environment — make your bedroom dark, cool, and comfortable.
- Follow bedtime rituals that help you unwind and get ready to go to sleep. Relaxation exercises may help.
- Wake up no later than 8 a.m. each morning, earlier if you can.
A regular schedule will help to reestablish normal sleep-wake rhythms, says Shelton. “Although, trying to get sufficient sleep may not be possible without treatment.” You should talk to your doctor about other ways to help your sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep or oversleeping.
Exercise and Foods for Energy
Your level of physical activity and the quality of your diet also play a role in gaining control over fatigue, says Shelton. While it might be hard to find the motivation to work out when you’re fatigued, exercising during the day will actually boost energy levels. That doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym every day. Walking, dancing, bicycling, and gardening are all fun ways to add activity to your day.
Your eating habits may also help you manage depression and fatigue. Loss of appetite is a common symptom of depression, but you need to eat healthy foods for energy. On the other hand, if your depression symptoms lead to loading up on sugary, fat-laden junk food, these foods may make you feel worse. You should choose foods for both nutrition and energy. Opt for plenty of lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and other seafood; whole grains, including whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole-grain cereals; and a wide range of fruits and vegetables — when incorporating them in your diet, choose as wide a color range as possible to get a variety of vitamins and minerals.
You should also remember to:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Eat every meal.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Not eat big meals close to bedtime.
Focus on distributing calories during the day, eating a lighter evening meal, and limiting heavy nighttime treats — a small snack is better, says Shelton.
These are all steps toward a healthy, energized lifestyle, but they won’t work overnight. Be patient, keep up your efforts, focus on healthy living, and these changes are likely to help with your depression and fatigue over time, says Shelton.