Physical Symptoms of Mental Illness

Written by: Dr Brett Melanson PhD (Psychology & Neuroscience)
Last updated date : February 03, 2023

Mental illness can be hard to deal with. The symptoms are complex and can change the way you live in a lot of ways. But did you know that there are physical symptoms of mental illness?

It’s true, depression and anxiety are known to cause physical problems like aches and pains in throughout the body. Some areas include the stomach, back, and joints in the limbs.

The thought that mental illness is all in your head is a thing of the past. The brain controls the whole body. So, it is clear that when things go wrong in the brain, the body may begin to have problems. This is one way that mental illness can cause physical symptoms.

Some of the physical symptoms of mental illness include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Restless
high heart rate, headaches, and inability to sleep are some physical symptoms of mental illness

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Chapter 1:

Can Mental Illness Make You Physically Sick?

Yes, in fact, it can. Anxiety and depression are two of the most researched illnesses linked to feelings of being sick.


Think about a time when you felt very anxious. You may remember feeling sick, stomach aches, fast heart beat, shaky, sweating, and even tense muscles.

In people with anxiety, physical symptoms like feeling sick and stomach aches can lead to nausea and diarrhea. This may be due to the constant stress caused by long-term anxiety.

When the physical symptoms of mental illness like nausea and stomach aches are prolonged, they can develop into things like diarrhea or migraine when things worsen. In this context, it is clear how mental illness and symptoms of feeling sick are linked.


It is also important to know that different cultures view depression differently. For instance, people who are Asian American may say that depression is more of a physical illness. In contrast, people in Western culture are more keen on describing depression as an illness that changes mood.

Nausea and diarrhea are not the only kinds of physical symptoms mental illness cause.

Studies show that depression causes backaches and aches in many regions of the body. Research in more recent years says that the aches caused by mental illness are likely due to high levels of inflammation in the body and brain. This can change the way the brain sends signals to other areas of the brain and the rest of the body.

In addition, depression may cause a change in vision. More specifically, depressed people found it hard to see a difference between black and white shades of objects. It is thought that this may be one reason that depressed people tend to see the world through a “hazy” lens.

Chapter 2:

What Do the Physical Symptoms of Mental Illness Mean?

Some may want to dust the physical symptoms of mental illness off as a by-product of changes in the brain. But it is important to know that depression may also be a sign of other problems in your life that you have not been focusing on and are now getting worse.

For example, studies show that depression can often come before a physical illness. And this may be due to long-term internal problems like anger, sadness, and stress.

Stress, for instance, causes many changes in the body. These include changes in hormones, blood pressure, heart rate, and mood. Long-term causes a constant change in these things. This can lead to physical problems in the body, like chronic high blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, and heart disease.

Importantly, constant stress can trigger mood changes well before the long-term effects of constant stress start to wear down the body. This may be why depression can come before other physical illnesses like heart disease.

Chapter 3:

What Can I Do about the Physical Symptoms of Mental Illness?

Get Active

One of the more common symptoms in depressed people is a higher sensitivity to pain. It is good to know that not only is exercise a good way to boost mood, but it also can reduce pain sensitivity.

It can do this by releasing things like endorphins, which act to block pain at the chemical level. So, if you feel a lot of symptoms like pains or aches in the body, try and go for a walk or some light exercise. This may not only boost your mood, but it may also relieve that backache you have been dealing with for a while.

Eat Right

Another thing you can do is watch what you eat. Science is starting to show the importance of being healthy, in and out of the gym, when it comes to having a good mood. Foods that are high in fat or sugar are really not good for mood balance and can make symptoms of depression worse.

Even though these sorts of meals can feel good in the moment, the after-effects of such foods can negatively impact chemicals in the brain and body that affect mood and energy. So, try looking for foods that are whole grain, filled with fiber, and have healthy fats in them (omega-3, for example).

Talk to Someone

Lastly, one of the best ways to overcome the physical symptoms of mental illness is to talk thoroughly about your feelings in a healthy way to someone close to you or to a healthcare provider. Holding feelings like sadness and anger inside is not healthy and can cause internal stress. This, as mentioned, can lead to other health problems if it is not dealt with.

If you talk about your feelings, you truly start to understand your own thoughts. This allows another person to respond and talk about those feelings with you, like in therapy. Moreover, this also helps you hear your feelings, which can help you understand how some of those thoughts simply are not true and can be irrational.

Sometimes, it is easier to say negative things to ourselves in our mind. But, when we speak these same things out loud, we begin to understand how harsh these negative thoughts truly are because we physically hear how this actually sounds.

Of course, you can also try some of the self-help courses here at Epsychonline, which you can use to boost mood and know about the ways you can relieve symptoms of mental illness.

"Completed at my own pace, great online learning!" Venus

99 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount