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What Does Depression Feel Like?

Often mistaken for ‘feeling down in the dumps’, depression is a complex mental health condition that is still widely misunderstood.

But, while there may be difficulties in identifying what depression looks like in a person, the symptoms of this condition will be familiar to anyone who has experienced persistent low moods.

In this article, we will talk through what depression feels like, how long depressions lasts, depression management techniques, along with some of the signs that a person is dealing with depression – and how you can help.

Read on for more information about the depression symptoms in men and women.

What does it feel like to be depressed?

1. Depression can feel like there’s no pleasure or joy in life

For many people, the often overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness are the most telling symptoms of clinical depression.

Most concerningly, depression can feel like you’re not enjoying life anymore. This can include losing interest in hobbies and passions that you previously cared about, feeling like there’s nothing to look forward to, and struggling to motivate yourself in your day-to-day routine – which are all seasonal depression (SAD) symptoms too.

In severe cases, depression can also lead to suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, immediately get in contact with your GP or speak to one of the following free helplines:

2. Depression can feel like your mind is in a fog 

While rarely talked about, severe depression can feel like it’s really difficult to concentrate or focus.

Many people describe this symptom of depression as feeling like their mind is in a fog. This can include making careless mistakes or getting easily distracted during work tasks, as well as struggling to keep up with conversations or focus properly on books, films, or TV shows in their downtime.

There are also studies that link depression and memory loss. For example, you might immediately forget information you’ve just been told, misplace or lose track of belongings, or unknowingly miss important appointments. If you have noticed memory loss in yourself along with three or more of the other common depression symptoms in men and women on this list, you may want to seek GP guidance.

3. Depression can feel like you’re exhausted all the time

Fatigue and low energy are common symptoms of depression in men and women, which can make it difficult to motivate yourself to get out of bed or even complete simple tasks.

According to recent research, these feelings of exhaustion is your body physically reacting to depression, with a reduced oxygen supply to the brain leading to that sluggishness. This physical symptom of depression could also be the result of a disturbed sleeping pattern, whether due to insomnia or hypersomnia (both of which can be a sign of severe depression).

Regardless of the reason why, exhaustion and fatigue can exacerbate other clinical depression symptoms, as well as potentially making you feel more irritable, emotional, and confused. If you are feeling chronically tired, consider introducing sleep techniques to your wind-down routine, such as laying off the caffeine, leaving a few hours between sleep and your last meal, getting blackout blinds, listening to relaxing music, meditating, and investing in good quality sleepwear.

4. Depression can feel like you’re in physical pain

While many think of mental and emotional symptoms when considering what depression feels like, your body can experience a physical reaction too.

Headaches, joint pain, muscle complaints, and nausea are all common physical symptoms of depression, with research linking this reaction to a chemical imbalance in the brain. After all, serotonin and oxytocin – the chemicals that make you feel happy and loved – are also important for pain perception. This is why giving and receiving hugs is a common - and effective - pain remedy as they naturally make us feel close and comforted.

Of course, aches and pains on their own are not indicative of depression, but when experienced alongside feelings of sadness, confusion, and fatigue, we recommend speaking to your GP or another mental health professional.

What’s the difference between low mood and depression?

While sometimes referred to as interchangeable terms, there is an important difference between low mood and depression.

For example, you’ll have inevitably experienced a low mood at one time or another. Maybe you’re having a hard time at work, or you have recently experienced loss. There might not even be any obvious cause for your low mood. Regardless, these feelings are absolutely valid, and it is a good idea to seek support to help you through any difficult period.

However, with a low mood, you might start to feel an improvement after a few days – or when the cause has been identified and addressed. If those symptoms last more than two weeks though, and they start to impact your daily routines and responsibilities, you could be experiencing depression.

If you’re still a little unsure about the difference between low mood and depression, think about whether you’ve experienced the following symptoms of depression over the last month:

  • Have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?

  • Have you had little interest in your usual hobbies or interests?

  • Have you had trouble falling or staying asleep?

  • Has your appetite noticeably changed?

  • Have you had trouble concentrating or focusing?

For more information about the difference between low mood and depression, head to NHS inform. There you will find the NHS’ depression self-assessment questionnaire to better understand your feelings. At the end, you’ll receive a severity rating and advice on who to call, along with guides on how to manage depression with exercise, psychological therapies, and where you can access self-help groups for extra support.

How long does depression last?

If you’re experiencing any of the above feelings of depression, then you might be wondering how long these symptoms will last. Unfortunately, there’s no set answer. How depression feels will be different for each person, as will the length and intensity of those feelings

However, it is always a good idea to seek support for your symptoms, no matter how big or small.

We know this is easier said than done. To tell someone you’re depressed can be an anxious and frightening experience and you simply may not feel ready to talk to your loved ones. That’s absolutely okay and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.

Don’t worry, there are many other ways of coping with the symptoms of depression until you feel ready to talk to your loved ones or a counsellor.

If you feel up to it, you can try the following to better cope with feelings of depression:

  • Maintain a healthy diet: Even something as seemingly simply as eating three meals a day can feel like a big ask when you’re depressed. However, it’s important to maintain as healthier, balanced diet as possible, eating plenty of protein, fruit and veg, and whole grains to keep your energy levels up

  • Exercise regularly: While finding the motivation to start exercising while depressed can be difficult, it can really help lift your mood and keep you physically healthy. Don’t worry, this exercise can be as simple as going on a quick walk or trying out our fitness tips for beginners.

  • Start a journal: Sometimes, with no obvious cause or reason, you can feel frustrated or confused when you’re suffering from depression. By writing down your thoughts and feelings on a daily or weekly basis, you can help to process your emotions in a private space.

Once you are ready to talk, a helpful entry-point to air your concerns could be a Mental Health Helpline. As a member of Benenden Health, you can get immediate access to 24/7 Mental Health Helpline as soon as you join. This gives you the opportunity to speak to a counsellor at any time of the day or night for immediate emotional support about any mental health concerns you may have.

For more information, head over to our article on the 10 ways to deal with depression. You can also find a wealth of advice and information about depression and depression symptoms in men and women on our Be Healthy hub.

Medically reviewed by Cheryl Lythgoe - July 2023.