It would seem that a person has everything that one can only dream of, but he does not feel any joy from it. Is it depression, apathy or anhedonia? If depression is a state of depression and depression, apathy is complete indifference and indifference to everything, then anhedonia is an inability to experience the pleasure of life. By the way, this diagnosis is not uncommon in the modern world. Anhedonia can also accompany depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric pathology. Many famous personalities have admitted more than once that they have problems with the ability to rejoice. The most famous anhedonists are Jim Carrey, Hugh Laurie and J.K. Rowling. Today we will find out why even successful people stop enjoying life, what causes anhedonia and whether it is dangerous.
What is anhedonia
In the language of psychologists and psychiatrists, anhedonia is a pathological condition in which a person loses the ability to enjoy things that used to please. Of course, we all do something from time to time that doesn’t necessarily bring pleasure. This may be studying, work, household duties or forced communication with relatives. But this is not anhedonia yet. They talk about rejection when those things and deeds that used to be a joy have ceased to bring pleasure. It can be anything from delicious food to travel and hobbies. As a rule, an anhedonist usually says about what used to be important that he “doesn’t care anymore” or that he is not interested in it.
Despite the fact that anhedonia is often a symptom of mental illness, it would still be wrong to consider it exclusively as such. This condition can develop independently against the background of deep experiences, life crises, when a person revises the value system. Regardless of whether anhedonia is an independent deviation or a symptom of another disorder, a person in this condition needs the help of specialists.
Types of disorder
The sources of pleasure can be different. Based on this, the classification of Anhedonia was developed. As a rule, specialists distinguish between two types of disorder: physical and social anhedonia.
They talk about physical anhedonia when a person has stopped enjoying food, sports, sex, touching, music and similar factors. By the way, in many cases anhedonia begins with the fact that a person suddenly loses interest in his favorite music or intimacy. These types of anhedonia are the most common.
Social anhedonia is when interest in situations that were previously perceived as pleasant by a person is lost. For example, meetings with friends, parties, trips to the cinema or theater, outdoor recreation no longer bring pleasure. A person in this state does not need praise and compliments – he does not get any satisfaction from them, but at the same time he himself is in no hurry to give positive characteristics to other people.
Some experts distinguish intellectual and aesthetic anhedonia into a separate group. In this case, they mean people who have lost the ability to admire art objects, books, high-quality films, etc.
Also, a person may manifest motivational anhedonia – when the desire to do something disappears, the motivation to build a career, improve their lives disappears. Even if such a person reaches certain heights, he does not experience an emotional uplift from this. If the pleasure of a certain activity and its results disappears, they talk about consummatory anhedonia. If the joy of anticipating even the most pleasant events disappears, it can be assumed that a person suffers from an anticipatory type of anhedonia. When taking antipsychotic medications, neuroleptic anhedonia may develop. Feelings atrophy due to the action of drugs aimed at inhibiting dopamine – a substance that transmits nerve impulses in brain cells.
Regarding the degree of manifestation, anhedonia can be partial and total. With a partial manifestation of the disorder, the changes concern only certain areas of life. Total anhedonia is the loss of absolutely all sources of pleasure.
To make it more clear, let’s consider typical behaviors of anhedonists.
Most of them are of the opinion that:
- any joy must first be earned;
- you can’t be happy about anything if a black streak has happened in your life;
- to be happy, you need an exceptional reason;
- you can’t be happy if someone from close (neighbors / in the country / in the world) has some kind of trouble;
- joy does not go unpunished.
People with this mindset are able to overshadow even the most joyful events. For example, when going on a trip, they set themselves up in advance that something terrible may happen on the road or at home due to their absence. Another classic example of an anhedonist’s thinking: “You can’t eat these berries now – they will make jam for the winter.” That is, such a person deprives himself of the opportunity to enjoy life here and now.
The occurrence of anhedonia directly depends on the work of the brain. Throughout our life, this part of the body produces various chemicals that affect a person’s well-being and emotional state. One of these substances produced in the brain is the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is actually responsible for the ability to experience pleasure in certain activities or situations. If the amount of dopamine is normal, a person experiences positive emotions in pleasant circumstances. But everything changes if the body has problems with the production of this hormone.
At one time, British specialists from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College studied the state of the brain of healthy people and people with anhedonia. During the experiment, the participants of the experiment had to draw in their imagination various positive and negative moments, and scientists at this time analyzed the state of their brain. It turned out that healthy people easily restored pleasant pictures, and to recreate negative moments their brain had to strain harder. But with the brain of anhedonists, things were exactly the opposite. Their brains seem to be programmed by default to create negative emotions.
There are psychological reasons for anhedonia. During depression, a person’s thinking works in such a way that it automatically snatches mostly negative moments from what is happening around, confirming for itself the idea that “everything is bad around”.
People who strive to solve all their problems on their own, constantly concentrating on failures and their shortcomings, are more inclined to the development of anhedonia.
And now let’s talk about how to recognize anhedonia. Let’s say a person used to really like to ride a bike, and it brought him a lot of positive emotions. But now he doesn’t even look in the direction of the two-wheeled transport. What is it: a manifestation of anhedonia, or perhaps a person just doesn’t like this hobby anymore? I must admit that it is impossible to answer the question right away. It is possible to determine what caused the change in a person’s habits and preferences only during a conversation with a specialist. It is also quite difficult at first glance to distinguish a decline in strength from a typical anhedonia. But, as a rule, the usual decline in strength is a temporary condition, and anhedonia is stable and permanent.
If we abstract from the concrete example with a bicycle and analyze the behavior and emotions of a person in general, it is quite realistic to determine whether he has a tendency to anhedonia.
You can suspect a violation in such cases:
- A person has lost affection and love for close people, including his own children.
- A person avoids contact with people in every possible way, including through Internet communication and telephone.
- An anhedonist spends most of his time alone, usually in his room.
- Once your favorite music no longer evokes any emotions.
- Suddenly, interest in previously liked activities (traveling, sports, shopping, cooking, reading books, surfing the Internet, watching movies, etc.) disappeared.
- My sense of humor is gone.
- There was an emotional detachment in relation to beautiful landscapes, works of art, amazing animals or unusual things.
- Communicating with friends or relatives, a person has to play emotions of joy or sympathy.
- A person reacts with indifference to such events as the birth of a child, a wedding and other special celebrations.
- Intimacy does not cause such emotions as before, although there are no deviations at the physiological level.
- A person completely loses the desire to dream.
- There is no emotional response to the care and love of others.
If more than 1 item from this list corresponds to a person’s condition, it is almost safe to say that he has anhedonia.
Methods of treatment
Let’s just say that if someone thinks that anhedonia can not be treated and nothing terrible will happen from this, then he is mistaken. Over time, sadness can so tighten a person that he will completely lose the meaning of later life. There is probably no need to explain why it is dangerous.
Since anhedonia is one of the symptoms of depression, drugs from the group of antidepressants are usually used to treat this condition. And everything would be fine, if not for one “but” associated with biochemical processes in the brain.
When a person has a classic depression, the production of serotonin and dopamine is disrupted in his body. The deficit of the first is always a more acute reaction to stressful situations, bad mood, anxiety, panic, the development of phobias. In the case of anhedonia, the concentration of dopamine is disturbed. And now the main point. Most antidepressants are aimed at normalizing serotonin metabolism, which in principle has no effect on anhedonia. Thus, we can talk about the inexpediency of using these drugs for the treatment of anhedonia. But today there is no “magic pill” that could purposefully fight the symptoms of anhedonia. Therefore, psychotherapy methods are considered more effective for the treatment of this disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is now recognized as the most effective for these purposes. In short, its essence boils down to changing a person’s views on life, helping him to allow himself to enjoy every day. But we must understand that the process of treating anhedonia is long and in each case the doctor selects an individual therapy.
The most popular methods of treatment of anhedonia today:
- Individual psychotherapy (concentration on positive emotions, adjustment of the daily routine).
- Drug therapy (drugs are selected individually).
- Treatment of mental disorders that are the root cause of anhedonia.
By the way, you can partially increase the level of dopamine in the body, and thereby weaken the manifestation of anhedonia with the help of a diet. To do this, it is necessary to include in your daily diet as many products containing dopamine and contributing to the production of this hormone.
How to learn to enjoy life again
Even realizing the presence of anhedonia, not everyone has the opportunity or desire to seek professional help from a specialist. In this case, you can try to improve your condition yourself, and for this you should take the following 3 steps.
Step 1. Make a decision to help yourself
This is the most important, and for many, the most difficult point of the program. First, any action begins with making a decision. Secondly, in cases of so-called self–psychotherapy, it can be difficult for a person to first recognize the presence of a problem in himself, and then to believe that he is able to help himself on his own.
Step 2. Find a source of income
If the old sources of pleasure no longer work, then it is necessary to find new ones. What is important, “search work” should extend to all spheres of life. It is necessary to include the sense of smell, sight, touch, taste, hearing, body movements. Moreover, it is necessary to examine each of these groups very carefully, for example, for 2 days.
Take at least the sense of smell. The next Monday and Tuesday can be devoted to the study of smells. It can be aromas in a perfume store, the smell of plants, fruits, herbs, vegetables, spices, essential oils. You should study the flavors slowly, writing down those that you liked at least a little.
Wednesday and Thursday can be occupied with the study of touch. The task of this exercise is to find surfaces that bring tactile pleasure. It is better to do the exercise with your eyes closed. For two days, a person will have to deliberately touch a variety of objects. These can be stones, leather, fur, paper, loose and creamy substances, glass, cotton wool. Among them, there will definitely be something that will seem pleasant to the touch.
You can devote the next two days to studying your taste sensations. It is better to start the “research” with simple products, for example, from familiar fruits, vegetables, chocolate or pastries. Then gradually add new spices and unusual combinations of products. During the exercise, you should carefully concentrate on your own feelings, determine which of the eaten was the most pleasant to taste.
The seventh day and the eighth are the time to study sounds. It is better to start from the sounds of nature. For example, listen to the sound of rain, wind, water sounds, the voices of various birds and animals. Then you can move on to the music. But do not force yourself to listen to those melodies that you liked before. The task of the exercise is to find new sounds that would be pleasant to the ear.
After this exercise, you can turn your attention to visual images. You can consider anything: from color combinations to a variety of objects. Among this multitude, there will definitely be at least something that will genuinely interest you. But it is important to consider objects deliberately, slowly, listening to your feelings.
Well, it is useful to devote the last two days of this stage of self-therapy to the search for kinesthetic pleasures, that is, the pleasures of movement. During this period, you can try everything from dancing, swimming and yoga to martial arts. The main thing is to find those movements that you will like to perform.
Of course, this does not mean that the practice should end after these 12 days. The listed exercises can be repeated exactly as long as it takes a person to find new sources of pleasure for himself. But here we must be extremely careful that the source of joy does not become a source of new problems (with health, law, etc.).
Step 3. Change Your Mindset
This point of the treatment program is quite difficult to perform on your own, but really. One of the most effective exercises is to start a so–called pleasure diary and record daily the moments that brought at least scanty pleasure. These can be even the most petty events. For example, the rain stopped a minute before you went outside, or someone lent you a charger for your phone, there was a pen that you have been looking for for a long time. At first, most likely, a person will notice very few pleasant moments, but over time their number will gradually increase, and with them the feeling of pleasure.
In the modern world, anhedonia is a fairly common phenomenon. Part of the reason for such sad statistics is the specifics of modern life. Frequent stress, an unhealthy diet, constant tension lead to a violation of brain activity, a change in the hormonal background, which makes a person more nervous and vulnerable, loses the ability to notice pleasant moments around him and focuses on the bad. If anhedonia is the result of a mental illness or a pronounced somatic disorder, it is necessary to conduct an examination and treatment in a hospital setting. When the doctor determines the cause of the disease and conducts a course of drug therapy, with positive dynamics, further treatment and recovery will continue at home, under the supervision of the attending physician. Anhedonia is a condition that can be treated, the main thing is not to resist and accept help.