Understanding Anhedonia: Why You’re Losing Interest In Things You Used to Enjoy
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Do you ever just feel… blah? There isn’t anything wrong, but it feels impossible to simply enjoy life. Or you don’t feel pleasure anymore. You can’t remember how to feel happy or excited about anything. Even the things you used to love are no longer enjoyable.
If this sounds like you, then you might be experiencing anhedonia. Anhedonia is a clinical term that describes the difficulty or inability to experience pleasure or have interest even in activities you once enjoyed.
Anhedonia is often associated with depression, but depression isn’t its only cause. If you’re experiencing anhedonia, it’s critical to get to the root of it. You can feel pleasure and excitement about life again. Anhedonia can be treated but is unlikely to go away on its own.
In this blog, we’ll talk about what anhedonia is, why it happens, and what you can do if you’re going through it.
What is anhedonia?
Simply put, anhedonia is the inability to feel enjoyment or pleasure. The term itself comes from the Greek words “an” (without) and hedone (pleasure).
People who experience anhedonia lose interest in almost all activities, even ones that they used to enjoy. For example, someone who used to take a lot of pride in their work may no longer want to go to their job.
Here are some more anhedonia symptoms and examples of what it could look like:
- You used to enjoy spending your free time baking and trying new desserts, but now you no longer “feel like” baking at all, even easy recipes
- You have lost all interest in anime, board games, reading, or another activity you used to love
- You have suddenly lost all interest in being intimate with your partner, who you formerly felt excited and passionate about
- You don’t feel like seeing your friends
- Things that you used to love doing, like going to concerts or seeing new movies, no longer make you feel any excitement
- You have a hard time remembering “the point” of doing any of your hobbies or seeing the people you love
- You feel numb to everything; nothing excites you, and it feels like you’re just going through the motions of life
Types of anhedonia – social and physical anhedonia
Anhedonia isn’t a mental health diagnosis in and of itself, but it is a recognized symptom of several mental health conditions. Researchers are still working on defining and categorizing anhedonia. But many experts say that anhedonia can be divided into two types:
- Social anhedonia
- Physical anhedonia
Social anhedonia symptoms
Social anhedonia is when you lose all interest in social activities, including friendship, romantic relationships, family relationships, and sex.
Even if you used to be a social person, you might no longer have any desire to interact with your loved ones if you’re facing social anhedonia.
Some of the symptoms and signs of social anhedonia include:
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of interest in socializing
- Difficulty or inability to feel pleasure or happiness in social situations
- Emotional numbness
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Difficulty expressing emotions
- Not having or losing social relationships
- Being completely uninterested in spending time with other people
Physical anhedonia symptoms
Physical anhedonia is the inability to feel interested in physical activities that typically bring pleasure, like eating and sexual activities.
Some signs of physical anhedonia include:
- Feeling no pleasure from sensory experiences like tasting a delicious meal or hearing beautiful music
- Feeling indifferent to physical stimuli; for example, you might get a whiff of someone baking cookies and feel nothing
- Feeling numb to physical sensations
- Lack of interest in sexual activities
- Feeling uncomfortable when there is too much sensory input
Causes of anhedonia
Most people associate anhedonia with major depressive disorder. And indeed, anhedonia is a very common symptom of depression. In fact, you should either present with a depressed mood or anhedonia to meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis.
But depression isn’t the only health condition that can cause anhedonia. If you’re feeling this way, it’s important to talk to a professional about it so you can address the root cause of treatment.
Some other common causes of anhedonia include:
- Substance use disorder: Substance use disorder, or drug and alcohol addiction, can cause anhedonia for many people. Drugs and alcohol, and stimulant drugs in particular – like cocaine or methamphetamines – can affect your brain’s reward center. This makes it harder and harder for you to feel pleasure when you’re not high.
- Schizophrenia: Anhedonia is considered a “negative symptom” of schizophrenia. On top of having hallucinations and delusions, someone with schizophrenia could also experience a loss of interest in everyday activities, including things like bathing or eating.
- Bipolar disorder: People with bipolar disorder cycle through two different mood extremes: Depression and mania (or hypomania). When they are in a depressive episode, they might experience anhedonia just like people with depression can.
- Traumatic experience: Research has found that people often experience anhedonia after exposure to a traumatic event. Going through a trauma changes your brain structure, and this could lead to a sudden loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
- Neurobiological changes in the brain: Researchers believe that anhedonia is caused at least in part by neurobiological changes in the brain. Some studies have found that people who experience anhedonia have differences in their dopamine neurons and the neural pathways that interact with them. There may be a genetic component to these differences.
How long does anhedonia last?
You might be wondering, “Is anhedonia permanent?”, “Is this just a phase, or am I going to feel this way forever?”.
There is no clear answer to this because how long anhedonia lasts differs on a case-to-case basis. Some people may experience anhedonia for just a few hours or days, while others may experience it for years.
For instance, you might be coming off a stimulant drug and experience anhedonia while the drugs leave your system. But in a few days, you might be able to feel pleasure again (although it’s important to note that stimulant misuse can lead to brain changes and long-term anhedonia as well).
Another person might live with a depressive disorder and experience anhedonia more long-term. They might continue to feel anhedonia even after receiving treatment for depression. It might feel like no matter what they do, they can’t manage to feel pleasure about anything.
For most people, anhedonia will go away with professional treatment. However, it’s not likely to simply go away on its own. Especially if you’ve been dealing with anhedonia for a while, it’s important to seek a professional’s support to identify and address the root causes of anhedonia.
Treatment for anhedonia
Dealing with anhedonia can be incredibly challenging. It can affect every area of your life, including your relationships, work life, and more. But there are ways to manage anhedonia and improve your quality of life.
Taking care of your physical and emotional needs is crucial when dealing with anhedonia. This means eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise. It can also include self-care practices such as meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature.
Connect with others
While anhedonia can make it difficult to connect with others, it’s important to stay connected to friends and family. Try to schedule regular social activities or phone calls, even if you don’t feel like it.
Set small goals
Setting small goals can help you feel a sense of accomplishment, even if you’re not feeling particularly motivated. Start with small, achievable goals, such as going for a walk or completing a household task, and build from there.
Try something new
Anhedonia can make it difficult to enjoy the things you used to love, but trying new things can help you find new sources of joy. Consider trying a new hobby, taking a class, or exploring a new part of your city.
Consider professional help
Anhedonia can be a symptom of depression or other mental health conditions. If you’re struggling to manage your symptoms on your own, it may be time to seek professional help from a mental health provider.
Lastly, remember that dealing with anhedonia takes time and effort, but it’s important to take steps to manage your symptoms and start feeling better. Be kind to yourself. Don’t forget that progress is often slow and gradual – but it’s worth the effort to rediscover joy and pleasure in life.