Anhedonia: why nothing pleases anymore

It would seem that a person has everything that one can only dream of, but he does not feel any joy from this. Is it depression, apathy or anhedonia? If depression is a state of depression and oppression, apathy is a complete indifference and indifference to everything, then anhedonia is an inability to experience pleasure from life. By the way, this diagnosis in the modern world is not uncommon. Anhedonia can also accompany depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Many famous personalities have repeatedly admitted that they have problems with the ability to rejoice. The most famous anhedonists are Jim Carrey, Hugh Laurie and JK 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 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 things from time to time that are not necessarily fun. This may be study, work, household duties or forced communication with relatives. But this is not yet anhedonia. They say about deviation when those things and deeds that used to be a joy ceased to bring pleasure. It can be anything from delicious food to travel and hobbies. As a rule, about what used to be important, the anhedonist usually says that he "does not care anymore" or that he is not interested in it.

Although anhedonia is often a symptom of mental illness, it would still be wrong to consider it exclusively as such. This state can also develop independently against the background of deep experiences, life crises, when a person reconsiders 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 disorders

Physical anhedonia is said to be when a person has ceased to enjoy food, sports, sex, touch, music, and the like. 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 there is a loss of interest in situations that were previously perceived as pleasant by a person. For example, meetings with friends, parties, going 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 receive any satisfaction from them, but at the same time he himself is in no hurry to give positive characteristics to other people.

Some specialists single out intellectual-aesthetic anhedonia as a separate group. In this case, they mean people who have lost the ability to admire art objects, books, quality films, etc.

A person may also manifest motivational anhedonia - when the desire to do something disappears, the motivation to build a career and improve one's life disappears. Even if such a person reaches certain heights, he does not experience an emotional upsurge from this. If the pleasure from a certain activity and its results disappears, they speak of consummatory anhedonia. If the joy of anticipation of even the most pleasant events disappears, it can be assumed that the person suffers from an anticipatory variety 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 is partial and total. With a partial manifestation of the disorder, changes concern only certain areas of life. Total anhedonia is the loss of absolutely all sources of pleasure.

To make it clearer, let's look at typical anhedonic behavior patterns. 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 happened in life;
  • to rejoice, you need an exceptional occasion;
  • one should not rejoice if one of the relatives (neighbors / in the country / in the world) has some kind of trouble;
  • joy does not go unpunished.

People with such a mindset can overshadow even the most joyful events. For example, going on a trip, they set themselves up in advance that something terrible can happen on the road or at home in their absence. Another classic example of an anhedonic thinking: "These berries are not to be eaten now - they will be jam for the winter."That is, such a person deprives himself of the opportunity to enjoy life here and now.

Causes of occurrence

The occurrence of anhedonia directly depends on the work of the brain. Throughout our lives, this part of the body produces various chemicals that affect the well-being and emotional state of a person. One of these substances produced in the brain - the neurotransmitter dopamine, in fact, is responsible for the ability to experience pleasure in certain activities or situations. If the amount of dopamine is normal, a person in pleasant circumstances experiences positive emotions. 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 those with anhedonia. During the experiment, the participants in the experiment had to draw in their imagination various positive and negative points, while scientists analyzed the state of their brain at that time. It turned out that healthy people easily restored pleasant images, and to recreate negative moments, their brain had to strain harder. But with the anhedonic brain, things were exactly the opposite. Their brains seem to be programmed by default to create negative emotions.

Anhedonia also has psychological causes. During depression, a person’s thinking works in such a way that it automatically picks out predominantly negative moments from what is happening around, confirming for itself the idea that “everything is bad around”.

Anhedonia is more likely to develop in people who seek to solve all their problems on their own, constantly focusing on failures and their shortcomings.

Symptoms of the disorder

Now let's talk about how to recognize anhedonia. Let's say that earlier a person was very fond of riding a bicycle, and this brought him a lot of positive emotions. But now he doesn't even look in the direction of two-wheelers. What is it: a manifestation of anhedonia or, perhaps, a person just stopped liking this hobby? It must be admitted that it is impossible to answer the question in this way. It is possible to determine what caused the change in habits and preferences of a person only during a conversation with a specialist. It is also quite difficult at first glance to distinguish a breakdown from a typical anhedonia. But, as a rule, the usual breakdown is a temporary state, and anhedonia is stable and permanent.

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If we abstract from the specific example of a bicycle and analyze the behavior and emotions of a person in general terms, it is quite possible to determine whether he has a tendency to anhedonia. A violation can be suspected in such cases:

  1. A person has lost affection and love for loved ones, including his own children.
  2. A person avoids contact with people in every possible way, including through Internet communication and telephone.
  3. Anhedonist spends most of his time alone, usually in his room.
  4. Once loved music no longer evokes any emotions.
  5. Suddenly lost interest in previously enjoyed activities (travelling, sports, shopping, cooking, reading books, surfing the Internet, watching movies, etc.).
  6. Lost sense of humor.
  7. There is an emotional detachment from beautiful landscapes, works of art, amazing animals, or unusual things.
  8. Communicating with friends or relatives, a person has to play emotions of joy or sympathy.
  9. A person reacts with indifference to events such as the birth of a child, marriage, and other special occasions.
  10. Intimacy does not cause such emotions as before, although there are no deviations at the physiological level.
  11. A person completely loses the desire to dream.
  12. 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 certain that he has anhedonia.

Ways to treat the disorder

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 drag a person so much that he completely loses the meaning of his future life. How dangerous this is, probably does not need to be explained.

Since anhedonia is one of the symptoms of depression, antidepressants are commonly 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 classical depression, the production of serotonin and dopamine is disrupted in his body. Deficiency of the first is always a more acute reaction to stressful situations, bad mood, anxiety, panic, development of phobias. In the case of anhedonia, the concentration of dopamine is disturbed. And now the main point. Most antidepressants aim to normalize serotonin metabolism, which in principle has no effect on anhedonia. Thus, we can talk about the inappropriate use of these drugs for the treatment of anhedonia. But today there is no “magic pill” that could purposefully deal with the symptoms of anhedonia. Therefore, psychotherapy methods are considered more effective for the treatment of this disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is recognized as the most effective for these purposes today. In short, its essence is to change a person's outlook on life, to help him 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 individual therapy.

The most popular anhedonia treatment methods today:

  1. Individual psychotherapy (concentration on positive emotions, daily routine adjustment).
  2. Drug therapy (drugs are selected individually).
  3. 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 reduce the manifestation of anhedonia, with the help of diet. To do this, you need to include in your daily diet as many foods containing dopamine and promoting the production of this hormone as possible.

How to re-learn to enjoy life

Even with the awareness of having anhedonia, not every person 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. Decide to help yourself

This is the most important, and for many, the most difficult part of the program. First, any action begins with a decision. Secondly, in cases of so-called self-psychotherapy, it can be difficult for a person to first admit that he has a problem, and then to believe that he is able to help himself on his own.

Step 2. Find a source of pleasure

If the old sources of pleasure no longer work, then it is necessary to find new ones. What is important, "exploratory work" should extend to all spheres of life. It is necessary to include smell, sight, touch, taste, hearing, body movements. Moreover, it is necessary to examine each of these groups very carefully, for example, within 2 days.

Take at least the sense of smell. Next Monday and Tuesday can be devoted to the study of smells. It can be aromas in a perfume shop, the smell of plants, fruits, herbs, vegetables, spices, essential oils. You should study the aromas slowly, writing down those that you liked at least a little.

Wednesday and Thursday can be taken up with the study of touch. The purpose of this exercise is to find surfaces that bring tactile pleasure. Exercise is best done with your eyes closed. Within two days, a person will deliberately touch a variety of objects. It can be stones, leather, fur, paper, loose and creamy substances, glass, cotton wool. Among them, there is sure to be something that seems pleasant to the touch.

The next two days can be devoted to exploring your taste sensations. “Research” is best started with simple foods, such as familiar fruits, vegetables, chocolate or baked goods. 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 foods you eat was the most pleasant to taste.

The seventh day and the eighth is the time of studying sounds. It's best to start with the sounds of nature. For example, listen to the sound of rain, the wind, the sounds of water, the voices of various birds and animals. Then you can move on to music. But do not force yourself to listen to those tunes that you liked before. The task of the exercise is to find new sounds that would be pleasing to the ear.

After this exercise, you can turn your attention to visual images. You can consider anything: from color combinations to various items. Among this set, there is sure to be at least something that will sincerely interest you. But it is important to consider objects deliberately, slowly, listening to your feelings.

Well, the last two days of this stage of self-therapy are useful to devote 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 like to perform.

Of course, this does not mean that the practice should end after these 12 days. These exercises can be repeated exactly as long as a person needs to find new sources of pleasure for himself. But here one must be extremely careful so that the source of joy does not become a source of new problems (with health, law, etc.).

Step 3. Change your thinking

This point of the treatment program is quite difficult to do on your own, but doable. One of the most effective exercises is to start a so-called pleasure diary and write down every day the moments that brought even the smallest amount of pleasure. It can be even the smallest events. For example, the rain stopped a minute before you went outside, or someone lent you a phone charger, there was a pen that you have been looking for. 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.

Anhedonia is a fairly common phenomenon in the modern world. Part of the reason for such sad statistics is the specificity of modern life. Frequent stress, unhealthy diet, constant stress lead to disruption of brain activity, changes in hormonal levels, due to which a person becomes 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 severe somatic disorder, it is necessary to conduct an examination and treatment in a hospital. When the doctor establishes 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.