Anhedonia is defined as the inability to feel and experience pleasure, as well as the loss of interest in things .
People who experience anhedonia lose all interest in carrying out activities that they used to enjoy and have a decreased ability to feel pleasure. They have a deep sense of apathy and reluctance. It is a central symptom of major depressive disorder , but it can also be a symptom of other mental health disorders. There are people who experience anhedonia without the need for any mental disorder.
Types of anhedonia
The two main types of anhedonia are social and physical anhedonia.
Social anhedonia is a lack of interest in social contact and a lack of pleasure in social situations. Physical anhedonia is the inability to feel tactile pleasures such as eating, playing, or sex.
Main symptoms of anhedonia
Everyone has experienced sadness at some time, it is something normal. Sadness can appear after the loss of something important, such as after a romantic breakup, or after losing a job, a friend, or a pet. In these moments it is normal to feel sad, not want to do anything, want to sleep all day, or lose your appetite. We’ve all been through something like this. But these feelings normally diminish over time, and life returns to normal after a period of pain. Depression, on the other hand, is something totally different.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, and anhedonia is part of this disease. But in order to better understand the characteristics of anhedonia, we offer you the following list of characteristic symptoms:
- Loss of interest in all or almost all day-to-day activities
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Change in sleep patterns: insomnia or excess sleep
- Physical sensations restlessness, agitation, or a “sluggish” feeling
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost daily
- Feelings of worthlessness or unfounded guilt
- Inability to concentrate, trouble thinking and making decisions
- Repeated thoughts of death or suicide
- Social withdrawal and difficulties in adapting to different social situations
- Negative feelings towards oneself and others
- Reduced emotional expression, including having fewer verbal and non-verbal expressions
- The tendency to show false emotions, pretending to show happiness when not feeling
- Loss of libido or lack of interest in physical intimacy
- Persistent physical problems or psychosomatic disorders
As we can imagine, these symptoms cause a serious disturbance in day-to-day functioning and often lead to problems in work and family life. We have to bear in mind that when someone is diagnosed with depression, they are suffering from an illness as serious as any physical illness.
Causes of anhedonia
As we have already said, anhedonia is a central symptom of depression, although not everyone who is depressed experiences anhedonia. We must also know that medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics used to treat depression can cause anhedonia.
Schizotypy is another psychological disorder in which certain personality traits can develop typical symptoms of social anhedonia, and the same happens with schizophrenia.
Anhedonia can also appear as a result of drug use or suffering from a lot of stress or vital anxiety.
Risk factors for anhedonia
A family history of major depression or schizophrenia is a risk factor for anhedonia. Other risk factors are:
- A recent traumatic or stressful event
- A history of physical or emotional abuse or neglect
- A disease that affects the quality of life
- An eating disorder
It has been found that women have a higher risk of suffering from anhedonia.
Treatment of anhedonia
Anhedonia can be difficult to treat. In general, the mental disorder that is causing the symptoms needs to be treated first. For this reason, the treatment will depend on the cause of the anhedonia, as it will not be the same if it is an isolated and specific event as if it is a symptom of schizophrenia or depression.
Thus, possible treatments vary. Psychological therapy is as essential as the process. Some people have seen great improvement after taking drugs that increase dopamine levels. Another alternative is to practice yoga and meditation when combined with exercise. Others have used herbs and supplements like Rhodiola Rosea and St. John’s wort. A radical change in diet has also helped many; giving up junk food, cutting back on caffeine and sugar, for example. Eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh fish or masago can also help.
It is important to look for things that can exert a positive stimulation in our lives, such as going to the movies, reading something entertaining, going out with friends for walks in the fresh air, doing a craft, etc. Well, all these little things that are so lazy to do when we are apathetic, in the long run, have a rebound effect and will encourage us to continue with our lives in a more energetic and healthy way.