When the Fun is Gone... Anhedonia defined & treated
Anhedonia is a technical term used in psychiatry and psychology which relates to when a person loses all interest in activities that used to give them a great deal of pleasure. For the everyday person it might mean you find it hard to enjoy anything or you feel emotionally numb. Nothing seems to make you smile or laugh anymore. Music you used to like listening to sounds dull or you can’t get motivated about anything. It’s hard to take joy out of experiences that you used to find fun or exciting.
Anhedonia is a major symptom of depressive disorder, and we work with many people who find themselves overwhelmed with this feeling of ‘emotional numbness’ or being ‘flat all the time’. Some people describe the feeling as listening to the same song over and over again for months – it is hard to be interested or lifted by the lyrics or tune when you hear it again.
We all have our low patches at times, and find it hard to take enjoyment from things if we are tired, stressed or busy, but the term anhedonia refers more to people who find there is no change at all in their mood for prolonged periods of time. Besides a loss of joy, some of the related symptoms of anhedonia include:
How do we treat it?
Anhedonia is most commonly linked to depression and anxiety, so quite often treatment takes a two-pronged approach with medication and psychological therapy. Often medication in isolation won’t treat the root cause of the anxiety or mood disorder. It is best to tackle the problem as soon as possible and the first step is identifying that you feel this way.
Take the time to reflect
As anhedonia can make you feel flat for a long period of time, it is sometimes hard to identify what the problem is and seek treatment. It is easy to ‘fall into a hole’ or a routine which masks the feeling (or lack of), and many weeks or months can go by without feeling the need to reach out for help. We encourage people to look at their lifestyle and reflect on the peaks and troughs in their days. Do you take pleasure from fine food, music or a beautiful sunset? When was the last time you smiled, laughed, cried, felt excited or thrilled?
In addition to the counselling work we do together, there are some practical things that can assist in the treatment of anhedonia.
Doing some form of physical exercise is widely accepted as being a fantastic treatment in not only this, but also depression in general. By doing exercise it releases chemicals in the brain that does elevate your mood. We encourage people to look at doing some form of exercise each day, whether it’s yoga, a brisk walk or a morning swim.
Another approach to take is to live a healthy lifestyle, which means look at your diet and stop smoking as well as reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. A healthy lifestyle can make a difference with anhedonia as well as depression. Build a close relationship with friends and family who can support you. Actively look to increase the time you spend with family, colleagues and friends and participate in activities that are both positive and mentally stimulating. The risk of anhedonia is you feel not only emotionally numb, but isolated. Being around a support network and stimulating activities is a valuable way to feel connected.
Fresh Air, Sunlight & Sleep
We can’t underestimate the value of being outside and enjoying fresh air and sunlight. Being cooped up indoors all day or night can often make us feel trapped and immune to the moving world outside. Take the time to step outside during the day and breathe in the fresh air or enjoy the rain on the roof. Regular, deep, restorative sleep is also essential to help anyone struggling with any form of mental illness. It helps us think clearly, feel energised and more resilient.
Setting realistic goals is also an important part of the therapy and gives people the opportunity to feel connected to a project or outcome. Goal setting gives us focus and purpose and achieving the goals gives a sense of real satisfaction and pride. Goals may be as simple as exercising a set number of times per week, running 4 kilometers, cooking your favourite dish or finishing that book you never get through.
It’s important for anyone suffering from anhedonia to know that they are not alone. A lot of people suffer from a loss of joy or a loss of interest in life, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent state of being for anyone. If you have the symptoms of anhedonia or believe that someone you know is afflicted with anhedonia, help is available. Call us today to make an appointment (07) 3852 2441 or contact your GP.