What is Anhedonia?

What is Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is more than just dragging yourself through our day-to-day lives and feel nothing. It’s an emptiness seems to go on and on.

If the condition goes unchecked for an extended period of time, it can wind up being detrimental. Throughout this article, we’re going to explore anhedonia, understand its symptoms, and explore how those with this mental health condition find relief.

Anhedonia Defined

Anhedonia is a component of several different mental health conditions including depression, social anxiety disorder as well as bipolar disorder. By and large, those who suffer from it often have difficulties feeling pleasure in doing activities they once love or found joy in. ¹

Still, one does not necessarily have to struggle with depression in order to have this condition. It’s more a state of being rather than a feeling.

There are two definitions for anhedonia:

  • Social anhedonia affects the socialization of those suffering, wherein they reduce or altogether cease socializing with friends and family.
  • Physical anhedonia refers to the enjoyment of physical interactions such as physical contact, taste, and even in some cases sexual activity. ²
Anhedonia defined

Anhedonia Symptoms

The symptoms of anhedonia can extend beyond the basic lack of enjoyment in activities, socialization, and physical contact.

Those with this condition often report feeling an overwhelming sense of emptiness in doing things or being with those they like or love. It can also complicate relationships – especially with those that the patient sees regularly or are in a romantic partnership with.

Those with this condition also report the following symptoms:

Social Symptoms ³

  • Social withdrawal
  • Canceling plans with loved ones
  • Complications in adjusting to social environments
  • Reduction in positivity
  • Lack of making new social relationships

Physical Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Reduction in appetite
  • Flat facial, vocal, and physical effects in reaction
  • Lack of participation in activities once found enjoyable
  • Increase in fatigue

Examples of Anhedonia

While the symptoms of anhedonia are understandable and documented, the actual application of these indicators can be complex.

It may seem as though the person struggling is not willing to communicate or engage in activities. However, the underlying cause is not a lack of effort but rather the mental health condition itself.

Anhedonia is a slow and productive mental ailment, one that builds on itself as symptoms go unaddressed. It may seem at first that the person is checking out emotionally or socially but over time more and more signs start to paint a more comprehensive picture of the disorder.

Such situations like consistency in canceling plans to disengaging in hobbies that someone had a great interest are portrayals of the condition. Still, there are more discreet and subtle ways that anhedonia can creep up on the sufferer:

  • Withdrawing from fun or exciting events.
  • Inability to follow through with day-to-day tasks due to lethargy. 
  • A breakdown in competent communication with loved ones, friends, spouses, and work colleagues. Often it causes complications in communication. Notably, due to an inability to properly describe certain feelings or the lack of said feelings.
  • Questioning of one’s own ability to perform tasks that not only were common but were once enjoyable. This sort of self-sabotage can hinder creative, professional, and personal development in gone unreported and untreated.
  • Utilizing substances is known to be harmful in large or continual doses in order to cope with the inability to feel joy. Substance abuse is also common alongside this condition. ⁵
  • In severe cases and in patients that go without treatment, there is a heightened risk of self-harm behaviors and suicidal ideation. ⁶
Examples of anhedonia

What Causes Anhedonia?

The cause of anhedonia is multifaceted. The most notable cause is underlying medical and mental health conditions, such as depression. Still, one does not have to have depression in order to develop this condition.

Anhedonia has been seen as a response to varying disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. The important aspect of this condition is that it’s a response rather than an outright illness.

Anhedonia Risk Factors

Those at risk for developing anhedonia are those that have a history of mental illness – specifically those struggling with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

However, there’s also evidence that those developing anhedonia can also develop it from head trauma, deficits in brain chemistry, and those that partake in illicit substances over time.

The greatest insight into the anhedonia response is that researchers are starting to believe it’s linked to brain chemistry and thus relating behaviors or lack thereof. There’s an understanding of how this condition looks within the brain and to sum it up succinctly is has to do with how the internal structures of pleasure and reward processing function.

For those with anhedonia, these processes are set back. There’s an internal altering in segments of the brain that allow for dopamine to administer. Thus to relieve this issue, there are certain methods that have to be administered in order to rectify the misaligned processes that allow for the proper utilization of dopamine and its receptors to act properly. ⁷

What Causes Anhedonia

How to Treat Anhedonia

Treating this condition is just as complex as the disorder itself. Most make the fair assessment that since anhedonia features are a depressive-related situation anti-depressants may work.

Although, in a paradoxical way, anti-depressants are oftentimes not the answer here as they can oftentimes blunt, mask or flatten emotions.

The other treatment options are varying stimulation therapies. One such stimulation method is transcranial stimulation in which the nerves within the brain pulsate by a noninvasive electric magnetic field. ⁸

There have been studies that have shown improvement in not only anhedonia symptoms but also depressive and anxiety-related effects as well. ⁹

Another stimulation therapy that has shown promise is electroconvulsive therapy. In this method, a patient is placed under anesthesia and is administered a small electric current via electrodes placed on the head. This causes a small brain seizure which alters the behavior of nerves within the brain and thus restructures nerve pathways. ¹⁰

This method has shown great promise when it’s administered early in the treatment of both anhedonia as well as major depressive disorder. ¹¹ However, this treatment option should only be administered by medical professionals and monitored closely.

Final Word

It comes with highs and lows, and the hope is that the lows don’t outweigh the highs. However, when those lows become a pattern and the joy of life, is sucked out, then you may just be struggling with anhedonia.

Life should be a joyous experience. If there’s a prolonged period of an absence of enjoyment, there are serious consequences that can spring up. The loss of relationships and hobbies can rob life of its color and splendor.

Your Questions

Do you still have questions about anhedonia?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources 

¹ National Library of Medicine: Anhedonia – A Concept Analysis 

² National Library of Medicine: Social and physical anhedonia and valence and arousal aspects of emotional experience

³ Frontiers in Psychiatry: A Transdiagnostic Perspective on Social Anhedonia

⁴ Library of Medicine: Does physical anhedonia play a role in depression?

⁵ ResearchGate: Anhedonia in substance use disorders

⁶ Library of Medicine: Can Anhedonia Be Considered a Suicide Risk Factor

⁷ Library of Medicine: Neurobiology of Anhedonia and Other Reward-Related Deficits

⁸ Mayo Clinic: Transcranial magnetic stimulation

⁹ National Library of Medicine: Effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation on anhedonia

¹⁰  American Psychiatric Association: What is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?

¹¹ Nature Neuropsychopharmacology Publications: Deep Brain Stimulation to Reward Circuitry Alleviates Anhedonia

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