Updated on 5/13/2022
Imagine that the things that once brought you joy and positive emotion just didn’t anymore. Imagine being unable to derive any satisfaction from even your closest, most trusted relationships. Imagine if the simple things in life that give most people pleasure — food, nature, entertainment, sex, art — no longer elicited any response.
If you have been experiencing this kind of numbness and detachment, you are not alone. You may be dealing with anhedonia, a mental health condition characterized by an inability to experience pleasure and sometimes associated with depression.
What Causes Anhedonia?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anhedonia as “the inability to enjoy experiences or activities that normally would be pleasurable.” The APA explains that anhedonia is usually connected to depressive disorder, but is also frequently tied to other mental health disorders like schizophrenia.
Anhedonia is also often seen among people who have substance abuse issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or who have experienced trauma. In addition, it has been linked to chronic health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.
What are the Symptoms of Anhedonia?
In general, there are two types of anhedonia symptoms: physical symptoms (“physical anhedonia”), and symptoms that relate to social situations (“social anhedonia”).
Keep in mind that there are degrees of anhedonia severity. You may be able to experience pleasure in some aspects of your daily life, but not in others. You may also experience degrees of numbness or lack of feeling.
Physical anhedonia symptoms:
Physical symptoms of anhedonia may include:
- Inability to derive positive emotion from physical sensations
- Food may not taste as good as it once did; it may taste bland
- Physical touch, such as hugging or hand-holding, may no longer bring comfort
Sex may not feel pleasurable (sexual anhedonia)
Social anhedonia symptoms
Social symptoms of anhedonia, when you no longer take pleasure from your relationships, may include:
- Lack of interest in forming new relationships
- Withdrawal from previous relationships
- Not wanting to socialize, increased stress about social situations
- Not wanting to be intimate — emotionally or sexually
- Inability to feel empathy or compassion toward yourself or others
- General negative feelings about others and yourself
- Reduced motivation to pursue relationships, make social plans or engage with others
- Social anxiety
What’s an Example of Anhedonia?
Engaging in an activity that previously brought on a positive effect, but no longer elicits those feelings, is one example of anhedonia. If you used to enjoy playing video games every day after work, but now feel nothing when gaming, this could be a symptom of anhedonia. If you loved meeting up with a group of friends each month for dinner, but now are indifferent to attending these get-togethers or returning calls, this could be a symptom of anhedonia.
There are many ways that anhedonia may manifest, all are characterized by a loss of pleasurable feelings around something that would typically evoke a positive reaction.
How Is Anhedonia Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing anhedonic symptoms, your first step may be to visit your primary care doctor. It’s important to rule out any medical conditions that might cause an inability to experience pleasure.
Your doctor will likely examine you, ask you a series of diagnostic questions, and may perform lab tests to see if your hormone and vitamin levels are normal. If you are fine physically, your doctor will likely refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Talkspace also has online psychiatry services available, which connect you to a licensed prescriber from the comfort of your home.
If you are diagnosed with anhedonia by a licensed mental health professional, it’s probable that you will need to treat the mental health issue causing your anhedonic symptoms in order to experience relief. So, for example, if depression is causing anhedonia, your therapist will work on treating that.
Is There a Cure or Treatment for Anhedonia?
Most cases of anhedonia can be treated with “talk therapy.” It’s important that you find a therapist who you feel comfortable with as a patient so you can honestly share the things you are struggling with. It can be difficult to share your experience of anhedonia, so you want to find a therapist who is compassionate and makes you feel safe.
There are many different types of therapy available. You can find and meet with an in-person therapist near you, or try an online therapist who will communicate via text messaging or video — anytime, anywhere. If you are feeling uncomfortable discussing your anhedonia symptoms, online therapy might be a great place to start, because you can share your feelings in the privacy of your own home or anywhere you can connect to the internet.
Sometimes anhedonia is treated with a psychopharmaceutical, such as an SSRI used to treat depression. These treatments have a high rate of success. Common shortcomings with treatment via SSRIs include a patient reporting side effects such as numbing of feelings, which increases anhedonia severity. You can work with your doctor or psychiatrist, however, to figure out the medication type and dosage that works best for you.
You Can Overcome Anhedonia and its Effects
One of the challenges of anhedonia is that you may not at first understand that what you are experiencing in your daily life is common and treatable. You may imagine there is something defective about you, or that you did something wrong to cause the onset of these symptoms. You may believe that you will never feel normal again, or that you don’t deserve to; self-blame and shame are common among those experiencing anhedonia.
You should know that you absolutely did nothing wrong. Anhedonia is something experienced by many people who have a mental health or medical condition — it is not your fault, and you didn’t bring this upon yourself. Effective treatments are out there, effective, and available, and you are going to be okay. Just think of all the pleasures and joys that await you once you begin to feel like yourself again.