What Is Anhedonia, and How to Cope With It?

Sometimes, people may lose interest in things that used to bring them joy and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with feeling less excited about your favorite hobby or food after a while. 

However, if you realize that you don’t enjoy anything that used to bring pleasure to your life, and nothing makes you feel good anymore, you may experience anhedonia.

Anhedonia can make you lose interest in everything that’s supposed to make you feel satisfied and happy, including entertainment, food, sex, etc. In other words, anhedonia means being unable to feel pleasure. 

And if such words sound too familiar to you, it might be time to consider starting therapy.

What Is Anhedonia?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anhedonia is the inability to enjoy activities and experiences that used to bring you pleasure. This is one of the typical symptoms of depression. Anhedonia and depression, however, don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. 

People with mild depression may not experience anhedonia, and it may also be a sign of other mental disorders, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

There are two main types of anhedonia: physical and social.

  • Physical anhedonia means that a person no longer enjoys pleasurable physical sensations. It could make you lose interest in your favorite food because it would no longer taste good, and you could also lose interest in sex.
  • Social anhedonia means that a person no longer enjoys being around people and doesn’t feel any satisfaction from human interactions.

Anhedonia can not only stop people from enjoying the pleasant aspects of their lives but also affect relationships. When someone no longer enjoys conversations, they may quickly lose motivation to spend time with other people.

Besides, it’s difficult to imagine friendship and love without positive feedback. Sometimes, you need to tell people that you love them and enjoy spending time with them, but you may not have such feelings because of anhedonia. In addition, anhedonia can affect your libido.

What Causes Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is linked to a lack of dopamine. Dopamine is an important hormone that makes us feel rewarded. For instance, if you like to eat cake, whenever you take a bite, you feel rewarded because of the release of dopamine. Because of this, you will want to take another bite when you see the cake again. Without dopamine, you won’t enjoy that piece of cake so next time you see it, you might simply ignore it.

The lack of dopamine is a reason why anhedonia is very common among people who suffer from substance abuse. Alcohol and various drugs can significantly increase the level of dopamine so the brain may stop producing it in an attempt to balance the effect of substances.

Moreover, substance abuse can create a tolerance to dopamine, which is a reason why people often start to increase the dosage to achieve the same effect. When such a person quits drinking or stops taking drugs, the brain is left without dopamine so they start to experience anhedonia.

When people suffer from depression, anhedonia is also associated with the lack of dopamine, but the exact reason why the level of dopamine declines remains unclear. Besides, results of MRI of people with major depressive disorder show pathological changes in some regions of the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.

  • Amygdala is the region of the brain that creates emotional responses, both positive and negative.
  • The hippocampus plays an important role in dopamine transmission.
  • The prefrontal cortex enables us to regulate mood by delaying gratification and setting long-term goals.

Changes in these parts of the brain, along with the dopamine imbalance, can lead to the inability to feel pleasure. However, the exact mechanism that triggers anhedonia is quite complicated, and there’s no direct relationship between anhedonia and depression. 

For instance, research data shows that a low level of dopamine in the ventral striatum, which is another area of the brain involved in reward-related behavior, correlates with the severity of anhedonia but not symptoms of depression, in general.

How to Cope With Anhedonia

No matter whether anhedonia is caused by depression, substance abuse, or other factors, the main thing you should do is improve your well-being and help your body produce more dopamine. 

It’s impossible to boost your dopamine production quickly but here’s what you can start to do to improve the situation.

1. Change your diet

Some products can help your body produce more dopamine or turn into dopamine when digested. Therefore, you may want to change your diet to make sure that you receive the right nutrients.

  • Eat protein-rich products, like soy, legumes, beef, and turkey. Protein-rich products contain phenylalanine and tyrosine, which are amino acids that can be converted into dopamine.
  • Avoid saturated fats because they can reduce dopamine reuptake. Consume less animal fat, butter, and full-fat dairy.
  • Get more vitamins like vitamin B6, niacin, folate, and iron.
  • Eat velvet beans. Velvet beans contain L-dopa, which can boost dopamine production. However, keep in mind that velvet beans can also be toxic if you eat too many of them.

2. Exercise

Exercising helps your body produce adrenaline. Adrenaline can provide temporary relief from anhedonia, and it can also be an important part of long-term treatment programs. 

Besides, when you exercise, your heart rate increases and your brain starts to produce a protein known as Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

BDNF boosts the growth of brain cells and creates new neural connections so different parts of your brain start to send and receive signals more effectively. Such activity is particularly noticeable in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. 

Besides, new BDNF receptors appear so that your brain can produce even more BDNF in the future. When BDNF is reabsorbed, it also stimulates dopamine production.

3. Socialize

The main thing about interactions with other people is to make them meaningful. Dopamine is involved in human bonding. Therefore, meaningful conversations with other people may help you overcome your loss of interest in socialization. 

Physical touch can also become an important part of the treatment process because hugs, cuddles, and sex make your body produce oxytocin. This hormone helps decrease the levels of stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol, which contribute to the development of anhedonia.

4. Meditate

Meditation can also help you reduce the level of cortisol. If you don’t like meditation or have problems with concentration, you may also try breathing exercises or yoga.

5. Consider therapy

It’s also important to take professional help. If you’re having a depressive episode or feel no joy from activities and experiences that used to make you feel happy, you can benefit from talk therapy. 

A licensed therapist can help you understand what caused anhedonia and learn various coping mechanisms. If you’ve never tried talk therapy before, you can learn more about it and familiarize yourself with its benefits.

Final Thoughts

Anhedonia is a common symptom of depression, and it can also be a sign of other mental disorders. If things that used to bring joy and satisfaction no longer make you feel anything, the reason might be hormonal imbalance. 

While the treatment process might take some time, you can help your body produce more dopamine by sticking to the right diet, exercising, and meditating.

If you experience anhedonia and want to enjoy your life again, you can also benefit from professional help. While traditional in-person therapy might not be a suitable option for those who have a tight work schedule or limited budget, online therapy platforms like Calmerry enable you to talk to a licensed therapist from virtually anywhere.

If you’re in crisis and need immediate help, please call 911 or reach out to your local emergency resources.

Vivek is a published author of Meidilight and a cofounder of Zestful Outreach Agency. He is passionate about helping webmaster to rank their keywords through good-quality website backlinks. In his spare time, he loves to swim and cycle. You can find him on Twitter and Linkedin.