Have you ever felt that everything you do has lost all its substance? Like “I don’t care about anything,” because there’s no enjoyment or pleasure in doing it?
A surprising number of us feel this way — especially now that we’re stuck in our houses 24/7 due to COVID-19, unsure of what the future looks like! The uncertainty gives everything else a sort of pointless edge.
Whether your experience is depression-related or coronavirus-related, there’s a name for it: anhedonia. And the exercise below can help you beat it right away.
It’s worth taking a look at what anhedonia is, how it happens to you, and a foolproof way to help you enjoy things you used to love again!
If you feel like you aren’t enjoying life anymore, and want to talk to someone about it, there are people here for you. You can chat anonymously on Supportiv, 24/7, with people who know how anhedonia feels.
What is Anhedonia?
Anhedonia is an inability or reduced ability to feel pleasure, enjoyment, and engagement with life. It can also include reduced motivation to do things. You may feel like you don’t care about anything anymore since nothing feels good or brings you fulfillment.
With anhedonia, your interest in things you used to love doing diminishes. That feeling of “wanting” or “liking” things is decreased, and you may not even know why.
Anhedonia is known to especially affect those who experience major depression, PTSD, or other mood struggles. However, even if you don’t have any mental health diagnoses, you may still experience anhedonia. Anyone can find themselves stuck saying: “I don’t care about anything anymore.”
There are various factors that may have set off your anhedonia, such as:
- Complex trauma
- Substance addiction
- A major illness or disability
- Loss of a loved one
- Social isolation due to COVID-19 and shelter-in-place
You may feel a general sense of not caring about anything, or your anhedonia might be a more specific sub-type:
Social anhedonia is the withdrawal or isolation/exclusion from social activities. This brings about a disinterest or lack of pleasure in doing things of a social nature, like hanging out with friends, attending a party or event, avoiding malls and other public places. Social anhedonia may possibly related to isolation and loneliness, because you don’t care about anything that has to do with socializing. As humans, we are sustained by social interactions – there is a need for being in the presence of others and communicating with them. This is vital for our physical and mental well-being.
Our ability to receive comfort from touch or be intimate is greatly diminished because of physical anhedonia. If you are a person who enjoys physical activities such as playing sports, exercising, or even sex, developing physical anhedonia can be extremely detrimental to your mental well-being. Causes of physical anhedonia can be trauma, physical disabilities, or sexual dysfunction.
Another factor of physical anhedonia can be attributed to your other senses – eating, smelling, hearing and seeing. You may experience a lack of enjoyment and pleasure from eating your favorite foods, inhaling nostalgic scents, listening to music, or watching movies. Your feeling of “I don’t care about anything” can even cause you to neglect your body.
How Anhedonia Occurs – The Neuroscience Behind It
Scientists and researchers believe that anhedonia occurs as a result of a few factors combined: dysfunction in our brains’ reward systems, environmental factors, and vulnerable genes.
In simpler words, a broken reward system in our brains can’t make us feel pleasure (reward) from doing and feeling things. Environmental factors (such as trauma or grief) may give us a negative feeling about doing things. And if we also have vulnerable genes, our brain’s reward system is tricked into ignoring pleasurable things.
This creates an abnormal reward system, where we don’t feel much of anything, even if good things are happening – we stop feeling pleasure from doing things we used to love!
Break Through Anhedonia with This Exercise!
Do you need a change of scenery from this “I don’t care about anything” mood? Great, let’s get off our asses and actually try to enjoy the things we love, while kicking anhedonia to the curb!
This exercise is adapted from Dr. Robert Duff’s book, F*** Depression. With a name like that, you know it’s not just ordinary advice from a psychologist! Here’s what you need:
- Motivation (Urgh!)
So, on your piece of paper, write down 10 things that you have enjoyed doing in the past. Things that brought you pleasure, happiness, joy – all the warm fuzzies. If you’re struggling in self-isolation due to coronavirus, this list should consist of things you enjoy which can be done indoors.
You can list these in any order. Let’s not be lame and write boring things.
Think about stuff you actually did that made you laugh, that you have great memories of! No matter how little you can feel right now, you have definitely felt good at some point in life — even inside the house.
The reason for this is to identify the things that once made you feel alive, but which you now probably can’t imagine yourself doing (since they now give you little enjoyment, or since you’re stuck in the house).
You can check out my personal list below.
Once you’ve got your list ready, think about how much excitement, happiness and pleasure each of these activities bring you and rate each one. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being “it completely sucks” and 10 being “this rocks my world”), write the level of enjoyment each activity brings you — as if they were all completely effortless. This is how I rated my activities:
Next, think about how difficult the activity is for you to do – like how much effort, time, planning goes into actually doing it. So again, from 1 to 10 (with 1 being pretty easy and 10 being “Hell NO”), rate each activity on your list.
See my list below. In contrast to how much pleasure these activities (used to) bring you, you can also see how difficult they are to do.
Now comes the fun part – okay, maybe more introspection than fun. Last step! In this part of the exercise, you want to find the tradeoff between your enjoyment and the effort required to do each thing.
To do this, subtract (minus) the effort rating from the enjoyment rating. For example, on the activity of reading a book, my enjoyment rating is 5 and my effort rating is 2. Therefore, the value of my activity is 3 (5 – 2 = 3). Do this for each of your activities like below.
After you’ve found the tradeoff “value” for each activity, look at the activities with the highest value number. These will likely be the easiest for you to accomplish, while bringing you the most enjoyment.
Now the key is to act on these activities, even if you have to force yourself. Start planning to do your high value activities as soon as possible, because they have the best chance at bringing you some enjoyment.
Doing the easier and more pleasurable ones first may motivate you to keep going. This way, you can build your brain’s reward systems back up, until you start magically wanting to do things off the list!
But just saying you’re going to get it done doesn’t work! Turn your piece of paper around and write down the dates and times for you to try each thing you used to love. Hold yourself to these dates and try your best to just try doing them – even if you bail after 5 or 10 minutes, you tried!
Moral support available right here! Actually trying this stuff can be the hardest part of healing from anhedonia.
The purpose of this exercise is to kick anhedonia to the curb. So even if you don’t start enjoying things at first go – keep trying and be consistent.
Once you’re sort of enjoying the highest value activities, try to work on those lower value ones too. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and have patience. With some effort, you really can recover your ability to care about things!
If you need some moral support or motivation to tackle your anhedonia, we’re here 24/7 to chat.