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The Depression Symptom That Robs Us of Joy

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If you’ve ever faced depression in your life, you’re familiar with the way it makes you feel. The persistent sadness, low energy, disrupted sleep and missing motivation can make even the simplest daily activities seem too difficult to even contemplate.

There’s another symptom often interwoven with all the others, yet one that stands out as an especially discouraging aspect of depression. There’s a scientific term for it — anhedonia — but in everyday terms, it simply means that we can’t feel pleasure.

In my own experience, this has meant many things. For example, when I’m depressed I might feel zero enjoyment when visiting my favorite home store. Since I’m a decorating fanatic, this is a sure sign I am not well. The colors, textures and scents just don’t seem to move and inspire me the way they usually do.

Anhedonia can turn us away from the very things that might provide comfort when we’re feeling depressed: the pleasure of a walk in the fresh air, the comfort of sitting quietly with a beloved pet, the enjoyment of getting dressed for a party. In fact, experts say it can keep us from attending the party, since anhedonia has a social dimension, too: conversation and closeness just don’t bring the positive feelings we usually experience. Our sex lives may suffer, too, which can strain relationships with our intimate partners.

Anhedonia mainly affects people who live with depression, but it can accompany other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People being treated for substance use also struggle with it. Combined with feelings of self-doubt and low energy, it can rob us of all desire to do the things we usually love — which can hurt our social lives and chip away at our sense of purpose.

If you’re struggling with anhedonia right now, it’s good to realize that this symptom will gradually lift as the other effects of depression subside. Sticking to your wellness plan, even when you don’t feel motivated to do it, will help restore the balance in your brain that allows you to feel joy.

As you move toward recovery, here are some techniques that can ease the effects of anhedonia on your daily life.

Remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way. To me, this is the hardest thing to keep in mind when I’m depressed. My discouraged brain actually believes I’ll never find a way out! When that thought overtakes me, I try to focus on memories of times that my mood gradually improved. In my case, it’s helpful to look back at old journal entries as proof that I’m capable of feeling happiness.

Embrace the things you love, even if they feel different. Meeting with a friend will help relieve feelings of sadness and isolation, even if it takes a major effort to get you there. Exercising regularly and engaging in creative activities will boost levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters that support a more positive mood.

When you feel even a little joy, celebrate it. I’ve noticed that tuning in to my positive feelings — even when they’re fleeting — can put me on a more even keel. I remind myself that these small moments of pleasure are a sign that I’m moving in the right direction.

How do you deal with anhedonia when it shows up? Share your coping tips with me here.

Follow this journey on Pen & Hand.

Getty image via Anna Bezrukova

Originally published: December 4, 2020
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