When You Have Anhedonia, What Happens In Your Brain?

Having Trouble Enjoying Anything Anymore? You Can Break Through Anhedonia

The inability to do common activities, such as attending celebrations or inviting friends to come over the weekend, has been tough to deal with in 2020.

Our lives have changed over the past few years, but we have been able to find enjoyment in what we do still enjoy. 

There’s a possibility that you felt the need to take this issue head-on. Before the pandemic, you were perfectly content staying at home as long as you had some tasty takeout, could call your friends and had a good book or TV series to watch. 

However, what happens if eating tasty food or talking to your best friend doesn’t bring you happiness anymore? When you used to enjoy an activity, do you find it dull now?  

Anhedonia is a loss of the ability to feel pleasure from things we once enjoyed. It may look similar to boredom, but anhedonia differs in that it accompanies little or no motivation even to try something new. People with anhedonia believe that nothing will make them happy, so they don’t try anything.

Anhedonia is a common symptom in mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anhedonia has been on the rise since the onset of the pandemic, so it is not out of the question that it is affecting more people in 2020.

“A person who has never been diagnosed with clinical depression may still experience situational depression.”

Sigal Levy, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

“It’s something a lot of people experience, at least at one point in their lives,”

A licensed psychologist in Austin, Texas, Miranda Nadeau, Ph.D.

Anhedonia is a mental health phenomenon that could be limiting your life. Learn all about it in this article.

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    When You Have Anhedonia, What Happens In Your Brain?

    When You Have Anhedonia, What Happens In Your Brain?
    When You Have Anhedonia, What Happens In Your Brain?

    The brain has reward circuits that form when certain regions are connected. A reward circuit indicates to you which pursuits are rewarding, interesting, and worthwhile.  

    “If you’re having someone do a task where they have the opportunity to win money, for example, you’ll see these brain regions involved in the reward circuit having functional connections with each other,” says Jennifer Felger, Ph.D., (associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine)

    The chemical dopamine is responsible for enabling neural communication among brain regions. Dopamine determines what you find rewarding and how you wish to achieve it.

    Additionally, it determines whether something is dangerous. According to Felger, people who have anhedonia may not be able to interact as well between these reward circuit regions.

    In other words, this weakened communication between areas indicates that dopamine levels are out of balance, according to Tiffany Ho, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at UCSF.

    Felger also suggests that prolonged inflammation of the brain and body—which is often present in depressed or anhedonia-prone individuals after traumatic experiences—can set the stage for less interactive reward circuit regions.

    Adding to this is amplifying the brain’s threat circuit, which scans for things to avoid. As the world becomes more and more fearful, daunting, and emotional, the brain starts responding differently to rewarding experiences, simply because of what we’re exposed to.

    There is always a reward circuit and a threat circuit running in our brain, Felger explains, but when one uses more brainpower and consumes more energy, the other runs less efficiently.

    Anhedonia: One Of The Core Symptoms Of Depression

    A Step By Step Approach To Reversing Anhedonia
    A Step By Step Approach To Reversing Anhedonia

    Psychiatrists, family doctors, and other mental health professionals usually rely on standardized rating scales to evaluate an individual’s symptom severity.

    The most widely used scale is the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), which evaluates mood, interest in activities, energy, and ability to carry out daily tasks.

    Anhedonia is one of the core symptoms of depression, and it’s assessed using a two-item subset from the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). The PANAS consists of 20 items that have been proven useful in assessing mood states.

    The first item is “How do you feel right now?” or how positive or negative the person feels. The second item, which is used to assess anhedonia, asks “How interested are you in things right now?” or how positive or negative the person feels about their interest in activities.

    The PANAS has been widely used for research and clinical purposes, however, it does not provide a way of differentiating anhedonia from other symptoms.

    As a result, researchers have used this scale in conjunction with the HDRS to more accurately assess symptom severity.

    Over the past year, I’ve been working on developing an alternative measure of anhedonia that makes it easier to differentiate between mood and interest levels in individuals.

    The tool we developed is called the Depression, Anhedonia, and Anxiety Scale (DAAS). There are five items on the test, and it uses a visual analog scale to measure a person’s levels of anhedonia.

    Furthermore, it has good psychometric properties, meaning that it doesn’t have any unwanted characteristics such as redundancy or discrimination.

    We also created a scale to measure the intensity of each symptom: Depression, Anxiety, and Anhedonia Scales (DAS). The scales have good psychometric properties in terms of reliability and validity.

    Because we know that major depressive disorder can be triggered by stressful life events, such as a natural disaster or war, we also wanted to make sure these scales could be used in stressful situations by people who are experiencing a traumatic event.

    So we created the Global Assessment of Mood Scale (GAMS), which has been shown to have good reliability and validity for measuring mood states across different cultures.

    We think that these scales will make it easier for mental health professionals to accurately assess anhedonia levels and determine the appropriate treatment.

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      A Step By Step Approach To Reversing Anhedonia

      Anhedonia: One Of The Core Symptoms Of Depression
      Anhedonia: One Of The Core Symptoms Of Depression

      Make lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation and balance dopamine before anything else. Some people may be genetically vulnerable to dopamine imbalances. 

      However, many of the things that help balance dopamine levels can be adjusted, including adequate sleep, exercise, physical activity, reducing levels of psychosocial stress, eating healthy meals consistently, and engaging in important social interactions. Also, they reduce inflammation in the body and brain, so prioritizing them is crucial.

      To establish vital social connections, you need to find people with whom you feel comfortable. When these social connections are weak, people often experience anhedonia and other symptoms of depression.

      Begin Limiting Electronic Use At Night

      In 2020, our electronic devices became our main window to the world and to each other. 

      However, if we become dependent on reward cues primarily coming from our phones and computers, we will be able to disregard pleasure that comes from non-electronic experiences.

      As your sleep time nears, reduce the amount of electronic time you spend working, watching, and surfing the web. 

      Appreciation Yourself. Be Your Best Friend; This Will Encourage Motivation

      It would be helpful if you did everything in your power to exhibit to yourself that you deserve caring and compassion. 

      In the example above, you may not feel like going for a walk or having a social outing, although you would ask yourself: “What would most benefit me right now?” 

      To convey that you deserve care, you could ask yourself: “What can I do right now?”. Is it possible for me to show myself care and compassion?”

      Be aware of harmful thinking patterns that can undermine your efforts to care for yourself, such as a tendency to view the world overly simplistically. 

      For example, a belief that socializing must include fun activities and conversations that flow effortlessly throughout time can also be characterized as all-or-nothing thinking.

      Identifying this pattern of thinking can increase motivation and assist you in brainstorming alternative thoughts to this one.

      Investigate Negative Thinking By Keeping A Worksheet

      Anhedonia sufferers often hold beliefs from three categories. 

      • ‘You might think negatively about yourself,’ (as well as the world, which isn’t surprising at the moment, and also about the future,)
      • as if ‘it will never get better,’ or 
      • ‘you will always feel this way.’

      To help restructure your beliefs, keeping a thought worksheet is the best way. Write about an event that happened. Describe your feelings, emotions, and thoughts (either of yourself, the world, and/or the future).  

      Note the evidence that supports and the evidence that does not support the autopilot thought. 

      As a result, your brain is positioned to review all the information it is receiving, evaluating the negative aspects as well as the neutral and positive aspects. After doing this, reassess your moods without judgment.

      Neutralize Negative Thoughts

      It’s also important to counteract negative thoughts with neutral ones. For example, a neutral thought for a parent could be, “Even though my children and I aren’t devoted to each other anymore, they still check in on me.” 

      It integrates negatives and positives realistically and easily to adapt, making it more attractive to you.

      Keep A Gratitude Journal

      Writing down the simple things you’re grateful for in a journal helps to bring to mind the positive aspects of our lives that we often overlook. 

      You may, for example, be grateful for having food on your plate or a pillow at night to rest your head on or to see the stars every night. Try doing this every day, even if you only write down one or two things.

      Engage In Something You Enjoy But Do Not Expect To Receive Pleasure From It

      When you normally love something, you find that it isn’t what you love anymore, discouraging. So instead of avoiding these activities out of habit, try approaching them with a different purpose. 

      You could say, for instance, that you wish to come away from the activity with a more neutral perspective, i.e., ‘I have improved how I feel by participating.’

      You might start with small sums of time, such as watching TV or taking a stroll outside for 15 minutes. 

      Then, to practice mindfulness of the moment, make a journal about your sensory experience, such as the scratchy feeling of a blanket across your knees when watching a sporting event. 

      Seek Out Therapy When You Need To

      While the above tips can be beneficial jumping-off points, they are not likely to be helpful if anhedonia (or depression) has been present for a long time and is currently affecting your daily life. We recommend seeking out a therapist or psychiatrist to provide additional, professional support, and coping strategies.

      Breaking Through Anhedonia 

      Breaking Through Anhedonia 
      Breaking Through Anhedonia 

      Anhedonia is a symptom of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder that impairs motivation, desire, or pleasure in daily activities. But it can be reversed by targeting specific areas of the brain with neurofeedback.

      Here’s how to get started:

      1. Understand what anhedonia is and why it’s important.

      2. Educate yourself on the underlying causes of anhedonia, including stress and traumatic events that may have contributed to its development.

      3. Learn what lifestyle factors can contribute to a more effective treatment plan. These include regular exercise, nutrition, adequate sleep, and managing your emotions in response to life challenges.

      4. Seek out and work with a reputable therapist who is trained to treat anhedonia—and other symptoms of mood disorders.

      5. Evaluate your current treatment for co-existing conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. This will help you ensure that you are getting the right treatment plan for your specific symptoms.

      6. Working on the same treatment plan with a trained therapist, learn how to bring anhedonia into balance by using neurofeedback and brainwave training.

      As your relationship with anhedonia strengthens, you will notice improvements in your mood and energy levels, motivation levels, and feelings of pleasure in daily activities such as spending time with family and friends. —Dr. Ann E. Marrion, PsyD

      How Anhedonia Impacts Mood Disorders Treatment

      How Anhedonia Impacts Mood Disorders Treatment
      How Anhedonia Impacts Mood Disorders Treatment

      An anhedonic disorder is a mood disorder that is often associated with severe forms of depression and other psychological disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

      People who have mild to moderate forms of anhedonia experience problems with pleasure, motivation, and reward circuitry.

      Mood disorders often have symptoms like feeling sad or hopeless that can happen repeatedly for a long period of time.

      But anhedonia is different than the other mood disorder symptoms in that it is directly related to a lack of enjoyment from activities you used to enjoy or having a hard time feeling pleasure from even the most enjoyable activities.

      Mood disorder treatments are usually based on creative, intellectual, and behavioral approaches in order to eliminate anhedonia symptoms along with other associated symptoms of depression and anxiety.

      Therapies that help people who have been diagnosed with mood disorders start engaging in pleasurable daily routines may offer relief from anhedonia symptoms.

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        Neurofeedback and Brainwave Training for Anhedonia Relief

        Neurofeedback and Brainwave Training for Anhedonia Relief
        Neurofeedback and Brainwave Training for Anhedonia Relief

        Many people diagnosed with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also experience anhedonia. It has been shown that neurofeedback is effective for treating these disorders when other treatment approaches have not worked.

        Neurofeedback and brainwave training can be used with other treatment approaches to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

        By helping people diagnosed with these conditions learn how to manage their stress levels, neurofeedback can help them avoid anhedonia.

        In the event your goal is to find a holistic approach that uses biofeedback to treat anhedonia, this may be your best option.

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