They say that life is full of ups and downs. But lately, you’ve been wondering where the ups are.
If you don’t enjoy anything anymore, there’s even a special word for it: anhedonia.
It means the inability to feel pleasure. But what can you do about it? Here are 14 tips.
Do I have anhedonia?
Anhedonia is a common symptom of depression. It can show up in your life as apathy, a lack of interest, and loss of enjoyment.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as “the inability to enjoy experiences or activities that normally would be pleasurable.”
As well as depression, it’s also common among people with other mental health conditions, eating disorders, abuse issues, or people who have suffered a trauma. It’s even been linked to certain medical conditions like diabetes, coronary artery disease, and Parkinson’s.
But you don’t either have Anhedonia or not, you may experience symptoms on a spectrum. So whilst you can find some pleasure in certain areas of life, you might struggle in others. Or you might find yourself feeling numb or unable to feel only at certain times.
Some symptoms of anhedonia include:
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Not being able to concentrate
- Being less interested in sex than before
- Withdrawing from intimate relationships with people
- Not enjoying food anymore
- Finding it hard to get motivated
- Focusing more on problems than solutions
- Not wanting to socialize
Why am I losing interest in the things I used to like?
Anhedonia is complicated and scientists are still working out what exactly is going on in the brain when we lose the ability to enjoy things anymore. But it seems to be linked to the way our brains are hardwired to respond to pleasure.
For example, research has found that a part of our brain that is often known as the “pleasure center” is implicated in anhedonia.
Scientists think changes in brain activity could be to blame. Specifically, how your brain produces or responds to dopamine. This mood-balancing “feel-good” chemical is what controls our motivation, attention, and feelings of reward.
Your brain uses two types of dopamine receptors to produce this response. One type helps us focus and pay attention; the other makes us feel happy.
If these receptors aren’t working properly, they could affect how you respond to stimuli. That could mean you’re less likely to notice something positive happening around you.
“I don’t enjoy anything anymore” 14 tips if this is you
1) Get out into nature
Studies have shown how nature positively impacts mental health.
As highlighted by the Mental Health Foundation:
“Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. Nature can generate a multitude of positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, creativity and can facilitate concentration. Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health; in particular lower depression and anxiety levels.”
If you live in an urban environment, take advantage of parks or green spaces nearby. If you live in a rural setting, consider taking a walk through a forest, along a river or by the beach.
Even if you only spend 20 minutes outside each day at the park, studies show that doing so can improve your overall sense of wellbeing.
2) Start a gratitude practice
Gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving. There’s evidence that practicing gratitude improves your overall happiness and wellbeing.
When you focus on all the good things in your life, it brings those more positive thoughts to the forefront of your mind.
Researchers have found that people who actively practiced being grateful:
- Were more optimistic
- Felt better about their lives
- Experienced more joy and pleasure
- Had better relationships
To start, try keeping a gratitude journal. Write down three things each day that you’re thankful for. It doesn’t need to be much. It can be the lie-in you had that morning. It may be that your partner made breakfast. Or perhaps you made it into work on time when you were convinced you’d be late.
According to a leading gratitude expert, the reason it’s so effective is that it:
- Works to block negative emotions that destroy happiness
- Keeps you focused on the present
- Improves your feelings of self-worth
- Helps you deal with stress
3) Get moving
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. As a natural mood booster, research shows that regular exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It also seems to improve your ability to regulate your own emotions. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins — chemicals that make you feel happy.
It’s also a good distraction and something constructive to do with your time, whether you enjoy it in the moment or not.
You’ll find a lot of activities on this list are focused on re-balancing your dopamine levels. Physical activity is so effective because over time it does just that. As explained by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal from Stanford University:
“When you exercise, you provide a low-dose jolt to the brain’s reward centers—the system of the brain that helps you anticipate pleasure, feel motivated, and maintain hope. Over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors. In this way, exercise can both relieve depression and expand your capacity for joy.”
4) Limit electronics
Electronics aren’t bad. But too many of us use them excessively. And when we do, they take away our attention and energy.
They are designed to tap into our brain’s reward cues. That’s why the ping of a message on your phone or the notifications on social media make you feel good.
The problem is that it can dull our connection to feel enjoyment when we put the electronics down.
It can also make us less likely to engage in healthy behaviors like getting enough sleep.
Excessive screen time has been linked to depression. For example, research showed young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more likely to be depressed or anxious than those who use them for an hour a day.
If you’re feeling numb and cut off from the world it can be tempting to hide away in more screen time. But chances are that could also be making it worse.
Justin Brown discusses the overstimulated world we live in and the benefits of slowing down and doing nothing in the video below.
5) Be careful with caffeine consumption
Caffeine is everywhere these days. From coffee to tea to chocolate — even cola. The impact of caffeine on mental health is pretty inconclusive.
For example, some studies have found benefits for people with depression drinking coffee. The thinking is that it’s because it helps to reduce inflammation of nerve cells that can occur. But it’s not so clear-cut.
Other research has highlighted how caffeine can disrupt several important neurotransmitters, including dopamine. And as anhedonia is already linked to a disruption of dopamine, this might further exacerbate the problem, causing low motivation and a craving for stimulants.
The reality is that everyone is likely to react differently to stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. But it’s worth being mindful about how it impacts your body.
Try cutting down or cutting out these stimulants altogether and you may notice a difference.
6) Eat right
When we’re feeling low we often want a magic fix. If only there was a simple answer and explanation. But it is often getting the fundamental basics right that makes the biggest difference.
There is no denying that food plays a big role in our overall well-being. So eating well can help keep your mood stable, feel more alert, and think more clearly.
Just having more energy may help you to find more pleasure in life.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C can reduce stress hormones in your blood. They can also lower inflammation which is associated with depression.
Eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids can also increase feelings of happiness. Omega 3s are found in fish oil, nuts, seeds, and eggs.
A lot of studies have also found a link between high sugar diets, refined carbohydrates, and depression. When you eat too much sugar, it creates an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain.
The best diet for anhedonia is one that supports the balance in your body and helps reduce inflammation.
When you no longer take pleasure in things, it can feel incredibly challenging to take good care of yourself and your body. You may simply lack the motivation.
But this can become a vicious cycle. The lower you feel, the worse you eat. The worse you eat, the lower you feel.
7) Stop searching for answers outside yourself
Some of these tips for when you don’t enjoy anything anymore are very practical, others are more soul searching. This is one of the latter.
We live in a world where we are constantly encouraged to go searching outside of ourselves for pleasure and happiness.
Buying another new outfit, going out for drinks, falling in love, getting a promotion, having more money in the bank.
We find 1001 little ways to try and feel validated, special, connected, and distracted.
But this is a red herring. It’s not where we find fulfillment, peace, or enjoyment. That is created within us and then reflected upon the outside world.
In the words of spiritual teacher Ram Dass:
“All that you seek is already within you. In Hinduism, it is called the Atman, in Buddhism the pure Buddha-Mind. Christ said, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you.’ Quakers call it the ‘still small voice within.’ This is the space of full awareness that is in harmony with all the universe, and thus is wisdom itself.”
Here’s the truth:
If you’re feeling like nothing in life is giving you pleasure, it’s probably not going to matter what activity you do. The shift needs to start within.
It’s less about finding something externally to give you pleasure again, it’s more about looking inside.
Everything in life works from the inside out, and so until you feel strong again on the inside, you’re unlikely to feel good about anything happening on the outside.
So what can you do to learn to enjoy things in life again?
Begin with yourself. Stop searching for external fixes to sort out your life, deep down, you know this isn’t working.
And that’s because until you look within and unleash your personal power, you’ll never find the satisfaction and fulfillment you’re searching for.
Whilst looking within yourself sounds like a confusing concept, it’s not as hard as it may sound.
We often avoid allowing our buried and tender emotions to come to the forefront of our focus as we’re so focused on what other people deem the necessary next step.
But everybody is different. What you need and how you feel will be completely different to a friend, colleague, or partner.
To dig deep into your buried emotions and start looking within, try out this free Self-Healing Meditation.
Often, the answers you seek and need to address are buried deep within yourself. The only way to access them is by turning off distractions and turning the focus inward.
Why not give it a go for yourself? You’ll no doubt be surprised what emotions you’ve been harbouring in secret that come out to play.
8) Stay connected with people
When you no longer get pleasure from anything, that may also include hanging out in social situations.
You may find yourself avoiding friends, family, work colleagues, schoolmates, and even strangers.
But staying away from people can make you feel worse. It can isolate you further and cause you to lose touch and feel disconnected.
According to the belongingness hypothesis, we have a fundamental need as human beings to feel connected to others.
Research shows that it has a significant impact on both our emotional patterns and cognitive processes.
Whilst you might not want to do the things you once found pleasure in — whether that’s be in large groups, go out to dinner with friends, or to parties — it’s important to maintain at least some close bonds. Focus on quality over quantity.
The benefits of having strong relationships in our lives include a better immune system, higher self-esteem, and better mental health (reduced anxiety, reduced depression).
9) Create a sleep routine
Getting enough sleep is crucial for overall well-being. And one study showed how a lack of sleep in adolescents led to a loss of pleasure.
The studies author, Dr Michelle Short, commented that:
“Sleep duration significantly predicts mood deficits on all mood states, including increased depression, anxiety, anger, negative affect, and reduced positive affect,”
Sleep problems can affect your ability to function normally during the day. As a result, you may struggle to complete tasks, cope with stressful situations, and interact with other people.
If you’ve been struggling to fall asleep or wake up tired, here are some tips to help you improve your sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before going to bed. They can keep you awake.
- Don’t exercise too late in the evening. Exercise helps you relax and wind down, but it should happen earlier in the day.
- Don’t eat late at night. Instead, make sure you eat regular meals throughout the day.
- Try to avoid watching TV or using screens (electronic devices such as phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) right before bedtime. These activities stimulate your mind and prevent you from falling asleep.
- Get plenty of restful sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours per night.
10) Focus on feeling
Rather than focusing on enjoyment or pleasure from the things you do, instead, try to simply observe sensations. Become really aware of feelings in your body.
This ability to connect with your body will only because more obvious through allocating time for meditation practices such as this one.
Focusing on your body and how it experiences things is an extension of mindfulness. Rather than get lost in your thoughts about what is happening, sessions such as these can help you to stay more present.
It also helps to teach yourself to simply focus on feeling again. We’re talking about very simple things that could easily escape your attention.
Things like the warmth of a hot drink as it travels down your throat. The heat of the sun on your skin as you take a walk. The sound of birds tweeting outside your window.
Focusing on the body’s senses can help your mind to get back in touch with your body.
The more mindful and aware you become of the little things, you may be surprised to find you start to slowly but surely find pleasure in these small moments.
Our breath is a powerful tool for managing stress and improving our emotional state. Breathing exercises are often used to calm the mind and reduce stress levels.
Breathwork has been shown to decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress).
For dealing with emotions, learning to use the breath is free, easy and creates instant results. I highly recommend watching this free breathwork video, created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê.
I mentioned him earlier in the article. He’s different as he isn’t another self-professed life coach. Through shamanism and his own life journey, he’s created a modern-day twist to ancient healing techniques.
The exercises in his invigorating video combine years of breathwork experience and ancient shamanic beliefs, designed to help you relax and check in with your body and soul.
After many years of suppressing my emotions, Rudá’s dynamic breathwork flow quite literally revived that connection.
And that’s what you need:
A spark to reconnect you with your feelings so that you can begin focusing on the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself.
So do make time to check out his genuine advice below.
12) Watch your negative thoughts
When you’re dealing with anhedonia, you are most likely to have some distorted thinking patterns. The problem is that in the moment, you may not even notice.
We all experience negative thoughts. Often a little voice kicks in without us even thinking about it and before you know it…
“Oh no! I’m going to fail at this exam.” Or “This job interview will go badly.”
But people who are struggling to find pleasure in anything usually hold some negative beliefs about themselves, about the world, or about the future (sometimes all three).
In order to restructure unhelpful negative beliefs, it’s important to notice and then question them.
When you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, just stop and ask yourself why. What is causing those thoughts? Is there any truth behind them? What arguments can I find for something more neutral or even positive to be true?
Actively work on neutralizing your negative thoughts when you see them pop up.
As mentioned above, meditation is a great way to bring awareness to your inner world. When you meditate, you learn to observe your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions from a detached perspective.
By observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment, you gain insight into their nature.
You also learn to accept things as they are, instead of trying to change them.
Meditation practices such as the free guided one above help you become aware of your emotions and how they affect your behavior. It teaches you to recognize when you are feeling stressed or anxious and gives you tools to cope with these emotions.
On a physiological level, meditation decreases depression symptoms by lowering the amount of the stress hormone cortisol.
There are several types of meditation, but the most popular form simply involves sitting quietly, closing your eyes, and concentrating on your breathing.
From there on, incorporate as little as five minutes of focused attention meditation every day and build up from there.
14) Talk to a professional about it
Talking about your anhedonia can help you identify its source.
If you’re struggling with depression or some other mental health condition, talk to your doctor. He or she will know whether you need treatment.
They may suggest a talking therapy that focuses on helping you understand why you’re experiencing anhedonia. They’ll also give you advice on ways to cope.
Just talking about what you are experiencing can have a profound effect.
For example, research has found that patients with severe depression benefit as much from psychological therapy as they do from pills.