Anhedonia is currently referred to as a “modern depression”. It means a loss of the ability to enjoy small things and to feel joy. It usually concerns overworked people under stress and overloaded with a large number of stimuli and information. Nobody talks about these symptoms with doctors, because “who would visit a doctor because of sadness”? What are the symptoms of anhedonia and how to deal with them?
The term anhedonia (from Greek: an – “without” and hedone – “pleasure”) was coined by a French psychologist and philosopher Théodore-Armand Ribot in 1896 to describe a symptom accompanying many mental disorders, i.a. depression. It can be briefly defined as an inability to enjoy basic elements of our life. In psychiatry, this is referred to as a state where the patient complains on a reduced ability or even inability to feel any type of pleasure – sensual, physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual. The lack of feeling euphoric or happy can be observed in different situations, usually typical ones such as family meetings or performing one’s favourite daily activities. The patient would avoid confrontation with other people, spending time together with them or going out to cinema or exhibitions, and even shopping. People suffering from anhedonia may also experience feelings of “emotional anesthesia”, indifference, difficulties in empathising and feeling both positive, as well as negative emotions.
Anhedonia and depression
Anhedonia is one of the very common symptoms of depression and therefore it should not be underestimated. The social lack of awareness of what depression really is can however hinder the diagnosis and delay the implementation of treatment. And, although the depression as a clinical disease was already known to Hippocrates, its definition is floating up to this date, so the correct recognition of the symptoms or characteristic behaviours still poses many problems. Merely 30 years ago depression was associated with patients of old age, already retired, experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome and an onset of somatic issues. Depression today is most often diagnosed in people aged 20-40 and it affects every tenth male and every fifth female. Many women experience the first episode of the disease 3-4 months after a child birth when being overloaded with duties, men – e.g. after losing a fight for something important, e.g. a job. Depression today has become a civilisation disease, ranked third after cardiovascular problems and cancer. However, it is estimated that by 2030 it may become number one (it is already the case among women and city dwellers). This is the price we pay for our lifestyle and a constant rush.
Anhedonia, depression and sleep
Typical cases of depression are correctly associated with melancholy, decreased activity and motivation, loss of appetite, body weight and sexual needs. Nowadays we also come across less characteristic depression instances associated with an excessive exploitation of one’s body. The most noticeable symptom of an “atypical depression” is a high activity and a constant action with a simultaneous lack of satisfaction from one’s achievements. It is very often accompanied with biological clock disorders and the lack of balance between work and rest. High activity is important for maintaining emotional well-being but crossing a certain line can be very dangerous. First of all, we should look at our routine of rest and think if we actually can call it a “routine” or just an occasional relaxation. The research is clear – people who sleep less than five hours a day have seven times (!) greater tendency to depression and anhedonia than those who sleep about eight hours. So just a few sleepless nights are enough to increase the risk of depression by 150 percent! Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to pay proper attention to the hygiene of your sleep and treat rest as your number one obligation. After all, today we have many tools and possibilities to conveniently achieve effective sleep!