Imagine that you wake up in the morning of any given day and discover that there is nothing that gives you pleasure , nothing that makes you enjoy. Neither the hot coffee, the invigorating shower, nor the hugs of your children or the kiss of good morning of your partner. Your day goes by in gray tones because inside you a wall has been installed that prevents you from enjoying those little everyday joys that help overcome adversity and put light on the road. You are not depressed, doubt, worry or self-criticism have disappeared.
The problem is not suffering, it is that you can enjoy almost nothing because you have stumbled into the anhedonia quagmire, a psychological state of permanent inability to feel positive emotions or satisfaction in almost all life activities.
Sometimes, interest in listening to music, eating or having sex is lost, since none of this generates pleasant sensations (not unpleasant, it is as if the soul had turned to cork). Other times what is lost is the taste for social and family relationships that become bland.
At the cerebral level it is associated with a deficit of activity in the nucleus accumbens - the pleasure zone - and an excess of activity of the prefrontal cortex . The diminished dopamine plays a fundamental role since it is responsible, within the reward circuit, for reinforcing the behaviors that seek pleasure so that they are repeated.
Anhedonia is not in itself a mental disorder, but it is sometimes a symptom of some of the best known disorders. Depression, schizophrenia or withdrawal withdrawal syndromes are three of the fundamentals. Also Parkinson's, eating disorders and risk behaviors.
It is easy to find this state after having overcome a trauma, a disease or a difficult situation in life. Before, psychology assumed that when people left difficult moments behind almost automatically, the desire to live and satisfaction for life reappeared.
However, we often encounter the fact that after having overcome the pain some people get stuck in the symptoms associated with anhedonia:
1. Loss of interest for recreational activities.
2. The descent of the activity because nothing produces distraction.
3. The decrease in expressiveness, especially positive emotions (hope, joy, enthusiasm, happiness, etc.).
4. Alterations in appetite because food does not produce pleasure.
5. The tendency to isolation.
6. The feeling of guilt and the difficulty in explaining what happens to us.
7. The absence of energy and fatigue.
8. Loss of interest in sexuality.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL TO FEEL?
Pleasure, for human beings is not a luxury, but a deep psychological need . Through a state of enjoyment we activate the feeling that life is worth living.
The researcher Barbara Fredickson studied the positive aspects that produce positive emotions beyond the pleasant feeling: they expand intellectual, physical and social resources, provide energy reserves for when there is a threat or difficulty and personal relationships are more likely to thrive. Thanks to pleasure we are more creative, tolerant and expansive.
It is both an emotional reward for a successful action and an incentive to continue acting. The identity itself is based, in part, on defining what we like and what we don't (what we enjoy tends to be part of our life).
People who have lost the ability to feel partial or total pleasure may have feelings of strangeness, the phrases "I am not myself" or "I am missing something" are very common and express confusion and hopelessness as well as the desire to be able to Feel pleasure again.
Some hypotheses point out that positive emotions happen in different areas of the brain and have a different neurochemistry than negative emotions. According to studies by psychologist Richard Davidson, in the positive mood activity is seen in several areas of the left frontal lobe (while the right is activated in negative emotions). Re-plugging the neural cables of satisfaction requires practice . Here are some ideas:
1. Strengthen your self-esteem. Make a list of 20 pleasant activities for you (they can be things as simple as enjoying the smell of wet earth after the rain) and practice at least two of them every day, they are your daily prize for your effort.
2. Develop your senses. Practice savoring, a mindfulness technique that serves to focus on each of the senses consciously. If you train your sight today, for example, look for colors, brightness, shadows, details that perhaps were previously unnoticed.
3. Look for secure links. With anhedonia it is hard to be loved. Find one or more people that allow you to feel that you are important to someone other than yourself. This favors empathy and connection.
4. Cultivate optimistic thinking. Since you can choose the way to interpret the reality, choose one that does not focus on the problems, but instead addresses solutions (that is, activates hope).
5. Develop your physical resources. The emotions that raise the energy are related to the game and this with the development of physical resources (models the muscular system and the cadiovascular capacity).
There is the so-called hedonistic mill wheel, that is, we quickly get used to the good and we take it for granted. That is why it is important to connect with those little joys of life by keeping a diary of happiness that allows you to establish an intimate dialogue with yourself and your memories, as suggested by the French anthropologist Marc Augé in his delicious book 'The Little Joys' and , that way, reconnect with the happiness of the moment.
Do you know the exact number of days you were happy?
Abderrahman III (eighth emir of Córdoba) affected by the "sacred disease", took care to write down the exact number of days he had been happy. As his death approached, he wrote: "I have reigned over fifty years, in victory or peace. Loved by my subjects, feared by my enemies and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasures, awaited my call to come immediately There is no earthly blessing that has been elusive from me. In this situation I have diligently noted the days of pure and authentic happiness that I have enjoyed: they add fourteen. Man, do not put your desires in the earthly world. "
Did the emir of Anhedonia suffer? Maybe. Today we know that the traps that favor falling into the clutches of unhappiness even having everything are: 1. Perfectionism that connects with the demand and detests imperfect reality; 2. Focus on what is missing instead of enjoying what you have; 3. Guilt that seeks punishment and does not reward successes; 4. The fear of change and its saying "better the bad known than the good to know"; 5. Suppress the states of happiness by modesty or shame; 6. Victimism that focuses on the bad happened and blames the neighbor for it; 7. The "thermostat of happiness", the top of joy that everyone is willing to digest, that is, those fourteen days in the case of the Emir.
Isabel Serrano-Rosa is a psychologist and director of EnPositivoSí.
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