One of the biggest demotivators when we suffer from mental illness, particularly in depression and schizophrenia, is the loss of enjoyment and pleasure, also known as anhedonia. This leads to not wanting to engage in previously enjoyed activities.

This in turn leads to many other emotions such as boredom, loneliness, guilt and grief. Of course, these emotions also negatively impact your thoughts and physical symptoms.

When you don’t enjoy an activity, you stop doing it. When you stop doing things, you aren’t engaging in anything that will bring enjoyment. Bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?

It is really difficult to engage in an activity if you don’t receive any enjoyment from it. Unfortunately, though, when you suffer from mental illness, it can mean you don’t enjoy very many things at all! And when you don’t enjoy life, you feel there is no point to living.

Think about this short list of things that you may have enjoyed previously, but when depressed, find little or no enjoyment:

 

Activity: Eating

When you are well: Good appetite, enjoy your food, eating with others

When you are unwell: No appetite, everything tastes like cardboard, isolative

 

Activity: Church

When you are well: Enjoy worship, want to fellowship with other believers

When you are unwell: Perhaps feeling rejected by God, lack of emotion toward God, angry at God, isolative

 

Activity: Sport

When you are well: Energy to play and meet with others

When you are unwell: Lack of energy and motivation, isolative

 

Activity: General socialising

When you are well: Want connection with others, enjoy activities together

When you are unwell: Lack of energy and motivation, isolative

 

You know that you should be engaging in activities, but you feel that there is no point because you won’t enjoy it anyway. What can you do about it?

One suggestion that may work is to ‘reframe your goals’.

When you have anhedonia (loss of pleasure/enjoyment), having enjoyment as the end goal of an activity isn’t a good idea. You are setting yourself up for failure because it is likely you won’t enjoy it, or at least not very much.  This will just demotivate you to attempt other activities.

But when you ‘reframe’ or change the goal from enjoyment to something else, you have a much higher chance of engagement. Let’s explore this a little:

 

Activity: Eating

Usual goal: Satisfy hunger and enjoy food

Unsuccessful outcome: Not eating as not hungry and lacking taste

Reframed goal: To give your brain nutrition

Successful outcome: Eating small amounts of nutritious food to feed your brain

 

Activity: Church

Usual goal: To enjoy worship and connect with others

Unsuccessful outcome: Won’t go to church because won’t enjoy worship or connecting with others

Reframed goal: Worship God because He is worthy, irrespective of how I feel; I need connection (in spite of not wanting it)

Successful outcome: You attend church

 

Activity: Sport

Usual goal: To enjoy the sport and connection

Unsuccessful outcome: Won’t play sport because won’t enjoy it

Reframed goal: To increase my endorphins and have connection

Successful outcome: Play sport and have connection

 

Activity: Socialising

Usual goal: To enjoy it

Unsuccessful outcome: Won’t go because loss of pleasure

Reframed goal: Because I need connection

Successful outcome: Meet with friends/family

 

 

It is really important to understand that when you can engage in activities, as much as it is a huge effort to do so, a vast majority of the time you feel brighter afterwards (even if thoroughly exhausted).

The result of ‘doing’ has such a positive impact on your thoughts, emotions and physical reactions too. Let’s use the example of going out for coffee with a friend:

 

Thoughts – you have positive thoughts from the conversation; something else to think about; and it lessens your thoughts about loneliness

 

Emotions – you feel less lonely and more contented; you feel more motivated to do it again; you feel less guilt because you have been meaning to catch up with that friend for ages

 

Physical reactions – you have neurotransmitter boosts; you may sleep better due to feeling more contented; often your appetite increases a little too.

 

As you can see from the above example, there are so many positive outcomes to be gained from doing an activity – it’s not just about enjoyment.  Give ‘reframing your goals’ a try.  It may surprise you how it helps to motivate you to engage in some much needed activities.

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