Anxiety and Pleasure
nxiety disorders cause a great deal of suffering on many levels. Like we said in other articles a genetic predisposition can make us more prone to suffer anxiety, however the emotion which fuels anxiety is fear.
This fear can cause one to avoid many different situations. In some cases it can even paralyze a person to a point in which the only space they feel safe in is their own house or in certain places they are really familiar with and won’t cause them any surprises.
Why staying in your “safe” environment can cause you to experience more anxiety on the long run
If this is the case it can become more and more difficult for this person to meet new people, discover new places, or to have new experiences. Moreover the person who suffers anxiety is very acquainted to the feeling of not being understood by their environment, and in consequence feels less and less motivated to engage in their social life, missing out on all the positive reinforcements this entails.
When someone suffers from anxiety like this there is one life area that gets especially affected: the area of pleasure. Everything related to diversion, joy, enjoying doing certain activities, to what is hedonistic…, they all become reduced to a minimum.
Usually the person is conscious about all this but they conform themselves to the new situation in which a lack of pleasure is the norm, and they (logically) consider there are other priorities at the moment.
How do we compensate the lack of pleasure?
It is interesting how in many cases our own body tries to compensate the lack of pleasure caused by the consequences of anxiety: for example the instinct of smoking, eating or masturbating excessively comes up. This is typical behavior in people who suffer from high levels of stress or anxiety.
You could see this as an attempt of the body to alleviate anxiety by creating a shortcut to pleasure and satisfaction. So in a way, even though it does so by generating pathological behavior, our own body indicates us that in order to reduce anxiety we need to integrate pleasure in our lives again.
Why you shouldn’t wait for your anxiety to leave before you give yourself the opportunity to experience pleasure
Many times I have heard sentences in my practice like: “when I get rid of my anxiety I will start going out with my friends again”, or “when I’ll feel better I will go back to the restaurants I used to love”, or “when I won’t feel this bad anymore I will start painting/cooking/going to the beach again”. I always answer them in the same way: “you have to do the exact opposite of this. The sooner you’ll motivate yourself to engage in these activities again and you give yourself the opportunity to feel pleasure again, the sooner your anxiety disorder will dissolve”.
It’s a gradual process that starts with small steps you agree on with your therapist, who can guide and support you along the way. These small steps can help you to reintegrate hedonic elements in your life as a tool to fight anxiety. Even though there are many other elements to consider in anxiety treatment, one of them should always be “the return to pleasure”, not only as a consequence of the treatment but as a key instrument.