Emotional Effects

Apathy: Anxiety's Unusual Symptom

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Apathy: Anxiety's Unusual Symptom

Anxiety is a powerful emotion. It saps away happiness, causing negative thinking, negative emotions, fear, irritability, and more. Anxiety is the type of condition that can make you cry for no reason, and it is the type of emotion that makes you feel completely on edge and desperate for relief.

But even though anxiety is such a powerful emotion, not all of the symptoms it causes are as filled with energy. In fact, one of the most common symptoms of extreme anxiety is apathy.

The Many Ways Anxiety Creates Apathy

Apathy is the absence of caring. It's a lack of desire to engage in activities, make changes, or find crave anything positive. Apathy can affect each and every anxiety disorder, and while is most common with severe anxiety.

Apathy seems like an "emotion" (if you can call it an emotion) that doesn't seem to fit with what anxiety causes. But there are actually several different reasons that apathy occurs. A small sample of these reasons includes:

  • Fatigue One of the most common is simply emotional fatigue. Anxiety is such an overwhelmingly emotional experience that after a while your emotions - like a muscle - simply tire out. You start to feel emotional fatigue, and that emotional fatigue translates into apathy.
  • Low Serotonin Anxiety and depression aren't identical, but they're related. Anxiety causes low serotonin levels - the same low serotonin that contributes to depression - and if you're suffering from even the smallest amount of depression, you're likely to be much less passionate about many of the activities in your life.
  • Loss of Happiness Anxiety can also lead to an overall absence of happiness. It may be related to the low serotonin levels, or it may be related to the negative thinking and distractions that occur when you have anxiety, but regardless of the cause that lack of happiness exists, and unfortunately it can take over the way that you feel about the things you used to love.
  • Difficulty Enjoying Yourself People with anxiety also seem to have a significant problem finding much enjoyment out of the events they do attend and the activities they normally try to enjoy. When you do go out with friends your thoughts are often on your anxiety, which means that you're not having as much fun with these activities and you eventually want to do them less.

On a natural level when you're dealing with anxiety every day, it's hard to imagine having a good day at all. On a chemical level, anxiety may actually change your brain to look only at the negatives and ignore the potential positives. It's easy to see all of the ways/reasons that apathy may occur.

Apathy About Anxiety

For these reasons, many people also develop a behavioral apathy about dealing with their anxiety. We say behavioral because most people still wish they were anxiety free, and may try to wish their anxiety away daily, but they don't actually take the time to find a treatments that work, or commit to those treatments in full.

This type of apathy is actually caused by anxiety. The belief that nothing good will happen represents a very real problem that stands in the way of people committing to their treatments.

How to Prevent Apathy

Anxiety apathy isn't something that someone can really prevent when they have anxiety, since the experience of severe anxiety is what creates the apathy. To truly remove it, you have to reduce your anxiety dramatically.

But it is important that you make sure you correctly deal with apathy when it occurs. If you respond to apathy by giving in, you make it harder for yourself to overcome your anxiety later. So remember the following:

  • Spend Time With Friends Spending time with others is crucial. It's really important that you make sure that you are out as often as possible with people you care about, even if the idea isn't as satisfying as it used to be. It's very important to have people around you as a distraction for your anxiety and to improve your mood.
  • Keep a Busy Schedule Similarly, even though you're not feeling as energized about regular life activities, make sure you continue to keep a busy schedule. Staying busy creates new memories and, perhaps most importantly, distracts your mind from your anxiety. Staying busy is actually an important part of coping with anxiety.
  • Exercise Even though it doesn't seem apathy related, exercise has several qualities that appear to make it improve mood and reduce apathy. Exercise releases neurotransmitters with a more relaxed, upbeat mood quality. It can be hard to exercise while you're feeling apathetic, but if you can get yourself outside and running or walking more, you will have a better chance to improve your mood.

Obviously these are only small, minor fixes. But they're helpful nonetheless, because they ensure that your apathy isn't something that will eventually hold you back from getting the relief you need.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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