From time to time, getting things done may be challenging. With avolition, this difficulty may become persistent and distressing.
Motivation can ebb and flow. Whether it’s paying the bills or cleaning up dishes, it’s natural to drag your feet on occasion. Then there’s avolition, a core symptom of several mental health conditions, which is more than just a lack of motivation.
If you constantly feel you want to complete a task, but do not have the emotional bandwidth or the physical ability to do so, you may be experiencing avolition.
Avolition may feel paralyzing, and it may be a challenge to overcome it by reason, logic, or willpower alone.
But lifestyle adjustments, like therapy or medications, can help you overcome avolition.
Avolition is a term used to describe a significant or severe lack of motivation or a pronounced inability to complete purposeful tasks. It is a behavioral symptom rather than a mental health condition.
Avolition can make it hard to get things done even if there will be consequences, like losing your job or falling behind on bills.
For some, it can be so overpowering that it’s hard to stay on top of your health or keep up your personal hygiene or appearance.
You may not even be aware that it’s happening to you until a loved one points it out.
It’s important to note that avolition is different from procrastination, which is looking for distractions in order to put off something until a later time.
Avolition looks different for everyone. It can affect multiple areas of your life, and it’s not about willingness or laziness.
- lying in bed for hours
- allowing dishes or trash to pile up
- skipping showers or brushing your teeth
- experiencing difficulty with putting things back where they belong
- struggling to throw away empty boxes
- finding it difficult to meet deadlines, like keeping medical appointments or filing taxes
- watching a whole day pass by, without much getting done
- difficulty starting projects
- trouble completing tasks
- challenges organizing work station
- disjointed or disconnected in conversations
- little enthusiasm or “zest” for work
- feeling detached and uninterested
- skipping usual social activities
- withdrawing from social contact
- ignoring texts, phone calls, and emails
- experiencing challenges with making eye contact
- having limited or halted speech with others
Avolition is considered a symptom rather than a mental health condition on its own.
It is a common symptom for people living with:
- bipolar disorder
This does not mean that everyone experiencing avolition has any of these mental health conditions. Only a health professional will be able to reach an accurate diagnosis.
When you live with schizophrenia, your symptoms usually fall into two categories: positive or negative.
“Positive” refers to a symptom that is not present in those without schizophrenia, like hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions.
A “negative” symptom is a lack of a typical emotion, behavior, or thought. Avolition — as a lack of usual motivation — falls under the negative symptom category.
Research shows that
Avolition often coincides with similar symptoms. These include:
- Aboulia is the inability to make decisions or set goals. It’s a lack of will, rather than a lack of motivation. It’s considered a more severe form of apathy.
- Alogia is the inability to speak.
- Anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure, which can lead to a lack of motivation.
- Asociality is a disinterest in being social.
All of these symptoms combined may make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.
While most associated with schizophrenia, avolition can also be associated with:
- bipolar disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- traumatic brain injury
- Alzheimer’s disease
Avolition can also be caused by a lack of mental stimulation or solitary confinement, such as the experiences of those who are incarcerated, especially when they’re incarcerated for a long time.
Avolition is often confused with apathy or laziness, which can be a facet of your personality. However, these traits are considered milder and may not point to a mental health condition.
With apathy and laziness, people are more likely to change their behaviors if a consequence is present.
With avolution, research shows this may not make a difference. That is part of what differentiates it as a symptom of a condition, not just a personality trait.
Researchers still don’t know why some people develop avolition, while others don’t.
Some contributing factors may include:
- brain development
- pregnancy or childbirth complications
Avolition is typically addressed as part of a mental health condition. Depending on what this condition is, treatments may vary. In general, the earlier you start treatment, the better you may feel.
Treatment for conditions related to avolition usually includes a combination of psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle adjustments.
Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help you strengthen tools to carry out daily activities and develop social skills to stay connected with loved ones.
- Brexpiprazole (Rexulti)
- Cariprazine (Vraylar)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
- Haloperidol (Haldol)
- Iloperidone (Fanapt)
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Ziprasidone (Geodon)
Sometimes, medication can make avolition worse. It may also be hard to keep track of taking your medications.
You may want to ask your doctor if injections are available. You may be able to come in for a shot every 2 weeks, every month, or once a quarter.
Brain stimulation therapies
If medications do not help with treatment, your doctor may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
While under anesthesia, a specialist will use electrodes. These are placed on your scalp and send controlled electrical currents through your brain, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
As an alternative, research shows that intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) may be a promising treatment for those with avolition, anhedonia, and blunted affect. This includes magnetic stimulation over the front of your brain (prefrontal cortex).
As part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, there are also several science-backed lifestyle adjustments to help improve your overall quality of life. These include:
- diet of nutrient-rich, unprocessed foods
- 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night
- reflective activities, like journaling
- talking or spending time with loved ones
- spending an hour a day in nature
- a mindfulness practice, like meditation
You may want to consider talking with family and friends about avolition so they understand better what you’re experiencing.
It may help if you or your loved ones create a schedule or list of important activities, like chores, medications, personal hygiene, or mealtimes. Apps like Todoist may assist you.
Avolition can affect every area of your life, from personal relationships to work, classes, home life, and other activities.
Everyday responsibilities, like washing the dishes or taking out the trash, may feel downright impossible.
Know that this is not your fault or a lack of willpower. Avolition, and the mental health conditions associated with it, are complex.
Avolition is a treatable symptom, though. A combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments may help treat some of the conditions associated with avolition.
These resources could help:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists