Avolition (Lack of Motivation)
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We all face periods where we might procrastinate or not feel like getting something done. There are times, however, when it’s a possible symptom of a mental health disorder. There’s a name for a severe lack of motivation—avolition.
What Is Avolition?
Everyone will have a hard time getting things done occasionally. Our motivation levels tend to come and go, and they’re often not constant. For example, there may be days when you don’t feel like finishing up that work project or doing housework. Avolition is different.
Avolition is a symptom of several mental health conditions. If you experience it, you may feel like you want to complete a task, but you can’t do it emotionally or physically. You can feel paralyzed in your life and can’t get past these feelings with logic, reason or willpower. Even when someone with avolition knows there’s a reward for completing a task, they still can’t do it.
Avolition isn’t on its own a mental health condition. Instead, it’s a behavioral symptom. Avolition can be so severe that a person affected by it isn’t able to keep up with their hygiene or appearance.
What Does Avolition Look Like?
As is the case with so many mental health symptoms, avolition can look different for every person. It’s important to distinguish that it’s not about laziness or a lack of willingness to do something.
Signs of avolition at home can include:
- Letting trash or dishes pile up
- Not brushing your teeth or showering
- Lying in bed for long periods
- Not throwing away empty boxes
- Failing to put things back where they belong
- Not meeting deadlines like keeping medical appointments
- Having entire days pass where you get very little, if anything, done
Avolition at work can include:
- Problems starting or completing tasks and projects
- Disorganized workstation
- Disconnected conversations
- Lack of enthusiasm
In your relationships, signs of avolition are:
- Feeling uninterested or detached
- Avoiding social activities
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Ignoring emails, texts or phone calls
- Not making eye contact
- Limited speech with other people
Avolition vs. Laziness
There’s an unfortunate misconception that avolition is someone just being lazy. People with avolition are not lazy, but they are unable to take action. They are paralyzed by apathy or even an inability to experience the rewards that could come with performing a task. Laziness can be something that you are willful about, and you may not have a mental health disorder.
See Related: How To Get Out Of Bed When It Feels Too Hard
What Causes Avolition?
Avolition is one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia, and it occurs with other mental and neurological conditions. Although it’s most associated with schizophrenia, avolition can also occur as a symptom of:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
Avolition in Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder. When someone’s schizophrenia is active, they may have hallucinations and delusions, trouble with thinking and a lack of motivation. With treatment, most symptoms will significantly improve.
Avolition is a negative symptom. In schizophrenia, negative symptoms are abnormally absent things. Other negative symptoms of schizophrenia include problems with emotional expression and a reduced desire to engage in social contact. Someone with negative symptoms may also have a decreased experience of pleasure. There are positive symptoms in schizophrenia as well. These are abnormally present, such as hallucinations like hearing voices and distortions in beliefs.
Treatment for Avolition
Treating avolition requires treatment of the underlying condition causing it. Conditions related to avolition are often treated with a combination of talk therapy, medication and lifestyle adjustments. Specific treatments for avolition may include:
- Therapy: Options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help someone build tools to successfully carry out daily activities and develop social skills to have meaningful relationships with others.
- Medications: If a person has schizophrenia, they might take antipsychotic medicines that could help with avolition.
- Self-care: It’s important to take care of yourself when you have a mental health disorder. While self-care can look different for everyone, it usually requires getting plenty of sleep, spending time outside, mindfulness and a healthy diet. Getting regular exercise can also be helpful.
- Brain stimulation therapies: If medications don’t help your symptoms, including avolition, a doctor might recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Someone undergoing ECT will go under anesthesia, at which point a specialist uses electrodes placed on the scalp. These send controlled electrical currents through the brain. There’s also an alternative known as intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS), which may help with avolition. This uses magnetic stimulation over the prefrontal cortex, the front of the brain.
If you’d like to start setting mental health goals, exploring your feelings, and tracking your progress, consider the Nobu mental health app. Features include industry-standard clinical assessments, sleep tools and mindfulness training. You can also connect with a licensed mental health care provider and send secure messages.
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- Strauss, Gregory P.; Bartolomeo, Lisa A.; & Harvey, Philip D. “Avolition as the core negative symptom in schizophrenia: relevance to pharmacological treatment development.” NPJ Schizophrenia, February 26, 2021. Accessed August 1, 2022.
- American Psychiatric Association. “What is Schizophrenia?.” August 2020. Accessed August 1, 2022.
- NIH National Institute of Mental Health. “Schizophrenia.” Accessed August 1, 2022.
- Tandon, Rajiv & Jibson, Michael. “Negative symptoms of schizophrenia: How to treat them most effectively.” Current Psychiatry, September 2002. Accessed August 1, 2022.
- NAMI. “ECT, TMS and Other Brain Stimulation Therapies.” Accessed August 1, 2022.
- Foussias, George & Remington, Gary. “Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia: Avolition and Occam’s Razor.” Schizophrenia Bulletin, March 2010. Accessed August 2, 2022.