photo by: fotografierende
by Andrea Blundell
The world is a mess and it’s made you stop caring. About, well…. anything. Is it okay to feel like nothing matters? Or are there times when apathy is a serious red flag?
Apathy can be defined as a state of indifference and the inability to act. We lack motivation and also the ability to care that we are unmotivated. Apathy is also about a lack of emotions.
Despite years of research around ‘rational choice theory’, it turns out that us humans need to feel things to take action. As a research paper from Harvard clarifies, “emotions constitute powerful, pervasive, and predictable drivers of decision making.”
Is it apathy? Symptoms to look for
But how can you know it’s actually apathy and not just the ‘blahs’, or feeling bored?
Apathy can affect three areas, that research has defined  as emotional-affective (how our emotions lead to actions), cognitive (our ability to make plans), and auto-activation or behavioural (our ability to decide to think things through and take action).
This translates into symptoms like:
Many of these can be signs of a bad week, or feeling a bit low. But in such situations, we realise we don’t care as much as usual, and it concerns us.
Apathy is that one step further. We no longer care that we don’t care. It’s like everything is turned off inside.
Related mental health issues and disorders
Apathy often occurs alongside depression and sleep problems. And it can be related to bipolar disorder.
If you have other symptoms, such as memory problems or physical issues, note that apathy is often a symptom of neuropsychiatric disorders like head injuries, Parkinson’s, and dementia.
Apathy or depression?
photo by: Dollar Gill
Depression doesn’t always involve apathy. You might, for example, have many goals you care about, but be depressed due to very negative thoughts about your self worth or ability to achieve them.
And depression often comes with guilt and shame that we are flawed in some way. We worry what others must think, or see ourselves as a burden.
Apathy doesn’t even care enough to feel ashamed or guilty. And goals seem a waste of time.
How to start caring again
1. Determine the source, if any.
If there is a source for your apathy, it pays to face it head on. Did you experience a bereavement in the past few months? Have you lost something important to you, a way of life, a precious object? Or are you finding the state of the world, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, is wearing you down?
Journal about what is upsetting you, and reach out and talk to trusted friends. Are there any things that can be done that can move you forward? Is there a different perspective you could consider?
2. Make self care a priority.
Poor sleep, a bad diet, and lack of exercise have all been connected to apathy. As has drug use, and a hangover certainly helps any of us to stop caring.
In what ways are you neglecting yourself? What small changes could you make starting today?
3. Separate yourself from the apathy.
Mindfulness encourages us to observe our thoughts and feelings right here and now.
And when we commit to this process, a curious thing happens. We begin to feel the separate ‘me’ that isn’t at all our thoughts and feelings, but something bigger.
Try a Gestalt therapy approach and imagine your apathy is sitting in front of you .What would it look like? What would you like to say to it? How different is it from who you really are?
4. And get clearer on who that ‘you’ is.
Sometimes if we stop caring, it comes from a series of bad life choices that leave us mired in a life that actually doesn’t match who we really are.
This can even be the case when it feels like our apathy comes from a world gone crazy. The current events around us shines a light on the fact that we are not living our best life.
What are the things you deeply value, when everything falls away? How is your current life not in line with these choices? If you aren’t sure, use a question from life coaching. “If you suddenly had all the money you could ever need, how would you live?” What choices would you make? How can you make those choices in your current life, in a different form?
5. Take action even when you stop caring.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) suggests reversing the pattern of emotions leading to actions. Called ‘behavioural intervention‘, it means that if we choose our actions, we choose our moods. We don’t wait to want to do things or to feel happy doing them. We just go ahead and do.
Why do I easily stop caring and my friends don’t?
Are you an apathetic mess in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic? But your friends are doing just fine? Why is it you are more prone to falling into hopelessness?
Research from the University of Oxford  suggests it might be that your brain is not designed to be efficient. Using brain scans, it showed that connections in the front part of the brains of apathetic people are less effective. You have to use more energy to plan an action, which would lead you to be less enthusiastic and to fall more easily into hopelessness.
It can also relate to our upbringing. Childhood experiences might have taught us to fall into hopelessness or to give up on ourselves. It could have been a parent who taught us to be addicted to negative thinking.
Or it might have been that we experienced neglect or trauma, which left us with a core belief that we are damaged, hopeless, and don’t deserve good things to happen.
Support for when you stop caring about anything
If you are really mired in your apathy? Or if you suspect you easily fall into apathy because of unresolved childhood issues? Then do seek the support of a counsellor or psychotherapist.
Sometimes the very idea of having someone to report into who actually listens and cares about what you say can alleviate apathy. A therapist can also help you decide what you want to happen next in life, and then move towards it.
Is it time to start caring? We connect you with friendly and highly regarded therapists in Central London. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide therapists as well as Skype therapy you can do from anywhere in the world.
Still have a question about how to go from ‘stop caring to start caring’? Post below.
Andrea Blundell is the lead writer and commissioning editor of this site. You can find her on Twitter.
 Levy R, Dubois B. Apathy and the functional anatomy of the prefrontal cortex-basal ganglia circuits. Cereb Cortex. 2006 Jul;16(7):916-28. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhj043. Epub 2005 Oct 5. PMID: 16207933.
 Valerie Bonnelle, Sanjay Manohar, Tim Behrens, Masud Husain, Individual Differences in Premotor Brain Systems Underlie Behavioral Apathy. Cerebral Cortex, Volume 26, Issue 2, February 2016, Pages 807–819. https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/26/2/807/2367142.
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