Existential Depression: Meaning, Signs, Causes & Treatment
What is the meaning of my life? What is my purpose in this life? Why was I put on this Earth?
Have you ever thought about these questions, immediately followed by feelings of dread and distress? If your answer is, yes, then it is safe to say that you have experienced an existential crisis.
As you’re struggling with answering these questions and addressing the pain and distress, you might even begin to experience fear or apprehension. Although at some point, you might grapple with your reality, you might also come to discover self-acceptance and self-awareness.
No matter how much you try to answer the aforementioned questions, they might leave you feeling unsettled and uneasy about yourself, in general, or your future. When no answers are forthcoming, you might also find yourself feeling more than just dread.
You might even begin to feel hopeless, worthless, out of control, unmotivated with other symptoms of something akin to depression.
This feeling, however, can be termed existential depression or existential crisis depression.
What Is Existential Depression?
While not a formal diagnosis, this term can be used to describe the general feeling of experiencing existential crisis while also experiencing feelings such as hopelessness, helplessness, and other symptoms of depression.
Existential depression can be an intimidating experience and should be taken seriously. When you’re constantly contemplating life and death (and all related to it), you are more likely to be exposed to some specific symptoms of depression that can even worsen your existential sadness.
The thing you need to remember is that not all existential crises lead to existential depression. One or more thoughts or events might cause a person to experience depressive symptoms. However, depression is a mental health disorder that is highly treatable. With the right help and support, existential depression can be addressed.
Please remember that more often than not, an existential crisis might lead someone to self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-acceptance. However, experiencing existential crises might also cause anxiety, worry about the future, or hopelessness to surface.
If your negative thoughts and feelings continue for two weeks or more, please consult a professional mental health advisor for an appropriate diagnosis.
What Are Existential Depression Symptoms?
It is pretty normal to question your existence after experiencing something life-altering or traumatic. While in some cases, the questioning might end on a positive note, in other cases, it might prompt feelings of anxiety and depression.
Existential depression symptoms to look out for can be:
- A fixation on discovering life’s true purpose
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness if not being able to address the questions
- Feeling hopeless, in general, and regarding one’s future
- Thinking about death, dying, suicide, or self-harm
- Feeling helpless when it comes to experiencing a change in life
- Feeling stuck in a rut or a mundane routine
- Feeling disconnected from family and friends
- Feeling a loss of interest in everyday activities
- Feeling a sense of loss when it comes to making a difference in the life
- Feeling unmotivated and difficulty making smart decisions
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact these helpline numbers, immediately.
What Causes Existential Depression?
There are not many factors that contribute to experiencing an existential crisis or existential crisis depression. However, existential crisis depression can be caused by specific triggers such as experiencing stress daily, life-altering changes, experiencing traumatic events, etc.
Other factors that can trigger an existential crisis or existential depression can be:
- Graduating school or university
- Starting or changing careers
- Getting married
- Experiencing loss via divorce or separation
- Experiencing loss via death or terminal illness
Who Experiences Existential Depression?
Several kinds of research have been conducted by psychologists and experts that suggest that individuals who are ‘gifted’ or are highly sensitive are more likely to experience existential depression than others.
Individuals such as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Elenor Roosevelt, and Virginia Woolf among others experienced existential depression at one point during their life.
People who are either:
- Creative thinkers, or
- Deep thinkers
Are more prone to experience existential crisis depression. Gifted individuals are highly sensitive to emotions and are deeply attuned with their own as well as those around them. Such people may find it difficult to accept the harsh reality of a given situation.
Empathetic people, too, can experience existential crisis depression. Individuals, specifically, children and young adults might struggle to understand homophobia, racism, inequality, or other such concerns.
How To Deal With Existential Depression?
Coping with existential depression can be intense and difficult but with the following ways and strategies, it can be easier:
1. Focus On What You Can Do
Existential depression often comes with feeling out of control and experiencing a sense of loss. To ease such feelings, you can try to focus your energy and attention on the things you can do and control such as noticing your achievements and accomplishments over loss and failures or learning how your actions have impacted the lives of others.
2. Journaling Can Help
Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can help you understand where your thoughts are coming from and what might be triggering the symptoms of depression and feelings of dread and despair. Journaling can also help you work through your concerns from a different perspective.
3. Open Up About Your Feelings
Opening up about your feelings and emotions can also help you address the issue of your distress. People who are close to you can be a wonderful source of support and help. With their insights into your life, you can understand the impact you have made on them and their lives. Understanding your impact and sharing your thoughts with them will help you add a sense of purpose to your life.
4. Practice Mindfulness And Self-Awareness
Mindfulness and self-awareness activities are effective ways to cope with the symptoms of depression hence they can also help in coping with existential depression. When your focus is on the present moment, it can become easier to understand the joy and meaning of life here and now instead of on the uncertain future.
While not effective all the time, these activities can help you focus on the now instead of the uncertainty of the future.
5. Theory Of Positive Disintegration
Developed in 1964 by Kazimierz Dabrowski, the Theory of disintegration states that symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychological distress are part of personality development and self-growth. According to the theory, these symptoms aren’t negative but indicate a sense of self-growth, self-awareness, and self-understanding.
6. Professional Treatment
Depression is a condition that requires professional treatment and if left untreated for a long time, it can develop into something serious and even fatal. Reaching out for professional help and support is always recommended if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression.
Existential depression treatment can include psychotherapy treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy (TMS). Humanistic therapy can also help in addressing existential crisis depression.
No one can prevent questioning the meaning and purpose of our life and existence but we can prevent turning our questioning into depression. There may come a time where you won’t be able to answer life’s unpredictable decisions and journey but don’t let such instances discourage you from exploring your worth.
Life is unpredictable and messy but at the same time, it is beautiful and worth exploring. I hope this blog helped you understand what existential depression is, existential depression symptoms, causes, and how to deal with existential depression.
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Life already has a meaning; it’s time to explore the meaning of your life!