When you think about your place in this world, do you ever find yourself a little lost?
I know as I grew up and reached different life milestones, I spent a lot of time contemplating my role and purpose in life, and it can be scary.
I have gone through periods where I can’t seem to stop thinking “Is this it?” or “What am I supposed to do with my life?”
Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember having existential anxiety laying in bed at night wondering what might happen to me after I die.
I would do a full body check, feeling the physical sensations of every part of my body, thinking about what will happen when it all ceases to exiest.
The thoughts running through my head the concept of “eternity” were overwhelming. I couldn’t grasp the thought of my existence or my inexistence.
A lot of people ponder these deep questions about life, and some (like me) will experience a lot of anxiety when these thoughts begin to surface.
However, for a few, these questions and the fear they create can trigger a state of existential depression where they doubt their life purpose entirely.
What is Existential Depression?
This subset of depression is defined as a spiritual crisis, and it is a profoundly personal struggle.
It occurs when one has persistent doubt about their purpose in life.
Clinically, this type of depression falls into the category of being uncaused and does not have diagnostic parameters.
It is often grouped in with other forms of depression and not recognized with its own diagnosis.
An episode of existential anxiety may occur if you experience a trauma, such as losing a loved one or getting fired from a job that you loved.
The event may distort your understanding of your life, which could lead to the dissolution of your feelings of belonging in the world.
For some people who are especially sensitive or pensive, this type of depression is more likely to be chronic.
People who spend a lot of time questioning the lessons they were told as children and really contemplating their own beliefs may continue to fall into this depression as they become disillusioned with what they have been taught.
Dr. Irvin Yalom, an existential psychiatrist, has theorized that there are four ultimate concerns that lead people to depression. These include:
The concept of death and the conclusion of one’s life is likely to make you wonder what the purpose of living really is. If you are going to eventually die and no longer exist, is there truly a point in putting forth the effort to live?
When it comes to freedom, if you are truly free to make your own decisions, can’t it be terrifying to wonder if you are making the wrong ones?
Freedom may feel like a burden to some. Because of the potential consequences of personal responsibility, some people run away from true freedom and allow others to make decisions and choices for them.
When you accept your personal freedoms and take charge of your own destiny, you are faced with the reality that you are ultimately alone. This awareness can lead to feelings of isolation.
Isolation can be troubling because we recognize that no one else can ever fully know us or experience our lives the way we do.
Our consciousness can never be shared with another person, which means we are all ultimately isolated in our existence. There will always be a gap between you and someone else, no matter how close you are because you will never know what it feels like to be in the mind of the other person.
Feelings of meaninglessness may be a result of the combination of thoughts about death, freedom, and isolation.
When you are confronting the idea of a temporary and undetermined existence, you may come to a place where you feel like all hope is lost.
A great number of existentialists have argued that the ultimate meaning of our existence will always be impossible to know.
Although the meaning of life for all of humanity may be indeterminable, we can find personal meaning and fulfillment in our own existence. Meaning and fulfillment can be what you define it them be.
Signs of Existential Depression
Here are several signs that suggest you may be experiencing this kind of depression.
You regularly contemplate the meaning of life.
Maybe you are always thinking about the meaning of your life, or you have a deep desire to learn why you were born or the overall purpose of your existence.
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This can also include constant thoughts about what happens after you die. Instead of accepting the unknown, you allow your ultimate fears to limit your existence.
You feel a strong dissatisfaction with society.
People with this type of depression do not feel connected to society. You may feel like you are separate from everyone else and there is no place where you really fit in.
It may even involve feeling a big disconnect from other people, leading to the loss of friends and family. This may also lead to a profound sense of loneliness.
You feel misunderstood.
Often, those suffering from existential anxiety feel like they are living on a different level from everyone else.
You may not feel like other people are able to understand you or relate to your feelings.
You feel empty inside.
You may feel numb or empty inside if you cannot find the reason for your existence.
If your life feels meaningless, you are likely to feel that void. It can be very difficult to overcome these feelings if you are unable to find passions in your life to give you a sense of purpose.
You find social contact to be shallow.
You may avoid social contact because you think human interaction is shallow in nature. If people cannot understand you on a deeper level, why waste your time connecting on superficial things?
You have melancholic moods and low energy.
With this depression, you are not likely to be full of energy and wanting to take on the world every day.
If you can’t find meaning in it, you probably figure it is best to just step back. You might experience a lack of enthusiasm for daily activities that you find to be pointless.
If you are going through an especially difficult time, you may stop doing some of the activities that you once found joy in doing.
You have feelings of anxiety.
If you are uncertain about your life or your death, you may feel some intense feelings of anxiety surrounding the unknown.
You are constantly looking for answers and feel anxious about the idea of living beyond your worries and carrying on with the unknown.
You might contemplate suicide.
Ultimately, if you feel that your life does not have a purpose, you may be driven to thoughts of suicide.
Overcoming Existential Depression
If you have this type of depression, you may have already sought out psychotherapy, but it may not have worked — especially if you felt like you could not connect with the therapist.
No matter how much counseling you received, you may still experience these feelings of emptiness. If this is true, you likely feel even worse than you did before you sought out help.
Overcoming these feelings is a gradual process, but there are a few things you can do to help you through it.
Re-frame your unhappiness.
Give meaning to your pain by seeing it in a different light.
Instead of looking at your unhappiness as a permanent state of being, look at your pain as being a journey that you have to go through in order to come out happy on the other side.
This does not mean it will be easy, but eventually, you will start to find your way again.
Understand that your mind is limited.
Of course, we all want to have all of the answers in life. But think about it this way, the more answers you have, the more questions will come up.
Your mind will continue to produce more existential thoughts and questions if you allow it to. But these thoughts don’t necessarily reflect reality.
If you allow rumination a free pass, you are more likely to feel anxious and depressed. Give yourself a break from these thoughts by doing something active or that distracts you from overthinking.
Remember that your mind is only one part of your existence, and it can easily get in the way of living a happy life.
Take some time for mindfulness.
Many people recognize that through a mindfulness/how-to-practice-mindfulness”>mindfulness practice, peace can be found in each moment of the day.
You can experience this reality yourself if you have the proper amount of patience, practice, and willingness to apply mindfulness in your daily life.
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Meditation is a great way to experience mindfulness and the inner peace it affords. Try to take time every morning to meditate and bring yourself back to the present moment. You may want to try various types of meditation to find one that really resonates with you.
There are many other ways you can practice mindfulness throughout your day by simply directing your attention to the task or action at hand.
Find your passion.
If you don’t really know what your passion is, think about the things you loved doing as a child.
What has made you excited throughout your life and what gives you energy? Take some personality and career assessments to get a better understanding of your natural preferences and traits.
Once you find your passion, incorporate it more into your everyday life or your career.
You are the only person who knows what you need in order to lead a fulfilling life. Be kind to yourself and take the time you need to practice self-care and show self-love.
Get rid of old, negative thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs, as well as people who don’t support your overall health.
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Only focus on the things in your life that are healthy and accommodating for you to be happy.
Take responsibility for your happiness.
You can’t make any progress if you don’t recognize that you are responsible for your own happiness. You need to fully commit to healing yourself and doing the work necessary to find your own purpose and meaning in life.
This might mean going to therapy, getting treated for depression or anxiety, and striving every day to find happiness and meaning in your relationships, work, and daily activities.
This is your one and only life, so try to accept that you may never know the answers to life’s big questions and just make the best of the gift of living here and now.
It is important to remember that you don’t have to carry the pain and confusion of human existence with you every day. You can manage your existential thoughts questions by choosing to live a happy and content life.
It will take time and diligence, but by changing the way you choose to think, you will change the way you feel about yourself and the world around you.