If you have ever watched The Good Place, you are familiar with existential crises as the four individuals work through their personal situations. In one particularly poignant episode, the main character Michael grasps the concept of death and experiences existential dread. When you encounter this dread and cannot work through it, you can experience existential depression.
What Is Existential Depression?
While not an official form of depression in the DSM-5, existential depression is real and powerful. It’s in our nature to be curious–to ask questions and wonder. However, life’s most significant questions have no verifiable answer:
- What happens after death?
- Why are we here, or what is our purpose?
- Do our actions matter in the grand scheme of the universe?
- Do we have free will?
- Is there objective truth?
- Does it matter to live morally or ethically?
- Why do people hurt or suffer?
Some people have created platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason.” But that doesn’t really satisfy the need for answers. It’s natural to feel dissatisfied with not knowing. Struggling with this can lead to distress and apprehension, also called existential dread. When you come to grips with the idea that you won’t find answers, you can move on. However, if you don’t resolve this struggle, you can experience despair.
As you wrestle with the idea of being left without answers, you can feel out of control of your life and like there is no real meaning to any of it. You can spiral, feeling hopeless and unmotivated, as you ruminate over huge, unanswerable questions. This is existential depression.
Who Is Likely To Experience Existential Depression?
While anyone can experience depression, some researchers theorize existential depression is more common among gifted and talented people, those with high IQs or prominent achievements. As most with higher intelligence are highly sensitive, they may be more likely to grapple with the injustices of life and struggle to accept pointless suffering.
Children are likely to feel overwhelmed or stressed as they start to comprehend their own powerlessness, especially when learning about inequality, violence, homelessness, or other harm humans face.
Are There Triggers or Warning Signs?
Questioning your existence is very common when experiencing a loss, crisis, trauma, or other life-changing event. Exciting life events can be stressors and precursors, too: Graduating, going to college, getting married, or having children.
If life events are causing any of the following for greater than two weeks, you could be developing clinical depression and should see a professional:
- Sadness or Hopelessness
- Feeling Helpless or a Sense of Futility
- Detachment or Distancing from Personal Relationships
- Loss of Interest or Enjoyment in Hobbies
- Feeling Trapped
- Lack of Motivation
- Feeling Overwhelmed by Decisions
- Thoughts of Death, Dying, or Suicide
Coping With Existential Depression
You cannot see the future or come up with solutions for the meaning of life, but you can learn to let go and accept the unknown. Learn to cope with existential crises, dread, and depression; You can end a downward spiral by practicing some of these tips:
- Live Purposefully: Your choices or what you do influence how your life plays out. By living purposefully, you can create your own meaning. For example, you can try to spend time with your loved ones and communicate how much they mean to you if your depression stems from the fear of death or losing those close to you.
- Practice Mindfulness: Strategies to help you stay present can help ease your distress and depression, shifting thoughts away from the negative spiral. Meditation, mindful journaling, and breathing exercises can help you stay grounded in the now, concentrating on what you can control.
- Share How You Are Feeling: At one point or another, we have all wrestled with similar questions and concepts. Speak to your loved ones; they can help you find meaning, comfort, or peace. If you don’t have anyone to talk with, a therapist or counselor can offer support, validate your feelings, and help ease your despair.
If your feelings are affecting your daily life, seek professional help. As previously mentioned, there’s talk therapy. A few therapy styles can be helpful for existential depression; Humanistic therapy focuses on learning to respect your true self and find paths that suit your optimal potential and unique perspective. Existential therapy covers the central existential tenets and teaches you how to accept them.
The first step to getting out of the existential hole you’ve dug is recognizing you are stuck and need assistance getting your footing. Don’t keep digging deeper. You don’t have to suffer in the dark alone.
If you think your existential depression is turning into something more, seek clinical depression treatment. In addition to talk therapy, medication or magnetic cranial stimulation can help re-establish a healthy equilibrium in your brain and body. You may not find the answers you crave, but you’ll learn to live more happily without them.