- Are You Having an Existential Depression?
- How to Find Meaning in Life
- Existential Depression: What It Is & How To Overcome It
- The Birth Of Existential Depression
- Yalom’s Ultimate Concerns
- Why Some And Not Others?
- Signs Of Existential Depression
- Tackling Existential Depression
- Existential Crisis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
- Crisis of freedom and responsibility
- Crisis of death and mortality
- Crisis of isolation and connectedness
- Crisis of meaning and meaninglessness
- Crisis of emotion, experiences, and embodiment
- Existential crisis depression
- Existential crisis anxiety
- Existential obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Take control of your thoughts
- Keep a gratitude journal to overcome negative feelings
- Remind yourself of why life has meaning
- Don’t expect to find all the answers
- Existential depression: What it is and 10 ways to overcome it
- 1. Death
- 2. Freedom
- 3. Isolation
- 1. Medication
- 2. Psychotherapy
- 3. Electroconvulsive Therapy
- 4. Exercise
- 5. Avoid alcohol
- 6. Take care of yourself
- 7. Talk to someone
- 8. Accept the uncertainty
- 9. Focus on what you CAN, not what you CAN’T
- 10. Grieve
Are You Having an Existential Depression?
If you see and feel what most others don’t.
If you have high expectation of yourself and others.
If ideas and interpersonal conflicts keep you up at night.
If you are passionate about upholding fairness and justice.
If you are immensely curious and get obsessed with what you love.
If you can’t stand hypocrisy and have to speak the truth, even others don’t it.
If you are strong-willed, have an independent mind, crave autonomy and freedom.
If you can’t bare arbitrary instructions, routine activities and explanations that make no sense.
If you are bothered by the gap between what could be and what is- both in yourself, others and the wider world.
You might be a trailblazer; and for years you have wondered why despite your capacity for deep joy and connection, you also struggle with an inferiority complex, self-doubt, chronic guilt, bouts of anxiety, and sometimes existential despair.
In a 2012 paper published in European Psychiatry, scholar Seubert found that for a specific population, the traditional idea of depression or therapy methods are not effective.
Instead, their depression should be understood from the framework of, and be offered treatment the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD)—a concept of personality development devised by psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980).
The TPD views depression not as an illness, but an indicator of a person’s creative potential.
The traditional definition of mental health is how well a person can adapt to social norms. This notion does not take diversity—not just cultural, but also biological (how we are wired)— into consideration.
It neglects the fact as human, beyond basic needs we also have to express our idiosyncratic nature— what makes you uniquely you, which might include your strengths, your quirks, and your intensity.
This is what Dabrowski called your ‘true essence,’ or what Winnicott considered your ‘true self.'
In TPD, growth is when one moves past subservient and confirmative behavior, and steps into authenticity.
We can only make the transition from lower levels of mental functioning to higher levels by experiencing productive conflicts that could look mental disorders.
In ‘Psychoneurosis Is not an Illness' (1972), Dabrowski made this point clear: “Without passing through challenging experiences and even something psychoneurosis … we cannot realize our multidimensional and multilevel development to higher levels.”
To walk from the old to the new, we must first loosen our old structure of beliefs, values, and behaviors; this is unsettling, and we might be thrust into an existential crisis—where we question if our life has meaning, purpose, or value.
During this time, many of the explanations for the way things were, what we had learned through our family, education and from the social order could no longer withstand our questioning. More and more, what seemed ‘normal’ look hypocritical, insufficient, or unethical.
However, a part of us still believes it was us that was wrong, or assume it is due to some inherent defectiveness that we do not fit in. With the voice of an inner critic, we harshly question and scrutinize ourselves.
Eckhart Tolle, the renown spiritual teacher, through his personal experience describes such chaos as follow: “You are meant to arrive at a place of conceptual meaninglessness … where things lose the meaning that you had given them, which was all conditioned and cultural and so on … It looks of course as if you no longer understand anything. That’s why it’s so scary when it happens to you.’
If we then try to resolve this challenge through conventional wisdom and traditional advice from others, we will find that these methods have ceased to help. Then, we are propelled to move onto a path of self- discovery and soul search.
We find solace through designing our own ‘auto therapy,’ or by reading books and biographies, writing or journaling, creating art or music, and learning from kindred spirits across time and space, from books or the internet.
Eventually, we learn to rely on ourselves to console, reassure, comfort and nurture our inner being.
This process could be ned to that of a psychic death and its rebirth. Again quoting Eckhart Tolle: ‘They awaken into something deeper … a deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life that is not dependent on explanations or anything conceptual any longer. It’s a kind of re-birth.
The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there—only an illusory identity … Often it is part of the awakening process, the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.
As natural cycles of life go, we must deconstruct our current form to recreate something new. In a way, we must die (Ego Death) to be reborn. Alongside actual things such as relationship, titles and career trajectory, we also need to release certain strong beliefs, a future vision, and ideas about who we thought we were.
During the period of transition, we may cycle back and forth between the ‘stages of grieving’ suggested by Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
- Denial: I am sure I am not that different. I can do what everyone does.
- Anger: Why me? Why does it seem easy to others and not me? Why can’t the world be a bit more understanding?
- Bargaining: Just let me give it another go, maybe I can still count on external recognition to satisfy my needs.
- Depression: This is hopeless. I am a misfit. I will never feel happy and fulfilled. Why do I bother? “
- Acceptance: I am who I am. Even though it is sometimes not easy to be more intense and sensitive than others, I trust that my authenticity will allow the right people, position, and situation to come towards me.
It is paramount to have patience and self-compassion in this process. Our life path, everything in nature, works in cycles and seasons. You now realize what has got you here may not get you to the next stage of your self-actualization.
Think of all the time you have spent in your Adapted Self has been a valuable exploration process, a kind of life research that sets the foundation for your growth. You could not have known until you know; You could not have leapt until you are ready. You have been doing exactly ‘the right thing’ all along.
For diving in and giving it all until it no longer works, you are a triumph. There is a natural order to life—you only know the answers just when you need to know it, not a minute sooner or later.
Despite having to go through a period of confusion and despair, the result of your productive conflict is a renewed sense of independence and integrity.
Once reached a higher level of functioning, you become an original thinker, with your own approach to solving problems and creativity.
You are also much more able to manifest your gifts and talents through words, art, meaningful domestic endeavors or social actions.
In your life, there might not be just one, but several cycles of crisis and renewal.
You are an ever-growing, truth-seeking person, so you will always be looking for the next best version of yourself. You test limit and stretch yourself all the time; even you are not aware this is what you are doing, or that there is the healthy drive behind your inability to compromise.
Suffering, aloneness, self-doubt, sadness, inner conflict are all symptoms of expanding consciousness.
Within you is unbounded developmental potential; it is something that you ought to bring out, or it will rot and swallow you from the inside.
Existential depression might be a recurring theme of your life. But this does not mean you are unhappy or always in turmoil.
Each time you come through a dark patch, you emerge from the chaos with a new order, new insight, and a new way of being.
Each time, you come out feeling more deeply alive, come closer to your ideal self, and to achieving your full potential.
Seeing the origin of your inner conflicts accurately will help you to reframe the meaning of your struggles.
Rather than wishing you were someone else, you learn to reconcile with your unique life path.
How to Find Meaning in Life
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Existential anxiety refers to feelings of unease about meaning, choice, and freedom in life. While anxiety is a basic theme of life and reflects the experience of fear or being threatened, this is usually considered to be in the context of a physical or situational threat.
For example, you might have a fear of flying or public speaking anxiety. In contrast, existential anxiety reflects a deeper type of angst that makes coping with it a more complex endeavor.
Whether referred to as existential angst, despair, or anxiety, the concept is the same: the idea is that life is inherently pointless. That our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, namely, that we all must die someday.
Existential anxiety tends to arise during transitions and reflects difficulty adapting, often related to losing safety and security. For example, a college student moving away from home or an adult going through a difficult divorce might feel as though the foundation on which their life was built is crumbling. This can lead to questioning the meaning of your existence.
Existentialism emphasizes that we are all free to make choices in life, and with this freedom to make choices comes responsibility. However, given the ultimate fate of death, your actions can appear meaningless when viewed in relation to the bigger picture of your life.
In this way, freedom leads to despair, and the responsibility of this freedom causes anxiety.
No matter what choice we make, it does not change the fact that our time on this earth is limited.
Existentialists view anxiety in a different way than psychiatrists and psychologists. Rather than perceiving anxiety to be a problem that must be resolved, they view it as an inevitable part of life that everyone will experience, and something that is positive and that can teach us important lessons about life.
They view the ultimate concerns of life as death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. These concerns are thought to cause feelings of dread and angst because we can never be sure that our choices are the right ones, and once a choice is made, the alternative has to be rejected.
How often have you struggled with a decision and feared it was the wrong one? That fear of making the wrong choice reflects angst about freedom related to existential concerns.
Existentialists believe that we have this anxiety or angst because there is no “right” path and no guide to tell us what to do. In essence, each of us must make meaning in our own lives. If this responsibility feels too great, we may retreat into ways of behaving that shield us from this feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety in common sense is a problem to be fixed. Psychotherapy and medication are used to treat anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists criteria or symptoms that group anxiety into different categories.
In contrast, existentialists view existential anxiety as a normal consequence of human existence, and neurotic anxiety as an avoidance behavior.
In other words, if you're worried about the plane crashing or everyone in the audience of your speech laughing at you, then you've successfully distracted yourself from worrying about whether your life has meaning or what will happen after you die.
Clearly, these are two different definitions of anxiety that are not totally incompatible. However, existential anxiety described in this way feels almost more similar to depression than anxiety—perhaps why the terms “angst” and “despair” are often used interchangeably with anxiety in this context.
In 1844, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “whoever has learnt to be anxious in the right way, has learnt the ultimate.
” This expresses the idea that existential anxiety goes beyond fear about day-to-day troubles.
While doctors deal with the medical model and neurotic anxiety, those coming from an existential or phenomenological (experienced-based) approach think of anxiety as necessary.
In this way, existential anxiety is considered a journey, an awareness, a necessary experience, and a complex phenomenon. It arises from awareness of your own freedoms and how life will end for you one day.
If you struggle with existential anxiety, you might be asking, “What is the point to living?” As you move through transitions in your life and lose the security of a familiar context and structure, you might question the point of life, if in the end, the result is that you die. Why go through the motions?
Various existential writers have considered this question.
Journalist and novelist Albert Camus argued that the only way out is to embrace the absurdity of the situation and to rise above it, even if it is only within the context of your own life.
In other words, if you are going to be a person in this world, then you need to make a choice to make meaning in your own life, whatever form that takes.
If you're going to be around for 80-odd years, make it worthwhile.
Camus also argued that the ability to have passion for what could otherwise be considered a meaningless life reflects an appreciation for life itself.
If you can stop trying to live for the end, or the “goal,” and start living for the act of “being” itself, then your life becomes about living it fully, choosing integrity, and being passionate.
This sounds not surprisingly the foundation of mindfulness meditation in the medical model of anxiety.
Given that existential anxiety is related to an awareness of the ultimate boundaries in life, which are death and chance, anxiety of this type can be seen as unavoidable rather than pathological. Because of this, each of us must find a way to “live with” this anxiety rather than eliminate it. Or so the existentialists argue.
There are both helpful and unhelpful ways of responding to this type of existential crisis. One is the choice not to live at all or to give up on life.
A second is to become so absorbed in daily distractions that you don't live an authentic life. This is said to leave no room for existential anxiety, but also no room for an authentic life. It's a maladaptive coping or avoidance strategy, in essence. How many people do you know who go through life with “eyes wide shut,” never looking at the big picture?
If you've been living your life in this way, avoiding thinking about the ultimate limit, and then something happens—a brush with death or the death of a loved one—how do you respond? According to the existentialists, this may serve as an awakening in terms of your attitude toward life.
This event might move you toward authenticity, which will necessarily also bring anxiety with it. You might have thoughts about the fleetingness of your existence and how you are living it. When you stop taking for granted that you will wake up each day alive, you might experience anxiety, but at the same time deeper meaning.
You might notice that all the day-to-day mundane problems that bothered you so much no longer seem to matter, and all the thoughts and fears and anxiety about the mundane fall away, because you are faced with a much bigger problem. At the end of your life, will any of this matter? Will it matter what career you chose, how much money you had, or what car you drove?
All of these changes may lead to more courageous and authentic ways of responding to this existential crisis.
Can you let this anxiety motivate you and guide you toward a more authentic life? What can this anxiety teach you about your relatedness to the world? Pull out a notebook and jot down your thoughts on these last two questions. It's in the answers to these questions that you will find how to cope with existential anxiety.
While there is no specific treatment for dealing with existential anxiety, there are treatments that can be helpful. For example, CBT and medication can help address anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that may accompany existential anxiety.
Talking to a professional can be very helpful in reducing existential anxiety. If you find yourself grappling with existential angst, whether due to a transition or life-changing event, self-care approaches that focus on finding meaning may also be helpful.
Existential Depression: What It Is & How To Overcome It
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Do you often battle feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness? Have you always struggled to identify your place in the world?
You might be suffering from existential depression.
This condition can be truly perplexing and frightening at the same time. As you try to reconcile your thoughts with your actions, and your life with its meaning, you may face terrible anxiety, self-doubt, confusion, and panic.
This article will attempt to provide some relief from these feelings. First, it will explore the roots of existential depression, then look at the common signs of sufferers, and finally explore some potential paths away from this spiritual ailment.
Are you ready to begin?
The Birth Of Existential Depression
Life as a young child is fairly narrow. You are effectively closed off from the outside world and you learn most of what you know from those closest to you: parents, siblings, wider family members, and early friends.
Your ideas of life, your morals, your views, and your understanding of what constitutes acceptable behavior are all fashioned by what you witness among this small group of people.
Then, as you get older, your exposure to outside influences grows. Your ability to communicate improves, you begin to understand more complex ideas, and you interact with more diverse groups of people.
Suddenly, your worldview is frequently challenged as you encounter beliefs, traditions, behaviors, and lifestyles quite different from your own. You might begin to question what is right and what is wrong. Or rather, who is right and who is wrong.
These are the first green shoots of existential depression and they are pretty much universal. Most people at some stage in their life, will go through a period where they begin to question everything they have ever been taught. For some, this will pass quickly and painlessly, but others might dwell in such a state for a very long time.
Others, still, might bounce in and this most thoughtful place repeatedly throughout the course of their lives.
Existential depression needn’t necessarily follow. Many people will ponder the deep questions of life, meaning, and the universe quite happily; some will even relish the challenge of contemplating the unanswerable.
Yet for a few, this questioning can spiral downwards into a depressive state where the very purpose of your life is cast into doubt.
Yalom’s Ultimate Concerns
In his book Existential Psychotherapy, psychiatrist Irvin Yalom theorized that there are 4 primary causes of this type of depression. These ‘ultimate concerns’ as he put it are, in his view, fundamental concepts that sufferers will almost inevitably confront.
These are: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness.
Death is, as you’d expect, related to the inevitable ending of our physical lives and how this relates to the cessation of our mental and spiritual forms. We are all mortal in the physical sense, but the inability to see beyond the death of our bodies can be a source of anguish.
While some people have faith in an afterlife of varying forms, others wrestle with the abrupt conclusion of the “self” that death brings. If death awaits us all, then what is the point in living?
Freedom is something which humans have fought wars for down the centuries, and yet Yalom postulates that the mind has an uneasy relationship with this very concept. Freedom comes from the lack of structure that we are exposed to from the day we are born. While we may live in a world full of laws and traditions, we are not bound by them.
Freedom is the responsibility to make choices, to act one way or another, to forge a path of our own making. A terrifying principle, wouldn’t you agree? For if we are truly free, then we have to face the prospect of making poor choices, of walking a lesser road than might have been possible, of not fulfilling the potential we were given.
Isolation is another rather troubling idea. You see, as beings, we are defined by our interactions with other people, objects, and creatures. Yet no matter how well acquainted we may become with some foreign body, we can never know its essence. We can never experience what it is to be that person, thing, or life form.
Just as we cannot fully know the other, they are unable to ever fully know us. Our consciousness is closed off to all outsiders; it is for our eyes only. The conclusion to this line of thinking is that we are utterly alone in our existence. We look out onto a world that can be viewed, heard, touched, but it is not us and we are not it.
Meaninglessness is the culmination of death, freedom, and isolation. When faced with our temporary, uncertain, and lonely existence, some minds fall into a dark place devoid of hope and significance.
The very meaning of life is lost and a person enters into a state of existential depression.
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Why Some And Not Others?
Given that we will all question who we are and what we stand for at some point in our lives, why isn’t a downwards spiral into existential depression an inevitability? Why do some people suffer and others not?
This is, naturally, a question that can be asked of all forms of depression, and while it there is no single, clear-cut answer, there are some clues.
One road into this dark place is through a tragedy or loss that hits deep in a person’s heart. Examples of such events are: the passing of a loved one, a great disaster (natural or manmade), an abusive episode in one’s past, a severe injury to oneself, a diagnosis of ill health, or other sudden upheavals.
These can cause the resurfacing of questions and existential concerns that have long since been put to rest. All of a sudden, your reality has shifted and your view of life and the world around you changes.
Faith is a second potential reason why some people experience existential depression while others do not.
Whatever your opinion of it, religion acts as a great anchor in the lives of those who practice it. Religion provides answers (whether correct or not) to the underlying questions that we all ask of life.
It is a source of peace and comfort; a lighthouse in the dark and stormy seas of life.
Of course, you don’t have to practice a mainstream religion to have faith. You may have faith in your own beliefs, your own views, your own heart and soul. Whatever form it takes, faith is a spiritual immune system, preventing the existential diseases that threaten the mind.
A lack of faith – or even losing one’s faith – can put you at higher risk of this form of depression. Again, it’s important to note that not all those who live without faith will suffer, and not all those who have faith will be impervious to this affliction.
Thirdly, psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski speculated that the onset of existential depression was more ly in an individual who was in some way gifted. Such people will often be of higher than average intelligence, for to deliberate over the meaning of your own existence requires prolonged and concerted mental effort.
Creative individuals are, according to Dabrowski, also more prone to question their own existence in some way (sometimes as part of their work) and there are countless examples of artists, writers, and poets who have wrestled with this form of depression. Great thinkers, scientists, philosophers, and leaders also belong to this ‘gifted’ group and are more ly to face down the problems of life and meaning.
Dabrowski theorized that gifted individuals are more acutely aware of the vast spectrum that life occupies.
They see the infinite web of connections between people, the influence a person has on his surroundings, and the diverging paths that stem from the choices we face.
They see all this and they are intuitively aware of the great potential that surrounds them. They form idealistic views of what could be, that are then shattered by the harsh reality of the world that actually exists.
They are highly sensitive to the injustices in society and the unfair and unequal opportunities afforded to different members and groups. They yearn to be a force for good, to rebalance the scales that have for too long favored some over others.
What starts as a positive desire can quickly descend into disillusionment and despair as they realize the limits of their influence. They can envisage how things might be, but they are unable to make a meaningful impact.
This can ultimately lead them to question their own existence and the purpose of life, if there is any.
Tragedy, a lack of faith, and being gifted are not the only origins of existential depression, but they are the major ones. And as mentioned, not all those who fit one of these molds will fall into a depressive state; they are merely indicators of heightened risk.
Signs Of Existential Depression
A depressive crisis of the existential kind can be identified by looking for some of these common symptoms:
- Interest (that borders on obsession) in asking deep questions about life, death, the universe, and the purpose of it all.
- Loss of interest in pretty much everything else because it is seen as meaningless.
- Feelings of disconnection, separation, isolation, and loneliness (you cut ties with people in your life and feel you don’t fit in anywhere).
- An intolerance for the status quo of society.
- Functional paralysis caused by the absence of motivation or inspiration (i.e. you can’t bring yourself to do anything of substance).
- Feelings of being numb or empty.
- Low energy levels.
- Thoughts of suicide.
Existential depression, most other kinds, can come in various degrees of severity. Identifying the signs early is an important part of treating and overcoming the illness.
Tackling Existential Depression
Disclaimer: none of what follows should be considered as clinical or professional advice. Depression is best treated by professionals and the points below are designed to compliment this.
Talk to someone: even if you feel as though all personal connections are pointless, it is worth trying a talking therapy of some kind. Logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy developed by Viktor Frankl, might be most suited to existential depression as it deals with the search for meaning in our lives.
Accept the uncertainty: one thing that bothers many sufferers is the sheer quantity and scale of the unknowns involved.
No amount of thinking or searching will ever bring you to a definitive answer to the questions of why and how we should live.
The mysteries surrounding death, the universe, free will, or purpose will forever remain hidden, and accepting this can lift the burden of one’s incessant contemplation.
Focus on what you CAN do: chances are you have reached the conclusion that your influence over the world is limited. Rather than let this get you down, try to consider all of the many small ways that you can and do impact those around you. Understand that while your reach may be limited, the potential to have a positive effect on those within it is not.
Grieve: if you’ve suffered a loss or witnessed a tragedy, you need to let yourself grieve.
Grieve not only for others that have departed, but also for those parts of yourself that you can no longer identify with.
Crises of existence invariably make you question your morals, your choices, your personality, and your life so far; you have to let these go if they are to lose their hold over you.
Embrace differences: to address the feelings of disconnection and isolation, you ought to accept and, finally, embrace the fact that you are unique from everyone and everything else.
Rather than see this as a bad thing, try to view it as an opportunity to engage with entities quite distinct from your own. Yes, you will never be able to be them, feel as them, see as them, but you can learn from them and come to better understand their version of reality.
Don’t assume the existence of absolute wrongs and rights, but comprehend the diversity of culture and of opinion.
Existential depression is a serious condition, one that is sometimes overlooked by healthcare professionals or mistaken for some other pathology. Understanding what it is and where it comes from can help you to address the issue and find a treatment that is effective.
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Existential Crisis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Most people experience anxiety, depression, and stress at some point in their lives. For many, these emotions are short-term and don’t interfere too much with their quality of life.
But for others, negative emotions can lead to deep despair, causing them to question their place in life. This is known as an existential crisis.
The idea of an existential crisis has been studied by psychologists and psychiatrists such as Kazimierz Dabrowski and Irvin D. Yalom for decades, starting as early as 1929.
Yet even with the abundance of old and new research on the topic, you might be unfamiliar with this term, or not understand how it differs from normal anxiety and depression.
Here’s what you need to know about an existential crisis, as well as how to overcome this turning point.
“People can have an existential crisis when they start to wonder what life means, and what their purpose or the purpose to life as a whole is,” explains Katie Leikam, a licensed therapist in Decatur, Georgia, who specializes in working with anxiety, relationship stress, and gender identity. “It can be a break in thinking patterns where you suddenly want answers to life’s big questions.”
It’s not uncommon to search for meaning and purpose in your life. With an existential crisis, however, the problem lies in being unable to find satisfying answers. For some people, the lack of answers triggers a personal conflict from within, causing frustration and loss of inner joy.
An existential crisis can affect anyone at any age, but many experience a crisis in the face of a difficult situation, perhaps the struggle to succeed.
Everyday challenges and stresses may not provoke an existential crisis. This type of crisis is ly to follow deep despair or a significant event, such as a major trauma or a major loss. A few causes of an existential crisis may include:
- guilt about something
- losing a loved one in death, or facing the reality of one’s own death
- feeling socially unfulfilled
- dissatisfaction with self
- history of bottled up emotions
The different types of existential crises include:
Crisis of freedom and responsibility
You have the freedom to make your own choices, which can change your life for the better or worse. Most people prefer this freedom, as opposed to having someone make decisions for them.
But this freedom also comes with responsibility. You have to accept the consequences of the choices you make. If you use your freedom to make a choice that doesn’t end well, you can’t put the blame on anyone else.
For some, this freedom is too overwhelming and it triggers existential anxiety, which is an all-encompassing anxiety about the meaning of life and choices.
Crisis of death and mortality
An existential crisis can also strike after turning a certain age. For example, your 50th birthday may force you to confront the reality of your life being half over, leading you to question the foundation of your life.
You might reflect on the meaning of life and death, and ask questions , “What happens after death?” Fear of what may follow death can trigger anxiety. This type of crisis can also occur after being diagnosed with a serious illness or when death is imminent.
Crisis of isolation and connectedness
Even if you enjoy periods of isolation and solitude, humans are social beings. Strong relationships can give you mental and emotional support, bringing satisfaction and inner joy. The problem is that relationships aren’t always permanent.
People can drift apart physically and emotionally, and death often separates loved ones. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, causing some people to feel that their life is pointless.
Crisis of meaning and meaninglessness
Having a meaning and purpose in life can provide hope. But after reflecting on your life, you may feel that you didn’t accomplish anything significant or make a difference. This can lead people to question their very existence.
Crisis of emotion, experiences, and embodiment
Not allowing yourself to feel negative emotions can sometimes lead to an existential crisis. Some people block out pain and suffering, thinking this will make them happy. But it can often lead to a false sense of happiness. And when you don’t experience true happiness, life can feel empty.
On the other hand, embodying emotions and acknowledging feelings of pain, discontentment, and dissatisfaction can open the door to personal growth, improving an outlook on life.
Experiencing anxiety and depression when your life is off track doesn’t always mean that you’re going through an existential crisis. These emotions, however, are tied to a crisis when accompanied by a need to find meaning in life.
Existential crisis depression
During an existential crisis, you may experience normal feelings of depression. These symptoms might include loss of interest in favorite activities, fatigue, headaches, feelings of hopelessness, and persistent sadness.
In the case of existential depression, you may also have thoughts about suicide or the end of life, or feel that your life doesn’t have purpose, Leikam says.
Hopelessness with this type of depression is deeply related to feelings of a meaningless life. You might question the purpose of it all:“Is it only to work, pay bills, and eventually die?”
Existential crisis anxiety
“Existential anxiety can present itself as being preoccupied with the afterlife or being upset or nervous about your place and plans in life,” Leikam says.
This anxiety differs from everyday stress in the sense that everything can make you uncomfortable and anxious, including your very existence. You may ask yourself, “What is my purpose and where do I fit in?”
Existential obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Sometimes, thoughts about the meaning of life and your purpose may weigh heavily on your mind and cause racing thoughts. This is known as existential OCD, and it can occur when you are obsessive or have compulsions about the meaning of life.
“It can present in the need to ask questions over and over again, or not being able to rest until you have answers to your questions,” says Leikam.
Finding your purpose and meaning in life can help you break free of an existential crisis. Here are a few tips to cope:
Take control of your thoughts
Replace negative and pessimistic ideas with positive ones. Telling yourself that your life is meaningless can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, take steps to live a more meaningful life. Pursue a passion, volunteer for a cause in which you believe, or practice being compassionate.
Keep a gratitude journal to overcome negative feelings
Your life probably has more meaning than you think. Write down everything for which you’re grateful. This might include your family, work, talents, qualities, and accomplishments.
Remind yourself of why life has meaning
Taking the time to self-explore can also help you break through an existential crisis, Leikam says.
If you have difficulty seeing the good in yourself, ask friends and family to identify your positive qualities. What positive impact have you had on their lives? What are your strongest, most admirable qualities?
Don’t expect to find all the answers
This doesn’t mean that you can’t seek answers to life’s big questions. At the same time, understand that some questions won’t have answers.
To get through an existential crisis, Leikam also suggests breaking down questions into smaller answers, and then working to become satisfied with learning the answers to the smaller questions that make up the bigger picture.
You might be able to break through an existential crisis on your own, without a doctor. But if symptoms don’t go away, or if they worsen, see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist.
These mental health experts can help you cope with a crisis through talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a type of therapy that aims to change patterns of thinking or behavior.
Seek immediate help if you have suicidal thoughts. Keep in mind, however, you don’t have to wait until a crisis reaches this point before speaking with a doctor or other healthcare provider.
Even if you don’t have thoughts about suicide, a therapist can help with severe anxiety, depression, or obsessive thoughts.
An existential crisis can happen to anyone, leading many to question their existence and purpose in life. Despite the potential seriousness of this pattern of thinking, it is possible overcome a crisis and move past these dilemmas.
The key is understanding how an existential crisis differs from normal depression and anxiety, and getting help for any feelings or thoughts that you can’t shake.
Existential depression: What it is and 10 ways to overcome it
People get depressed for many reasons. But have you ever heard of existential depression?
It occurs when a person deeply reflects the meaning of one’s life. When one is too engrossed in finding the very purpose and meaning of existence, existential crisis starts.
According to renowned psychiatrist Irvin Yalom, author of Existential Psychotherapy, there are 4 primary causes of this type of depression:
When the cause of depressions revolves around death and the inability to see beyond the death of our bodies, it is existential. You think deeply about the inevitable ending of our physical lives. Additionally, you ponder how death ends our mental and spiritual forms.
Some people have faith that there is life after death but others wrestle with the abrupt conclusion that there is nothing after death. For them, if death is the final end then what is the point in living?
Every person wants freedom — freedom to do the things they want and say what they want to say. We have fought for our freedom in debates, rallies, and wars for centuries. However, Yalom said that the human mind cannot fully understand freedom.
According to him, freedom comes from the lack of structure. Although we have laws and traditions, we are not bound by them.
We can still do what we want and we can still act one way or another. As humans, we have the freedom to forge a path of our own making.
Yalom said that this is a terrifying principle which brings about existential depression. Because if we are free, then we have the freedom to make poor choices.
That reason alone can cause an existential crisis.
Isolation is another troubling idea that the mind cannot fully understand. As human beings, we interact with other people and creatures.
Yet no matter how well acquainted we are with our friends, families, and pets, we can never experience what it is to be that person, thing, or life form.
Just as we cannot fully know them, they are also unable to fully know us. What we think is closed off to all outsiders and our consciousness is ours alone.
Those who suffer from existential depression brought about by isolation think that we are alone in our existence. Because even if we can share our thoughts, view our world, hear the sounds, and touch everything, the world is not us and we are not it.
Meaninglessness is the culmination of death, freedom, and isolation.
When deeply thinking about our temporary, uncertain, and lonely existence, some minds begin to fall into the pit of depression.
Now that we’ve learned what triggers existential depression, here are 10 ways to cope with it:
According to this article, a chemical imbalance in the brain results in depression. For this reason, psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants to help modify one’s brain chemistry.
If you are worried about side-effects, you have to know that they are not sedatives, “uppers” or tranquilizers.
They are also not habit-forming and doesn’t have a stimulating effect on people not experiencing depression.
Instead, they produce noticeable improvements within the first week or two of use. However, if a patient doesn’t feel better after several weeks of use, the psychiatrist can alter the dose of the medication or add or substitute another antidepressant.
It is very important to let the doctor know if a medication does not work or if you experience a side effect. Additionally, it is recommended to continue to take medication for six or more months after symptoms have improved.
Psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy,” is sometimes used for treatment of mild depression. When depression is moderate to severe, it is used along with antidepressant medications.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is an effective treatment for depression. It is a form of therapy focused on the present and problem-solving. In turn, it helps a person recognize distorted thinking and then change it for a positive outcome.
In psychotherapy, it may involve only the individual, but it can also include other people close to the patient. There is also group therapy where it involves people with similar illnesses. In many cases, significant improvement can result within 10 to 15 sessions.
3. Electroconvulsive Therapy
ECT is used for people with severe major depression or bipolar disorder who have not responded to other treatments. This treatment involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia.
ECT is given two to three times a week for a total of six to 12 treatments. Although this is pretty scary for some, research says it has led to major improvements.
According to a study, exercise is an effective treatment for major depressive disorder. The determining factor for reduction and remission of symptoms is total energy expenditure.
So, it doesn’t matter if you exercise 3 days per week or 5 days per week. What matters is to engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity.
Of course, if you do it all days of the week, it can also reduce your risk of early death and morbidity.
5. Avoid alcohol
According to WebMD, there is a link between alcohol, drugs, and depression. It states that almost one-third of people suffering from major depression also have an alcohol problem.
Alcohol is considered a depressant which means any amount you drink will more ly result in getting the blues.
6. Take care of yourself
You can also improve the symptoms of depression by taking care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, avoid negative people, learn to say no, and participate in enjoyable activities.
7. Talk to someone
Even if you feel nobody understands you, it is worth trying a talking therapy of some kind. Logotherapy is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Viktor Frankl. It focuses on the search for the meaning of human existence.
8. Accept the uncertainty
The most common thing that bothers many many sufferers is the huge scale of the unknowns involved. When you think about what happens after death, it is thinking about the unknown which has no answer.
No amount of thinking will bring you to a definitive answer to the questions of why we are living and what happens after death.
Death, free will, or purpose are mysteries and accepting this can lift the burden from constant thinking.
9. Focus on what you CAN, not what you CAN’T
You cannot influence all people. Your influence is limited but instead of letting this get you down, consider all of the many small ways that you can impact the lives of people around you. Even if your reach is limited, you can still create a positive effect on those within your reach.
It’s okay to grieve. If you’ve suffered a loss, you need to let yourself grieve – grieve for others that have departed and for yourself.
If you are suffering from existential depression, it is important to seek treatment. Remember that you are not alone – your family and friends are there for you every step of the way.
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