We hear a lot about depression these days, whether ways to heal, remedies, ideas, or theories. But few people have heard of existential depression; I had it and wasn’t aware for a long time.
Existential depression can include a sense of alienation, of not-belonging, of searching for that elusive purpose that can coat the sufferer’s soul in a healing balm where everything would be perfect.
If you’ve felt like this, there is a chance you may have existential depression. Those of us who are highly sensitive, think or feel deeply, and are unusually perceptive or clairsentient are the most at risk.
There are numerous types of depression, just a few of which I’ve categorized below:
Hormonal Depression — Triggered by an internal imbalance of chemicals.
Biological Depression — Caused by genetics.
Situational Depression — Triggered by external events such as a tragedy, death, loss of employment, etc.
Intrapersonal Depression — Caused by toxic beliefs and perceptions that lead to low self-esteem.
Seasonal Depression — Triggered by the changing of seasons.
Existential Depression — Caused by a lack of meaning and soul connection.
In this article, we’ll explore and learn about existential depression and how to manage it. My goal is to help you face it with love and compassion. It doesn’t last forever. There is hope.
Existential depression isn’t mentioned frequently, and it’s highly unlikely that one would be diagnosed with it after visiting a therapist’s office.
I am proof of this; I suffered on and off from this type of depression throughout my 20s, when I was living a life for everyone except me.
I’d take a rare lunch break when I worked in the news industry, and pensively sit outside on a bench wondering why I felt so disconnected from myself, almost like I was living in a shell.
I’d write and write, and dream of the animals that I’d rescue and rehabilitate someday, but it all felt like an impossible dream.
It took about 10 years of sleep-walking through life, feeling a sense of disconnect so profound that there were no words for it, only deep loneliness, even in the presence of others.
Interestingly enough, it was the birth of my son who reconnected me with my soul and true self.
And it happened in an instant: one morning after a yoga and meditation session, I laid on a lacrosse ball to relieve my back muscles, and all of a sudden a profound sense of peace and interconnectedness and love washed over me. I could see light all around me, and an overwhelming sense of relaxation. I literally felt my heart open and was never the same again.
Now I was, for the first time since early childhood — awake.
So what exactly is existential depression?
Existential depression is a form of spiritual emergency.
It’s intense, incapacitating, extremely pervasive, and ultimately profound. It’s also not a mainstream term or diagnosis, but that doesn’t make it any less important and critical in nature.
Most people who experience existential depression feel a sense of emptiness, loss, or numbness to the world around them. And they are more likely to be deep thinkers, philosophers, or artists, people who really want to understand the purpose of life.
And research suggests that existential depression can be a positive catalyst for change and growth.
Medically and clinically speaking, this type of depression is usually categorized as an uncaused type of depression, even though it can be caused by external or internal turmoil.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Here are 10 signs that you may have existential depression:
1. Intense desire to answer seemingly unanswerable questions, such as “What is the purpose of existence?”, “What happens after death?”, and “Why was I born?”
2. Intense dissatisfaction with the state of society.
3. Feeling disconnected from others.
4. Feeling misunderstood and on a “different level” from others.
5. Continuous “deep thoughts” about the meaning and nature of life.
6. Disinterest in social contact because it feels shallow.
7. Loss of interest in usual pursuits.
8. Lack of enthusiasm or motivation.
9. Low energy and chronic fatigue.
10. The belief that most things are “futile” or “meaningless”.
How many of these signs can you relate to?
Existential Depression and Sensitivity
Through much reading, research, and conducting interviews, I have discovered that sensitive people tend to experience existential depression to a higher degree than the general population.
Because, at its core, the existential depression sufferer is usually gifted with increased awareness, such as a philosopher, artist, healer, old soul, mystic, or sage. And because such people find very few places to call “home” in our world, it’s no wonder that they naturally feel misunderstood, alone, and disconnected.
Personally, I was a naturally positive, optimistic, resilient individual, and the blanket term “depression” didn’t quite fit what I was experiencing. One clinician even responded, “You don’t seem like you have a personality for depression” (to which I would say that depression doesn’t have a personality type).
But there is hope. I finally came to peace with what I was experiencing, and I released all shame around it.
Note: Overcoming existential depression usually takes time — and like most things, the path doesn’t tend to be linear. But with courage, willingness, compassion, support, and tenacity, it can become much better.
I still think about the meaning and purpose of life, but since going through this type of depression and realizing that, to me, the purpose of life is love in all forms, I no longer feel alienated and disconnected, but rather inexplicably interconnected.
Here are some helpful tips that can help alleviate the internal turmoil and suffering of existential depression (based on personal experience):
1. Pause, stop, and be still.
If you’ve read the works of Eckhart Tolle or Richard L. Haight, you will find one eternal message: peace exists within ourselves and is never out of reach. This isn’t some fantastically false promise or notion. This really can be attained, but only with persistent patience, dedication, and stillness.
One of the most practical ways to discover this deep, restful, continual peace is through meditation. I am a novice at this practice, but I get better each year, as I dedicate myself to a still, peaceful mind.
To start out, try spending five minutes each day in a peaceful, meditative state of mind. You can even start out with just one or two minutes if this feels good to you.
I started out with 10 seconds and worked my way up to 20 minutes after months of dedicated focus.
It can also be helpful to use guided meditation apps. The ones that I’ve used include Soulvana, Calm, and Headspace.
Meditation can be daunting at first, so experiment to find what works for you. You can meditate while looking at a candle flame, while walking in nature (but be careful; I’ve tripped doing this!), riding in the car as a passenger, or in the shower. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.
2. What ignites your soul?
Think back to your childhood. What did you love doing? For me it was rescuing animals, healing with light, and writing — much of what I do today!
If you aren’t sure, just explore what feels right, and be open to changing your mind and perception about any ideals or preconceived notions that may have been bestowed on you.
Here’s a personal example: Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, I was a committed runner — and then all of a sudden, after neck and back issues, I wasn’t. Running ignited my soul, and since I couldn’t do that anymore, I had to discover a new way to ignite my soul, through hiking, peaceful walking, and light yoga. It took openness and flexibility to embrace these new passions.
Try exploring different interests, and don’t be afraid to try something new! Discovering your passion, and figuring out what makes you feel alive can help each of us regardless of existential depression or not. As you discover your personal meaning through diverse pursuits, you may find that it adds great beauty and insights to the world that you thought you knew.
3. Use self-compassion as a balm for the soul.
Existential depression can be painful and lonely in nature, so commit now to compassionate self-care, whatever this looks like for you.
Slow down, and really listen to yourself. Commit to detaching from limiting beliefs, negative patterns, and toxic relationships.
Give yourself the space to begin anew and decide for yourself how you want to move forward.
Self-compassion really is a balm for the soul, shielding us against the abrasiveness of the world in its unawakened state.
4. Seek deeper meaning and a higher purpose.
This is one of the most powerful ways that I’ve found to overcome existential depression. Of course, everyone is different, molded uniquely by experience and exposure and enlightenment. But by learning to view our pain as having a profound purpose, it is only then that we are able to reframe it.
When I look back over the decade that I spent in severe chronic pain, I can clearly see that this challenge molded me into who I am now. Without that experience, compassion and forgiveness would have remained elusive and my soul in the dark.
This doesn’t mean that I enjoyed it, but by realizing that we can’t change the past but can still reframe it, it has the capacity to expand our awareness of what we thought we knew.
I learned about the dark night of the soul well after I was in it, and I found serenity in the realization that all of life is a journey brimming with eternal truths and hard-won lessons.
I think of it like this: we can’t change the past, so we might as well apply the lessons that we’ve learned to a more enlivened, compassionate future.
What purpose can you and will you discover?
5. Find ways to connect with the life around you.
This is an important step to remind us that we aren’t alone. Everyone has struggles, and love is all around when we look.
Spend time with your animal companions, and bask in the unconditional love that they bring.
Connecting with nature can also bring you out of the void of existential depression.
Sit outside and watch the elements around you, each with a unique purpose.
Bathe in the glorious sunlight as you soak up the timeless sights and sounds of the natural world.
Feel the rain on your face as you let nature soothe your nervous system.
And then, step by step, you can feel more connected and ready to speak with a therapist, spiritual or otherwise, who understands your plight.
Don't feel limited to your geographical area; there are many therapists who ofter video sessions, and it can make a world of difference having someone listen and validate your experiences. Understanding is the key.
6. Discover Soul Retrieval.
Soul Retrieval combines shamanism and psychology to explain how trauma can cause parts of the soul to leave the body and the process by which those part(s) can be retrieved. In other words, it’s a psycho-spiritual tool that helps reintegrate missing parts of your psyche.
In fact, anytime someone says, “I have never been the same” since a certain event, and they don’t mean in a positive way, soul loss has most likely occurred.
You don’t have to travel or visit a shaman for many types of soul-retrieval work; you can use guided visualization, mirror work, or breath work to rediscover lost parts of yourself.
7. Take responsibility for your happiness.
In order to change and grow, we must take responsibility for ourselves and our lives.
Life is full of different aspects. There is darkness, but also light. There is depression, but there is also happiness. It’s all multifaceted.
It is through learning to honor the duality of all experience that we can find inner peace and balance.
While it’s important to recognize that there are serious crises and issues throughout the world, there is much beauty and life, waiting for us.
You deserve this happiness. We all do.
Please note that this article is not meant to diagnose the reader in any way. It is simply offering my experience and opinion. In many situations and circumstances, seeking professional help and taking prescription medication is not only important but imperative.
With great love and gratitude,