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:

1. Death

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?

2. Freedom

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.

3. Isolation

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.

4. Meaninglessness

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:

1. Medication

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.

2. Psychotherapy

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.

4. Exercise

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 likely 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 like 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.

10. Grieve

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.

How to get a boyfriend: 16 no nonsense tips!

How to say “I love you” without actually saying it