If you are highly sensitive, a deep thinker/feeler, and are unusually perceptive, chances are you may have had (or have) existential depression.
Depression is a topic that is frequently written about. We hear remedies, theories, and stories all the time.
But few people have heard of existential depression – hence why those who suffer from it can feel tremendously alienated and under-represented.
There are numerous types of depression, and they can be categorized in the following way:
- Situational Depression — caused by external events such as a death, tragedy, loss of employment, etc.
- Hormonal Depression — caused by an internal imbalance of chemicals
- Biological Depression — triggered by genetics
- Seasonal Depression — caused by the changing of seasons (as seen in seasonal affective disorder)
- Intrapersonal Depression — caused by toxic beliefs and perceptions that lead to low self-worth
- Existential Depression — caused by a lack of meaning and Soul connection
In this article, we’ll only be exploring existential depression and how to handle it.
Seeing as it’s such an unusual form of depression that doesn’t always respond well to normal treatment, my goal is to help you compassionately face it.
As someone who has experienced existential depression before, I want you to know that it does fade and go away – there is hope.
Table of contents
What is Existential Depression?
In a nutshell, existential depression is a type of spiritual emergency. It is crippling, profound, pervasive, and highly personal in nature. Most people who experience existential depression feel numb, lost, and empty inside. These people tend to be philosophical deep thinkers and feelers who want to understand the meaning of life. Clinically, existential depression falls into a “grey” area as it is often classified as “uncaused,” although it can sometimes be triggered by internal or external crises.
15 Signs You Have Existential Depression
Signs of existential depression include:
- Continuous “deep thoughts” about the meaning and nature of life
- Intense desire to answer seemingly unanswerable questions such as, “What is the purpose of existence?” “What happens after death?” and “Why was I born?”
- Intense dissatisfaction with the state of society
- Feeling disconnected from others (thus few or no friends)
- Feeling misunderstood and on a “different level” to others
- Chronic and profound loneliness
- Sensations of being “dead,” “numb,” or empty inside
- Disinterest in social contact because it feels shallow
- Melancholic moods
- Loss of interest in usual pursuits
- Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
- Low energy and chronic fatigue
- The belief that most things are “futile” or “meaningless”
- Contemplation or attempt of suicide
How many of these signs can you relate to?
Why Existential Depression Can’t Always Be Healed With ‘Usual’ Methods
If you’re suffering from existential depression you’ve probably been taken to (or sought out) psychotherapy already.
Chances are that it may have not worked for you, and no matter how much medication, counseling, or analysis you underwent, your feelings never left. If this is the case, you probably feel even more hopeless and alone than before.
But the true failure lies not with you, but in the mainstream psychotherapeutic profession and its blind treatment of all depression as “one and the same.” Writes one author:
The danger with depression in the gifted adult is that to 99% of the psychological profession “depression is depression is depression.” Thus someone who presents with “depression” is drugged and treated for “depression.” Sorry! Wrong! But thank you for playing.
Existential depression can’t always be healed with usual methods because it is not biological or hormonal, it is spiritual in nature.
By spiritual, I mean that it’s to do with the deep, nitty-gritty pre-occupation with the nature of life, death, and meaning.
In fact, existential depression and the feeling of being separated from the Divine (God) and the Soul go hand-in-hand. We’ll explore this more next.
(Please note: Just because regular therapy doesn’t work for some people with existential depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t work for you. Please seek out a therapist or counselor in any case – many mental health professionals these days incorporate holistic healing practices that may support and uplift you.)
What Causes Existential Depression?
So then, if existential depression is not like usual depression, what is the source of it?
As I mentioned previously, the clinical understanding of existential depression is that of a “vague and uncaused mental illness.”
(In other words, it isn’t external, biological, seasonal, hormonal, or to do with self-esteem.)
But this is an extremely superficial definition and one that is based on the limited insight of many psychotherapeutic professionals.
As someone who has personally struggled with existential depression in the past, and helped others with the same issue, I can say unequivocally that existential depression is a crisis of the Soul. It is a symptom of the Dark Night of the Soul.
If you don’t know what the Dark Night of the Soul is, it’s a period in life when we awaken to the deep disconnection we have with our Souls.
This profound disconnection is also known as Soul Loss.
Soul Loss as the Root Cause
Our Soul is our deepest and truest nature, our most authentic Core Self. It is our wellspring of love, joy, creativity, compassion, and spiritual interconnectedness.
When we lose touch with our Souls, we lose touch with our innate Divinity.
And when we lose touch with our Divinity, we feel lost, alone, and empty inside. This is what shamanic cultures refer to as the phenomenon of ‘Soul Loss‘ – and Soul Loss is at the very root of existential depression.
So here we have three experiences that are all interconnected:
- Existential depression is caused by Soul Loss
- Soul Loss is what causes the Dark Night of the Soul
- The Dark Night of the Soul fuels existential depression (it’s a cycle)
The Dark Night of the Soul was originally written about by the 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross.
He described it as a period in life where the Soul yearns to reconnect with God (or Spirit).
Although the Dark Night of the Soul is a painful and tormenting experience at first, it is actually a cause for celebration. I know this sounds crazy – but you are finally waking up! For many people, the Dark Night marks the beginning of the sacred journey back to Wholeness and Spiritual Oneness.
But back to Soul Loss:
So how do we experience Soul Loss in the first place?
Soul Loss, and consequently existential depression, happen for a number of reasons. Common causes of Soul Loss include:
- Negative societal conditioning
- Childhood trauma
- Experiencing a tragedy or hardship
- Undergoing a sudden big life change
- Soulless living (e.g., being raised with weak values, working in a trivial job, making choices that aren’t aligned with the Soul, etc.)
Think back to when you first started experiencing existential depression. Did some big, traumatic, or otherwise disruptive experience come before it?
Usually, you can trace back to something definite that triggered it (although don’t worry if you can’t, it might be mentally repressed). Understanding what caused your existential depression is the first step to finding inner peace.
Download FREE Existential Depression Worksheets!
Go deeper with an existential depression journaling prompt + printable meditation mandala!
Existential Depression, Sensitivity, and Giftedness
Without fail, I have often found that sensitive people tend to experience existential depression to a higher degree than the general population. After all, sensitivity allows us to feel what other people usually can’t feel.
This very sensitivity is usually why existential depression sufferers feel so isolated and misunderstood: they genuinely are on another plane of existence from the typical population.
(Note: just because you’re sensitive doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll ever experience existential depression or that you’re “doomed” to always experience it. As with anything in life, there is no black/white finality here, only shades of grey.)
Because such people find very few places to call “home” in our current society, it’s no wonder that they naturally feel misplaced, alone, and disconnected.
8 Ways to Overcome Existential Depression
Overcoming existential depression usually takes time (although there have been instances where it disappears immediately, such as during mystical experiences).
Moving through this dark place requires gentleness, courage, persistence, and the willingness to reach out for support.
Here are some helpful tips and practices that can help alleviate your suffering (based on my own experience):
1. Give your pain a higher spiritual meaning/purpose
Learn to see your unhappiness and meaninglessness in a different light. Re-frame it. This is where being introduced to the concept of “Soul Loss” and the “Dark Night of the Soul” helped me out immensely: I realized that this was all a spiritual journey, not just an endless pit of suffering. What higher meaning or purpose can you find within this pain right now? (If you need help discovering the meaning, see our Dark Night of the Soul Journal.)
2. Realize that the mind is limited
It is natural for us to want all the answers in life. But this is what I found: the more answers you get, the more questions you ask. The mind is an endless cycle, an endless labyrinth of questions, thoughts, and more questions. But here’s the thing: the mind is not all there is to life. Don’t fall into the trap of making the mind and the intellectual pursuit of answers your God. The mind is only one layer of existence, and it can actually PREVENT you from living.
As author Søren Kierkegaard once wrote,
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.
Find ways of involving yourself more in life. Take up some active hobbies or pursuits that gift you with new skills. Start small and take baby steps.
3. Stop, pause, and be still
If you’ve ever read into the works of enlightened people you will discover one major message: peace can be found in every moment. And this isn’t some airy-fairy promise, it is a reality that you can experience first-hand. But it requires patience, stillness, and dedication.
Meditation is one of the best ways to experience this deep, eternal, abiding peace. Try dedicating at least 10 minutes a day to this practice. There are many apps that can help you get started such as Calm, Headspace, and InsightTimer. If you have a negative perception of meditation, try experimenting with different types such as Body Scan, mantra, loving-kindness (Metta), and insight meditation to see what suits you best right now.
4. What fills your Soul with fire?
If you’re unable to answer this question, think back to childhood … what did you love doing? If you still aren’t sure, explore different fields and topics of interest. Finding what your passion is and what makes you feel excited to be alive is a wonderful way of moving through existential depression. Having a meaning or personal mission to fulfill will help add great depth to your life.
Read more: Soul Searching: 7 Ways to Uncover Your True Path »
5. Nurture yourself with self-compassion
What you’re experiencing can be a terribly painful and lonely ordeal, so be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to slow down, create a safe space, and practice self-care. Commit to releasing old patterns, thoughts, beliefs, and even people that don’t support your well-being. See our article on how to love yourself for more guidance. Learning how to nurture your wounded inner child is a great place to start this work. By holding space for this delicate part of yourself, your existential depression won’t cut you quite as deeply.
6. Connect with others/life
Getting a pet (or becoming closer with your existing one) is a great place to start. Dogs, in particular, give us unconditional love and help us to get out of the dark void that is existential depression.
Also, try connecting with nature. Go outside with a relaxing cup of tea, watch the sky, the birds, the trees, the rain, and the sunshine. Nature can be very soothing – in fact, if you live near a forest, try and go forest bathing (the Japanese practice of using nature to calm the nervous system). Gradually, you can build up to reaching out to a therapist that will genuinely understand where you’re coming from.
Try seeking out a spiritual therapist or one that works with sufferers of the ‘spiritual emergence’ (try a Google search). Also, try simply searching for ‘existential depression therapists/counselors.’ There are many therapists worldwide that do online Skype sessions if you can’t find one in your local area.
7. Explore Soul Retrieval
Soul Retrieval is a shamanic and psycho-spiritual tool for reintegrating lost parts of your psyche and rediscovering more inner Wholeness. There are numerous forms of Soul Retrieval out there such as mirror work, internal family systems therapy, guided visualization, breathwork, and more. Soul Retrieval (a practice) and Ensoulment (philosophy) go hand-in-hand.
Explore Ensoulment as a meaningful practice and path of reconnecting with the Soul »
8. Take responsibility for your happiness
No progress or authentic change in life can be made without taking self-responsibility. Life is multi-faceted. Yes, there is darkness, but there is also light. Yes, there is depression, but there is also joy. Learn to honor both sides and find them within everyday life, and you will experience more wholeness and inner balance.
Yes, it’s important to acknowledge deep and serious existential issues, but it’s also important to acknowledge and respect life’s beauty. Above all, understand that we are so much more than the limited ego that feels small and separate.
We all possess something mysterious and powerful within us. Call it the Life Force, call it Spirit, call it the Higher Self, but it’s beyond the mind. Exploring spirituality will help you to understand and experience this for yourself.
Read more: What is Spirituality? (EVERYTHING You Need to Know) »
I truly hope this examination of existential depression has helped to open some new doors for you. I would love to hear your experience with this topic or any advice below. You could help a lot of struggling people out there.
Finally, if you are contemplating suicide, please seek immediate help here. Your life is a precious gift and one that can be salvaged, transformed, and healed if you allow it to.
Please note that this article is not meant to diagnose you in any way, it is simply offering my opinion and experience. In many situations, seeking professional help and taking prescription medication is not only important but crucial.
Existential depression is often linked to going through the process of Spiritual Awakening. If you think you might be going through a Spiritual Awakening, you might like to look at our book “The Spiritual Awakening Process” for more guidance.