How to Treat Your Existential Depression

October 28, 2020


An existential crisis results when an insatiable drive to understand life’s meaning and the purpose of the human condition leads to severe distress. Existential depression is an existential crisis symptom that develops due to the dissatisfaction of not comprehending life’s greatest complexities. Realizing that mysterious life concepts like death, chance, and purpose are beyond our control and comprehension can make you feel as though life is pointless. It can become more difficult to perform basic daily tasks or see the value in most things around you, which is one of the many signs that existential depression is setting in. 

Existential depression can be intimidating to overcome, but having more knowledge about the mood disorder experience can get you started in the direction of feeling better:

  • What is existential depression?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • What are treatment tips?
Girl staring blankly out of window
Existential depression can leave you obsessively pondering over the meaning and purpose of life. Image courtesy of

What is Existential Depression?

Existential depression arises when one develops depressive symptoms in response to the most daunting questions in life, causing stress and misery. Does life have meaning or purpose? Will we always be alone in the end? Is life scarier than death? Though these aren’t odd questions to think about, you may be at risk of existential depression if these questions cause prolonged distress in your daily life. 

Existential depression can develop following major life events and traumas, and it can affect anyone at any stage of life. The symptoms can be far-reaching and impact your mind as well as the trajectory of your life, but the best treatment for your existential depression is out there. 

Girl sitting alone on a pier
Isolation and lack of connection is one of several existential depression symptoms. Image courtesy of

Existential Depression Symptoms

The meaning of life preoccupies you

Though wondering what purpose you should fulfill in life isn’t an usual worry to have, it can become a concerning symptom if it preoccupies your daily life. When the inability to answer such a difficult question begins to take your attention away from other aspects in your life such as relationships, self-care, and work, you may be dealing with an existential depression symptom. 

Extreme distress and anxiety

When obsessive thoughts about how the world works and how you can fit into society start to take a toll on your mood, feelings of distress and anxiety can start to arise in response to these thoughts. The mystery of life and it’s impossible-to-answer questions can make one extremely nervous to experience the unknown or too depressed to handle knowing so little about life.  

Lack of interest in others

Existential depression generally pushes one to be preoccupied with hard-to-grasp concepts while pushing them away from the people in their life. Interactions with acquaintances and loved ones can start to feel meager and uninteresting when life’s looming questions are taking up all your interests. And if no one around you is struggling with the same stress about life, it’s hard to maintain a feeling of connectedness with those near you. 

Low energy and motivation

Normal life tasks like going to work or grocery shopping can feel impossible and uninteresting when serious questions about your life experience are weighing on your mind constantly. Physical energy and motivation to focus on matters beyond your existential obsession can be difficult to muster. Essential daily tasks can start to feel mundane and pointless when you’re already questioning the grander picture in life. 

Questioning the purpose of everything in life

When the purpose and meaning of life seem futile and impossible to understand, you may start to ask the same questions about the conversations, errands, and places you encounter in daily life. If the most important questions in life regarding death, relationships, and meaningfulness are already clouding your perceptions and mood, how can you help but ask the same questions about the smaller aspects of life?

Believing that change is impossible and pointless

Existential depression won’t only make daunting questions in life a recurring stressor on your mind but can also influence how you think you can answer those questions. It’s difficult to have faith in human abilities to change or influence life when it feels like life has already controlled and decided everything. How can little human actions everyday have any effect on unchangeable aspects of life?

Therapist writes in a journal during a session
Reaching out to a psychotherapist can be a great first step in overcoming existential depression. Image courtesy of

Treatment Tips and Options

Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t control

Existential depression often refocuses your attention and energy toward matters that are beyond your control. Humans have no determination over chance, death, or other mysterious aspects of the human experience. Ease the weight and stress of these heavy concepts from your shoulders by reminding yourself of everything you can control and influence. 

Use notes and verbal chants to remember the parts of your life that are within the limits of your control. Once you collect memories of all the achievements and successes in your life, it’ll be easier to let go of what you can’t influence. Consider asking those close to you how you’ve impacted their lives as well. You may learn that your influence on the world is greater than you realized. 

Meaningful Activities 

Meaningfulness in life isn’t as simple as an answer to a question. Existential depression can leave you pondering and wondering about answers that may not exist. Sometimes, meaningfulness and purpose must be sought after actively. Thinking about hard-to-answer questions will leave you feeling empty, but meaningful activities can actually be fulfilling. 

Consider activities and hobbies that give you joy and make you feel like you’re contributing to society. Hobbies like exercise can boost your mood by releasing positive brain chemicals. Community service and attending local events can also give you a sense of connectedness to others while allowing you perform substantial, meaningful work. Daily activities can give you a sense of purpose that existential depression denies you. 

Channel Emotions

Without an outlet for emotions and processing major life events, feelings can become pinned up and lead to drastic mood changes if not dealt with. Existential depression can often lead to you to use existential thoughts as a distraction from unprocessed feelings. Being able to coherently understand your feelings and express them outwardly can help you release the accumulated stress of an existential depressive episode

Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal can allow you to express your feelings in an organized, coherent way. Journaling is a perfect yet private outlet for unprocessed emotions. For emotions or experiences that are too difficult to express in words, visual art such as drawing and painting are ideal for more abstract, conceptual emotional expression. 

Professional Treatment


If deemed necessary by a professional, antidepressants can be a fitting treatment option for severe depressive symptoms. Psychology research has concluded that addressing brain chemistry and circuits between brain chemicals are effective in treating depression. Though depression doesn’t simply result from atypical brain chemistry, medication can help tackle existential depression

Antidepressants come in different types, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tetracyclics. Different types generally target specific chemicals in the brain, ranging from serotonin and dopamine to norepinephrine. Medications are often assumed to cure depression and start working immediately, but the effects on depressive symptoms usually take a few weeks to set in. Antidepressants are far from a cure for depression but offer an effective way out of your existential episode. 


Existential depression tends to become persistent and severe when the inability to understand life’s secrets causes distress for you. The unresolved and unprocessed life experiences and emotions that can trigger an existential episode can be relieved with psychotherapy. There are various psychotherapy approaches that may be effective for the specific struggles of existential depression. 

Logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that focuses on pursuing the meaning of life persisting no matter life circumstances. It emphasizes human’s free will to change themselves and make meaning even when life circumstances make that difficult. 

Existential therapy is a more open-ended therapeutic approach that emphasizes processing your past experiences rather than contemplating over them to achieve meaning and purpose. Existential therapy can help you break free from the life events that may be holding your mental-wellbeing hostage. 

Regardless of what therapeutic approach may work best for you, reaching out to a psychotherapist can be an eye-opening and effective treatment option for existential depression

TMS Therapy

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy is a compelling treatment option for depressive symptoms, especially when symptoms are severe and generally resistant to other treatments. TMS uses magnetic pulses to target and stimulate the areas of the brain that regulate mood. The magnetic pulses can influence levels in brain chemistry and communication between brain chemicals to alleviate depressive symptoms. 

TMS is a safe, non-invasive alternative treatment option for your existential depression symptoms. You can receive TMS therapy at a clinic, and the frequency of sessions will vary per individual. Great TMS clinics will also customize well-rounded treatment plans with added interventions such as ketamine treatments and focus on full-body wellness to provide the most impactful intervention for depression. 

Existential depression can be a difficult uphill battle for one’s livelihood and mental wellbeing. Despite the weight of depressive symptoms, there is always an impressive treatment option to be considered. Whether self-care tips or professional treatment works best for you, just remember it’s never too late to seek relief from existential depression.

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