Existential Depression: Understanding, Coping, and Healing

by Trauma and Emotional Healing

Trabaja con angie ramos

Angie Ramos

Clinical Hypnotist , Havening Techniques® Certified Practitioner, Somatic Practitioner

Existential depression is a profound emotional state that extends beyond ordinary sadness. It is marked by a sense of emptiness, hopelessness, and a lack of direction in life. People who suffer from it may feel that life is purposeless and that there is no point in continuing. This form of depression is centered around philosophical and existential themes, such as the significance of life, death, freedom, and responsibility.

As a clinical hypnotist and somatics specialist, my path to healing has been a journey of self-discovery, healing, and personal introspection. In my practice, I have seen up close how childhood trauma and nervous system challenges can lead to a deep sense of hopelessness and purposelessness in life. But in this post, I want to focus on an aspect of depression that is little talked about and of which I have personally had close experience. I will tell you a little about how I have been able, little by little, to get out of this existential void, hoping that it will give you a little hope in your healing process.

Understanding existential depression

Existential depression is a profound and often overwhelming emotional state characterized by a deep sense of despair, purposelessness, and existential angst. Unlike clinical depression, which may be triggered by specific events or trauma, existential depression arises from a profound questioning of life’s meaning and the individual’s place in the world.

It is important to clarify that existential depression is not a formal diagnosis, that is, it is not found in the DSM-5, the reference book that many health professionals use to make diagnoses. However, this does not mean that it is any less real for those of us who experience it and you may realize that the symptoms are similar to other types of depression.


The term existential depression is used to describe a type of depression that specifically revolves around the fundamental questions of existence, such as life, death, illness, and oppression. Gifted children, who tend to be highly sensitive, analytical and curious, are especially prone to this form of depression. (1)

It usually arises from deep questions such as:

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Am I destined to be alone? or Why do I feel so alone?
  • Why is there so much suffering?
  • What is there after life?
  • What is the meaning of living?
  • Does anyone care about me? or Why doesn’t anyone care about me?
  • What can I contribute to this world?

These questions can be very common, in fact questioning these types of things is part of our human condition. However, for some people they can become too much of an emotional burden.

The existential questions center mainly around these four themes (2):

  • Death, including awareness of its inevitability and what happens next
  • The lack of meaning or wondering what the meaning of life is
  • Isolation or disconnection from others and the eventual loss of important relationships
  • Freedom or the magnitude of options (and consequences) available to you in life

When we cannot find an answer to our existential questions or accept that certain questions do not have an answer, it can leave us with a constant feeling of hopelessness. This can become this cycle of keeping the same questions spinning around in our heads, which leads us to have this constant feeling of existential emptiness and so on in a circle that seems to never end.

Existential depression envelops the soul like a fog, but in the darkest depths, there is always a light waiting to be discovered.

Existencial depression - Angie Ramos

A little bit about me:

Some who have read my book (sorry, it’s only available in Spanish 😉 ) , know that I grew up in an environment marked by trauma and physical and emotional violence that left deep scars on my being. To survive, I developed coping mechanisms that allowed me to move forward, but at the cost of disconnecting me from my true emotions and myself. For years, I desperately searched for a way to heal my emotional wounds, to feel better about myself and to find a sense of confidence and self-esteem, in fact that is how I started this blog that at that time it was called something completely different.

When I finally began training as a somatic practitioner and working on my nervous system, I discovered that many of the “solutions” I had tried in the past only momentarily relieved the pain, but did not address the underlying causes of my suffering. I realized that much of my life I had been slowly deconstructing limiting beliefs, my philosophy of life, religion, my spirituality and my relationship with other people, but it the end it lead me to this feeling of realizing how I was just walking in circles and to really healing anything. 

For a long time, I tried to escape the suffering of the world, convincing myself that my “inner peace” (rather, the disconnection from my emotions) would somehow contribute to reducing the suffering of others. You know, that rhetoric of spirituality that we see on social media today, which in reality is just spiritual bypassing. However, that illusion faded when I realized that I was avoiding facing my own anguish and despair, inherited from a past marked by violence and feeling deeply helpless.

The turning point came with my divorce, which was the culmination of the entire deconstruction process I had been experiencing. I realized that the place I thought was my safe haven was nothing more than an illusion, and I was faced with the devastating truth that in the process of surviving I had completely lost myself along the way. I fell into an abyss of existential depression, trapped in a cycle of nihilism and hopelessness from which it seemed impossible to escape.

For someone like me, a highly sensitive person with a history of trauma, existential depression was a dead end, an emotional labyrinth from which it is difficult to find a way out. However, as you can see in my emotional healing process, I have learned that the first step to getting out of the darkness is to recognize and accept it. We cannot heal what we are not willing to see and confront. Through working with my therapist and the somatic tools that I developed from my own training, I have been able to slowly get out of that deeply dark place.

Why am I telling you this? Because I believe that nowadays, seeing everything that is going on in the world, witnessing all the suffering and feeling like nothing we can do can change that it can lead us to a deep state of hopelessness. Ultimately, it can make many of us, especially with a history of trauma, fall into this void and lead us to a state of depression. that seems to have no end.

Symptoms and signs of existential depression

It is very common to go through existential depression when we have suffered a trauma, a loss, religious trauma, a crisis of faith or a life-altering event. These experiences can make us realize how ephemeral life can be, and highlight the lack of control we have in it, which leads us to ask ourselves the meaning of our life and our behaviours.

Some of the common experiences that are linked to existential depression are:

  • a process of deconstruction of your own beliefs and societal principles, that leads you to experience a loss of interest or motivation
  • guilt for some mistake made or for past choices
  • feeling like you don’t belong, losing your connection with someone or something that was very important to you, and feeling a sense of helplessness
  • lose interest in things you used to like
  • distancing yourself from close people or breaking up relationships
  • lose sense of yourself

The symptoms of existential depression can manifest in different ways, remember that each of us experiences trauma and its symptoms differently, and existential depression is no exception. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of emptiness and hopelessness.
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Fatigue and lack of energy, feeling tired all the time
  • Problems sleeping or sleeping excessively.
  • Recurring thoughts about death or the purpose of life.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Inability to relieve body aches, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems

Who is more likely to suffer from existential depression?

The people most likely to experience depression are usually those who have a deep sensitivity and awareness about the meaning of life, mortality and the nature of existence. This sensitivity, deep awareness, and probably idealism make them more likely to ask difficult questions about life, death, and their meaning. It is precisely this that makes them deeply aware of how small we are compared to the world, existence and the problems that concern us.

Some research suggests (3) that among the most prone groups are:

  • Highly sensitive individuals: Those people who are especially receptive to emotions and stimuli in the environment may be more susceptible to existential depression due to their ability to reflect deeply on the purpose and meaning of life.
  • Philosophers, thinkers and scientists: People who engage in philosophical reflection and questioning universal truths may face existential depression when faced with uncertainty and a lack of definitive answers on existential issues.
  • Individuals with significant trauma or loss: Those who have experienced emotional trauma, significant loss, or traumatic events in their lives may be more prone to existential depression when faced with questions about the meaning of life and human suffering.
  • People in an identity crisis: Those who are going through periods of transition, life change, or identity crisis may experience existential depression as they question their place in the world and their purpose in life.
  • Creative Spirits: Artists, writers, musicians, and other creators may be more susceptible to existential depression due to their tendency to explore deep, existential themes in their creative work, which may lead them to face questions about the meaning and purpose of their work. art and his life.

Keep in mind that “most common” does not necessarily mean “exclusive.” Anyone can experience depression, and you don’t have to be “gifted,” highly sensitive, or “special,” to consider (or agonize over) the deeper meaning of life.

Finding a light of hope

If you currently relate to what I have written in this article and have been struggling with depression, it is possible that recognizing that this is a process where the result can be positive, can help you create a small ray of hope inside you.

The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) is a complex theory of personality development developed by K. Dabrowski (4). This theory suggests that suffering and internal crisis, as well as some signs of mental illness and characteristics that we often consider to be defects, can be positive signs as part of the process of personal growth, where individuals experience intense internal conflicts that can lead to a greater awareness and authenticity. In this sense, existential depression can be seen as a manifestation of positive disintegration, where internal struggle and the search for meaning are key elements in the journey towards self-realization and the discovery of our true self.

Existential depression, characterized by a deep sense of emptiness, lack of purpose, and emotional disconnection, can be understood through the lens of positive disintegration as an inner call toward greater spiritual and emotional development. Rather than viewing it as a mere mental illness, existential depression is seen as an opportunity to question long-held beliefs and values, as well as to seek a deeper sense of identity and purpose in life.

Positive disintegration theory also offers a hopeful perspective on existential depression by recognizing that suffering can lead to significant growth and greater authenticity. Through therapeutic work that integrates somatic and nervous system regulation principles, individuals can explore the roots of their existential depression, confront their deepest fears, and find a path toward healing and personal renewal.

How to overcome existential depression

Overcoming existential depression can be a challenging process, but there are approaches that can help you regain meaning and joy in life. Here I share some strategies from a somatic and nervous system healing perspective:

1. Connection to the body: Trauma often disconnects us from our body and physical sensations. Reconnecting with our body through somatic practices such as conscious breathing, gentle body movement, or mindfulness can help relieve emotional emptiness and restore inner balance. For me, staying present in my life, in my body, and my experiences has given me a different perspective and a way to get out of my head when the emptiness inside is too intense. Feeling the sensations in your body gives you a way to break the cycle of nihilistic self-talk.

2. Emotional exploration: Allowing ourselves to feel and express our emotions authentically is essential to overcoming existential depression. Instead of repressing or denying our emotions, we can learn to accept and process them in healthy ways, allowing us to release emotional weigh that contributes to the feeling of emptiness.

3. Pay attention to your coping mechanisms. Be especially aware of those things you tell yourself, like you should do more, the perfectionist self-talk, and always being in productive mode. Giving yourself the space to exist without having to be productive or always busy, as a way to justify your existence can give you a new way of seeing yourself. Again, these kinds of behaviours are very common in trauma survivors, and if you are already in the process of healing, you know you have to be especially attentive to this.

The space you are creating allows you to discover who you really are, without all those self-imposed rules that at some point we developed to survive. 

4. Identification of needs: Existential depression often arises when we feel disconnected from our deepest, most authentic needs. Taking time to reflect on our emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, and then looking for ways to meet them, can help us regain a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

5. Practice gratitude and enjoyment: Finding small things in life that bring us joy and satisfaction, even if they seemingly have no deep meaning, can be a powerful tool in counteracting existential depression. Practicing daily gratitude and seeking moments of enjoyment and pleasure can help us reconnect with the beauty and wonder of the world around us.

6. Develop the ability to feel your emotions and regulate your nervous system. As many of those who follow me on my social networks and my clients know, my way of seeing life after trauma is that it is a continuous process, in which we must develop those skills that we were not able to develop while growing up, emotional regulation. This is a constant and everyday process. Developing habits that allow us to regulate ourselves, and take care of our body and our emotions is vital to get out of this depression. But not only this, it also allows us to realize when we are about to fall into the void again.

In my experience, I know that after periods of constant stress, when I have less time to rest, my nervous system goes from fight or flight and goes straight into freeze. This takes me to a state where I become isolated, I go within and my thoughts become darker. This is precisely the sign that something is not okay, the evidence that I have been neglecting my own needs. 

I see this as a call for attention, as many of my clients know, is very important to develop a more loving and compassionate voice towards ourselves. So it is also a part of the process, to recognize and take care of ourselves in a comprehensive way, both physically, mentally and emotionally.

7. Seeking support and connection: Existential depression can make us feel alone and disconnected, but seeking emotional support and connection with other people can make a big difference in our recovery process. Whether through therapy, support groups, or secure close relationships, sharing our experiences and feelings with others can provide us with the support and validation we need to move forward.


In conclusion, overcoming existential depression involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and emotional dimensions of our being. By healing our nervous system, reconnecting with our emotions and needs, and finding pleasure and meaning in the little things in life, we can gradually step out of the existential void and regain a sense of vitality and purpose in our lives.

I can tell you that it is a process that can take time, especially if at the same time you are healing past traumas, such as complex trauma which involves discovering who you really are. This has been my experience, so I recommend going slowly, focusing on things that make you feel good and start finding those glimmers.

Even though in most of these activities we will not find the meaning of our existence, it does allow you to begin to connect with yourself and your emotions. Something that in my very particular point of view allows us to develop an embodied spirituality. That is, not focused on religion, god or universe, things that we cannot explain. But rather, in the connection with our vulnerability and how this allows us to connect with other people, with the world.

Of course, I cannot help but recommend working with a specialist who helps you regulate your nervous system and helps you develop the skills and strategies necessary to get out of your mind and safely inhabit your body.

Hi! I'm Angie

Guiding you out of survival mode so you can start feeling confident and secure within yourself.

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