Depression surfaces for a number of reasons; biological pre-disposition, wonky brain chemistry, loss... any number of things can trigger it.
Regardless of when depression surfaces or what triggers it, one question gets asked over and over that few people really try to answer, "why?"
"Why me?" "Why now?" "Why can't I get my life back?"
Depression often stops people from taking those questions any further, they become stuck in a loop of feeling sad and isolated, asking the questions, and then feeling sadder and more isolated.
Taking an Existential approach to depression means taking those otherwise rhetorical questions seriously, and trying to discover the answer that underlies the root of depression.
Existentialism is best understood by breaking down the word itself.
The first part of the word is Exist- so you can probably guess what it has to do with, Existence! That you, in particular, are alive!
The last part of the word -tial, simply means "pertaining to" So, together they mean "pertaining to being alive."
Now that you understand what the word literally breaks down to, we can connect the dots to see how this relates to mental health and depression.
Depression is a personal journey, yes many people experience it, but when you are depressed it is entirely your own experience.
It is your own experience with your own existence.
Depression forces every person who goes through it to take a hard look at themselves in relation to being alive.
You could say depression is the realization that you are alive, in a complex and confusing world with billions of other people and structures.
That realization can be daunting, and that is the beginning of an existential approach to depression.
Now that we know what existentialism is and how it relates to mental health and depression let's see how it's used.
Above we mentioned how depression can feel like being stuck in a loop of rhetorical questions and a depressed mood that goes round-and-round.
Existentialism says, "get off the loop, answer the question!"
Incorporating existentialism means taking some time to really understand your life, your relationship with yourself and the time and place you find yourself in the world.
Whenever you ask yourself the question "why?" you present yourself with an opportunity to learn about your thoughts and feelings, but most people who are suffering from depression don't take the time to investigate the question.
Existentialism, and Existential therapy is the journey to discovering your own unique answers to those very questions.
It is a process of breaking down the problems you see and uncovering the answers through introspection.
So how do you begin to investigate the "why?"
Here are 3 ways to investigate the "Why?"
1) Journaling: When you ask yourself "why me?" "Why is everything so hard?" "Why does everything suck?" Get out a pen and paper and really try to answer the question.
Journaling is the most tried and true therapeutic technique of all time- it organizes your thoughts, creates clarity, and provides insight into your thoughts and feelings.
The physical act of writing is therapeutic in and of itself, plus you may surprise yourself with your own answers and come up with ways of solving problems.
2) Life Spheres: Once again, grab a pen and paper and draw a wheel.
Divide the wheel into areas of your life (friends, family, work, school, hobbies, spirituality, etc) and write down how satisfying those areas of your life are, or are not.
Then ask yourself why and answer.
Often, depression is a result of being negligent toward areas of our lives and we start to believe we are passive observers when in reality we frequently have many avenues to improve almost all areas of our lives.
Identify what areas are lacking and create a strategy to improve those areas.
3) Value Excavation: Similar to Life Spheres, Value Excavation is the process of digging deep to understand what things you really care about.
Morals, beliefs, character traits, values- these are all areas everyone is familiar with yet almost no one takes time to define for themselves.
If you are able to take time and personally identify and define what things truly matter to you, then you have a compass, a direction pointing you forward.
The next step after you identify your values is to keep them close at hand and begin living every day with those values in mind.
Live outwardly what you truly believe, and act in a manner that is consistent with what you truly value.
To wrap up, depression is a uniquely personal experience.
it is often the beginning of an existential journey and it can take an existential approach to depression to uncover the meaning of your life.
We learned that existential means pertaining to being alive; that an existential approach to depression means investigating more seriously the looming questions of "why"; and we learned 3 strategies pertaining to how to begin investigating those big questions.
You are not a passive observer of your life and your circumstances.
You are an intelligent, capable, autonomous human being with all the tools you need to understand and overcome your depression.
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