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Signs of ‘existential dread’ as Billie Eilish dedicates award to sufferers

Billie Eilish, pictured, who recently dedicated an award to 'people feeling existential dread'. (Getty Images)
Billie Eilish dedicated an award to 'people feeling existential dread'. (Getty Images)

Billie Eilish has dedicated an award for a track on the Barbie soundtrack to people struggling with their mental health and feeling "existential dread".

She received the accolade for the song What Was I Made For? at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and on stage gave a nod to anyone who was battling with the wellbeing.

"I would really like to say that this award and any, all recognition that this song gets, I just want to dedicate to anyone who experiences hopelessness and the feeling of existential dread, and feeling like: ‘What’s the point? And why am I here, and why am I doing this?’

"I think we all feel like that occasionally, but I think if somebody like me, with the amount of privilege that I have and the incredible things that I get to do and be and how I have really not wanted to be here and – sorry to be dark – damn, but I’ve spent a lot of time feeling that way.

"And I just want to say to anyone who feels that way to be patient with yourself and know that it is, I think, worth it all, and I think it’s great to be alive now."

She recalled that when her and her brother, songwriter, Finneas O’Connell, were asked to write the track she "was in a dark episode, I guess, and things didn’t make sense in life".

Eilish added: "I just didn’t understand what the point was and why you would keep going. (I was) just questioning everything in the world."

What impact has this summer's wet weather had on our mood and mental health? (Getty Images)
What impact has this summer's wet weather had on our mood and mental health? (Getty Images)

What are feelings of 'existential dread'?

Existential dread is a sometimes-intense sense of despair and uncertainty triggered by thinking about the fundamental questions around the meaning, purpose, and nature of your own life.

"This can manifest as anxiety, loss of motivation in previously enjoyable activities, and feeling disconnected with oneself," explains Dr Rachael Molitor, psychology lecturer at Coventry University.

At its core, existential dread is an intense and often overwhelming confrontation with life's inherent uncertainties and the ultimate reality of death.

"It's not just about feeling anxious or stressed; it's a deeper questioning of existence, purpose, and the meaning behind our choices and experiences," explains psychologist Barbara Santini.

"This state often arises during periods of significant change or crisis, when our usual frameworks for understanding the world are challenged, she explains.

Signs someone is experiencing 'existential dread'

According to Santini identifying the signs of existential dread can be complex.

"It often manifests as a persistent sense of disconnection or disillusionment, a feeling that life's activities are superficial or meaningless," she explains.

"Individuals might exhibit a preoccupation with philosophical questions about life and death, a noticeable withdrawal from social activities, or a change in behaviour driven by the search for meaning.

International Men's Day offers an opportunity to shine a light on male issues, including mental health. (Getty Images)
International Men's Day offers an opportunity to shine a light on male issues, including mental health. (Getty Images)

What to do if you're feeling 'existential dread'

If you find yourself feeling such sensations, Molitor recommends recognising your feelings and seeking support by talking to a friend or family.

"Sometimes a problem shared really is a problem halved," she adds.

"Secondly, focusing on the things you enjoy and bring a sense of purpose and fulfilment, such as setting a new personal goal or a hobby you’ve wished to take up."

Santini has some other suggestions for responding to feelings of existential dread

Engage with your thoughts

Instead of shying away from existential questions, Santini recommends engaging with them. "Reading philosophy or engaging in thoughtful discussions can provide new perspectives and help individuals find their own answers."

Seek creative expression

Art, writing, music, or any form of creative work can be a powerful outlet for expressing and exploring these deep existential feelings. "It’s not just about distraction; it’s about creation as a form of understanding and coping," Santini adds.

Living through a permacrisis is having a negative impact on our mental health. (Getty Images)
Living through a permacrisis is having a negative impact on our mental health. (Getty Images)

Undergo existential therapy

According to Santini this form of psychotherapy focuses specifically on concerns related to existence. "It can provide a structured space for exploring these feelings and finding ways to live with them," she adds.

Practice mindfulness and acceptance

Learning to accept the uncertainty of life can be liberating. "Mindfulness practices help individuals to stay grounded in the present, reducing the overwhelming nature of existential thoughts," Santini explains.

Try to build a value-driven life

By exploring what truly matters to you. "Cultivating a life aligned with personal values can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment," Santini explains.

Recognise when feelings are getting too much

While existential dread can lead to profound personal growth, Santini says it is important to recognise when it becomes overwhelming or debilitating.

"In such cases, professional help from a psychologist or counsellor is crucial," she adds. "Existential dread, in its essence, is a part of the human condition. It's a call to explore the depths of our existence, to confront our fears and uncertainties, and ultimately, to find our unique path to meaning and purpose in life.

"Billie Eilish’s recent acknowledgment of this emotional state opens up a much-needed dialogue, allowing us to explore and understand these complex feelings more openly."

Talking to a friend or mental health expert can help you to cope with feelings of existential dread. (Getty Images)
Talking to a friend or mental health expert can help you to cope with feelings of existential dread. (Getty Images)

Where to get help

If you find it difficult to talk to someone you know, you can:

  • call a GP – ask for an emergency appointment

  • call 111 out of hours – they will help you find the support and help you need

  • contact your mental health crisis team – if you have one

If you would like to contact a specialist service that's waiting to be a listening ear, these include:

  • Samaritans – call 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit some branches in person, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or call the Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123, 7pm-11pm every day

  • SANEline – call 0300 304 7000, 4pm-10pm every day

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK – call on 0800 689 5652, 6pm-midnight every day

  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – call on 0800 58 58 58, 5pm-midnight every day, or try the CALM webchat service

  • Shout – text SHOUT to 85258, any time

  • The Mix – if you under 25 call 0808 808 4994, 4pm-11pm Monday-Saturday

Visit Mind's website to find even more mental health crisis helplines.

If you have seriously harmed yourself or you feel you may be about to, call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E, or ask someone else to do it for you.

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