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Managing an Existential Crisis


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Growing desensitized to life’s mysteries is easy when we are required to conform to the patterns of this world. Go to college, get a job, get married, have children, have grandchildren, and then pass on so the next generation can take over. While many individuals deviate from this path, others feel that complying with it is required in order to be considered “normal.”


Those rare moments that we have time to ponder our existence on this planet are usually drowned out by the requirements of our day-to-day lives. However, those who regularly question their purpose in the universe may be suffering from an existential crisis.


What is an Existential Crisis?

An existential crisis refers to any uneasy feelings about life, meaning, and free will. Those who suffer from an existential crisis believe that life is pointless because one’s existence is small in the grand scheme of events and that there are limits on our own free will.


Because death is inevitable, these individuals tend to believe their life has no meaning. As a result, they can grow increasingly depressed and anxious. Or, they may start acting differently than they usually would by taking unnecessary risks or engaging in outside-the-box activities.


An existential crisis is not a mental health condition, but rather a common terminology used to describe those who are questioning their purpose in life.


What is Existential Anxiety?

Existential anxiety occurs as a result of having an existential crisis, or it can occur on its own. Existential anxiety involves reoccurring apprehensions about the meaning of life. It typically begins in adolescence.


While an existential crisis is usually a one-time event, existential anxiety is persistent and detrimental to one’s mental health. This individual may regularly worry about death, life choices, and purpose. It can interfere with work, relationships, school, and friendships.


What Are the Symptoms of an Existential Crisis?

Though feelings may vary, those who suffer an existential crisis typically feel –

  • Anxious

  • Depressed

  • Overwhelmed by life choices

  • Isolated from loved ones

  • Difficulty staying motivated

  • Lack of energy

  • Obsessive worry about death, purpose, or meaning

  • Pervasive loneliness


What Causes an Existential Crisis?

An existential crisis is typically the result of a major life change. Creative and intuitive individuals also tend to have existential anxiety. These people see outside of the regular day-to-day life requirements and wonder what their bigger purpose is.


This amount of self-caused pressure can cause an enormous amount of anxiety. Individuals with Bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, or Obsessive-Compulsive disorder are also more likely to go through an existential crisis. Life-changing circumstances that cause this type of anxiety include –

  • Birth of a new child

  • Career change later in life

  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness

  • Entering a higher age category

  • Going through a traumatic event

  • Experiencing marriage or divorce

  • Seeking God or searching for a set of beliefs


Types of Crises

Existential crises are not uniform. There are many different types, which include –

  • Fear and Responsibility – Many individuals are afraid to make the wrong choice because they worry about the responsibility that comes from making that choice. This can cause anxiety and depression.

  • Meaning of Life – People may wonder what the point of living is as their lives seem meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe.

  • Authenticity – Many individuals feel as though they have been inauthentic and concerned with pleasing others for the majority of their lives. They come to this realization after suppressing it for many years. This can cause anxiety and depression.

  • Major Life Change – A major life change can shake up an entire person’s identity and cause him/her to shift priorities. This can be stressful and depressing until the person adjusts to the new circumstances.


How to Handle an Existential Crisis

The good part about an existential crisis or anxiety is that it usually passes once the individual has adapted to a sudden change. However, other individuals who experience regular existential anxiety need further help. Suggestions include -

  • Journal – Write down feelings, thoughts, and ideas about what you are experiencing. Think of solutions to problems, but don’t worry if all of the solutions don’t come at once.

  • Stay in Reality – It’s easy to get caught up in our thoughts and worries when we aren’t staying in the moment. Practice mindfulness, go to work, do yoga, stay busy, and try not to spend all of your time worrying about those things that are outside of your control.

  • Ask for Help – While it may seem like you are facing this crisis alone, other people have encountered these same thoughts and fears. Talk to loved ones, a therapist, or others about your experience. This can help to gain some perspective and clarity on the situation.

  • Consider Religion or Spirituality – Religion and spirituality have helped numerous people find meaning and purpose in their lives. It also offers a space for like-minded individuals to form relationships, provide advice, and offer support.


Do you struggle with existential anxiety? Are you often worried about meaning, life, or death? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.


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