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Published on April 24, 2019

What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It

What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It

“Life today is not what it used to be.”

How many times have you heard this from your parents or grandparents? Life, few years ago—before the Internet, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram—was so much less stressful.

Everything was simpler, people socialized more face to face, there was less pressure to wear many hats and pull yourself in multiple directions.

Today, though, life is supposedly more advanced—we have more things to make it all more convenient, but we have so much information thrown at us that, at times, it’s hard to keep on top of everything.

Bottom line—the “better” life comes as a cost—it’s more taxing and strenuous to try and keep all in balance.

In addition to these global forces, on a personal level, we all go through our own metamorphoses. We all have our own battles to fight, monsters to stand up against, ups and downs we need to overcome.

Eventually, we all reach a point in our lives when we are faced with some distressing event—quite often outside of our control too—such as losing a loved one, going through sickness, divorce, or any other difficulty. These unfavorable experiences make it very challenging and impossible at times to keep it all together.

Simply put, we fall apart.

Psychologists call such states “existential anxiety and depression,” or simply “existential crisis.”

As one can gather, these are not the highlight moments of our lives, but nonetheless are very important times of discovery and reinvention.

The American singer Tori Amos beautifully captured this notion:

“Some people are afraid of what they might find if they try to analyze themselves too much, but you have to crawl into your wounds to discover where your fears are. Once the bleeding starts, the cleansing can begin.”

What Is Existential Crisis?

As the name implies, existential crisis has something to do with our existence. More specifically, it’s a period of re-examining our lives’ meaning, purpose, or values.

These “big” questions are usually triggered by a traumatic event we’ve been through, which has shattered our current beliefs about our worlds.

Faced with the fleeting nature of life, we realize that we don’t have control over many things that happen to us—which, admittedly, is not a comforting thought. Anxiety builds up and we end up spiralling further down and down the rabbit hole.

It’s important to note that not every turning point in life leads to an existential crisis. Stress is often a normal part of the everyday and in many cases, it’s temporary and it passes.

But when it lingers longer and makes us feel as everything is hollowed out of meaning, and when we start questioning our place in life and the reason for being, we can certainly say that we have fallen under the dark spell of the mental and physical distress, known as existential crisis.

Causes of Existential Crisis

As I already mentioned, existential crisis is not triggered by ordinary events which may lead to more-or-less “normal” levels of stress and anxiety—such as starting a new job, marriage, having kids, giving presentations at work or studying for a test in college.

Distress becomes deeper and darker when we undergo a major trauma, loss or an ordeal. According to a piece in Healthline, possible causes of existential crisis can be any of the following:[1]

  • Guilt about something
  • Losing a loved one in death, or facing the reality of one’s own death
  • Feeling socially unfulfilled
  • Dissatisfaction with self
  • History of bottled up emotions

Dr. Irvin Yalom, a prominent American existential psychiatrist and a professor at Stanford University, in his book Existential Psychotherapy, has identified four primary reasons of why people may undergo existential depression — death, freedom, isolation and meaningless.[2]

Fear of death and the inability to have control over it can be, undeniably, a source of anxiety. Freedom, as surprising as it may sound, can also create a sense of uneasiness. Because when we have the ultimate freedom to act, think, speak as we want, this means that we also must take full responsibility of our actions and decisions. Everything that happens to us will be more of a direct consequence of our choices, which, of course, can be rather terrifying to some.

Furthermore, although we are social creatures, the realization that we can never fully know someone or respectively—others may never fully understand is, can make us feel alone and isolated from the world, which leads to isolation existential crisis.

Finally, perhaps the most wide-spread reasoning behind why some go through existential depression is because they suffer from the constant drizzles of disappointment with their lives and a sense of meaningless—that have lost their sense of belonging or of purpose and don’t see any path forward.

As one can gather, it’s not a great place to dwell in. And what’s more—there is no easy fix.

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Symptoms of Existential Crisis

Existential crisis is a dark period and can take a serious toll on both our mental and physical state.

Someone who is deep down the depression road can have a heightened sense of:[3]

  • An intense or obsessive interest in the bigger meaning of life and death. The interest in exploring this may override a person’s enjoyment and engagement with other day-to-day activities.
  • Extreme distress, anxiety, and sadness about the society they live in, or the overall state of the world.
  • A belief that changes in anything are both impossible and futile.
  • Increasingly becoming, and feeling, disconnected, isolated, and separate from other people.
  • Cutting ties with other people because they feel like connections with others are meaningless or shallow and they are on a completely different level.
  • Low motivation and energy levels to do anything they would normally do.
  • Questioning the purpose, point or meaning of anything, and everything, in life.
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings.

So, it’s quite serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You can’t just “sit it out” and wait for the storm to pass. Frequently, it may not go away on its own.

How to Cope with Existential Crisis

Feelings of constant distress can be daunting, to state the least — a true happiness-thief.

So, how do you save yourself from the gloominess and the greyness you feel inside?

Luckily, we are far from choice-less, psychologists tell us. In fact, there are many things that we can do to help ourselves when we start questioning the purpose of our existence and the meaning of it all.

One thing that’s worth mentioning as well is that existentialists prescribe that we should learn to live and cope with the anxiety vs. eliminating it. They view even this deep distress as a normal part of life. Therefore, their strategies aim at acknowledging and managing the sunless thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to force them into positive ones.

Here are some additional ways in which we can help ourselves through such distressing periods.

1. Inject Some Meaning Back into Your Life

The search for meaning is a universal one—we all want our lives to matter and leave something behind after we are gone.

In my previous post, What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Purpose, I wrote about how each one of us can create their own meaning in life. It’s through compassion and care for our wellbeing, connecting with the world and making ourselves useful.

2. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Although not ground-breaking, this idea has many proven benefits.

Reminding ourselves of what we are lucky enough to have achieved, can do wonders for our mental health and will quell our anxieties.

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3. Don’t Expect of Yourself to Have All the Answers

Quite often, when we mull over the big questions of our existence and purpose, we put pressure on ourselves to find the answers right away. We feel angst and disappointment with ourselves and possibly pangs of envy with those who have it all figured out.

But remember, you don’t have to find a solution to everything. Just re-discover the things that are meaningful to you and make you happy. That’s all.

4. Touching and Feeling Connected

One of the prescribed ways to overcome feelings of existential isolation is through touch.[4] For instance, practicing daily hugs can help alleviate anxiety and create a sense of belonging. The idea comes from research on mother-infant bonding and how youngsters thrive when they the physical warmth of their mothers.

So, when you feel down, hug away.

There are many other ways to cope with the severe distress and depression which often accompany an existential crisis. Keeping yourself busy, getting involved in helping others, learning to let go, living in the present moment are all excellent tactics to help you get out of the darkness you may feel enveloped in.

The main idea behind all these techniques is to find your own reasons again for being and to re-affirm your worth.

The Bright Side of Existential Crisis

The influential Polish psychiatrist Kazinierez Dabrowski developed a theory he called Positive disintegration (in the mid-1960s).[5] It’s based on the notion that anxiety and distress are necessary for growth and development.

Another aspect of the theory relates to gifted individuals. They are different and special, Dabrowski believed, as they are sensitive, highly emotional, intellectual, imaginational, curious, and prone to anxiety. Therefore, they are also the ones who are more likely to go through an existential crisis and depression.

These people also have greater “developmental potential,” he asserted. What this means is that they look at the world through a different lens—they have better awareness of themselves and others, they try to understand and make sense of everything around them.

But they are also often the lonely outcasts and the restless souls (Many great writers as Earnest Hemingway, Virginia Wolfe, Charles Dickens to name a few, have been known to have gone through an existential upheaval).

So, there is, clearly, a bright side to the dark feelings that accompany an existential crisis.

For one thing, it means that if you are going through one, you are likely a very gifted, intellectual and sensitive individual.

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More importantly, though, such condition is highly treatable. There are many paths you can take to emerge from the bleakness you feel inside.

Final Thoughts

Finding meaning in everything we do, day in and out, is not an easy undertaking. It’s normal to feel distressed when you lose your ways or when you go through a major trauma and loss.

And it’s not uncommon, when faced with such deep and joyless emotions, that you take a step back and re-evaluate your life.

Because it is often through pain that we emerge stronger and more resilient.

No matter the challenges that fate throws our way, there is always a reason to keep going forward. You just must find it.

It’s as Albert Einstein told us:

“Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

You never really know what exciting things may wait for you around the corner; and that is the beauty of it all.

Featured photo credit: qi bin via unsplash.com

Reference

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Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

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Published on November 20, 2019

14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year

14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year

Personal goal setting starts with having a destination in mind.

If you don’t know where you’re going, why bother moving forward? You’ll just get more lost or find yourself back where you started again.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, every road will take you there.”- Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland

You have to have a destination of who you want to become in order to get there.

Personal goals will be easier to make if you know where you want to go.

You must start with how to get there and break down the steps. These steps must be realistic.

That doesn’t mean you can’t dream big; in fact,

“Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land among the stars.”

Dream big no matter what but be realistic at the same time. Be open to detours, too.

According to Action for Happiness[1], ways to make goals include deciding on goals, writing steps down, telling someone about it and plan out each step.

Here I will outline 14 personal goals that can help you become a better you:

1. Live Authentically

You don’t have time to be living your life as someone else. All you can do is be yourself. You must choose to be who you really are. That’s the best way to live.

Being yourself is not easy though. It requires dedication to your values and dreams. You won’t be able to be authentic without losing your fear of what others think of you.

There’s only one way to be successful in this life and it’s if you do it for the right reasons. It’s if you choose yourself. It’s not until you find that you will be free.

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Get inspired by my other article: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

2. Take Time for You in Self-Care Prioritization

Self-care is not something you should take for granted. Often, we don’t prioritize it well enough. Some examples include finding time for yourself, do things that make you feel good. Get dietary advice to eat healthy and exercise to improve your health.

Take a break. Go outside. Relax. Read a book or watch a good movie with someone you love. It’s about rewarding yourself with your joys and hobbies.

You can find more examples here: 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit

Self-care is not selfish. It’s important to find time for yourself so that you CAN give more of yourself to the areas of life you need to. You deserve it. You are worth it. Remember that.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally

The less you are concerned with others, the more you can focus on doing what matters most to you. What others say does not reflect the real you. It is just their perception, which may not be the full picture or the truth.

People who try to hurt you are not happy.

“Happy people don’t try to bring other people down.” – Anonymous.

That’s why it’s just not worth holding on to their words.

When you refuse to take things personally, it’s because you know who you are.

4: Decide What You Stand for

4. Decide to Be Who You Are Meant to Be

Look for things you are passionate about. Advocate to make yourself and others heard. Join groups that support your beliefs.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”- Anonymous.

So, decide what you value and what you stand for. Then, you can do anything.

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Take a look at this guide if you aren’t sure what you’re passionate about: How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life

5. Find the Silver Lining

Find happiness in any situation by finding the silver lining. You can decide to be happy because of the good you find. You must choose to look at the good.

People often think about the bad first, and they dwell on it. It’s human nature, but if you can look for the good or the silver lining, you will be happier for it.

You can learn from any situation or use any situation to better yourself or humanity. Take that and you will overcome it all.

6. Do Something Good for Someone

Instead of just focusing on your problems, do good for someone. It will not only take your mind off what problems you have, but also help you see that you are capable of doing good — right, you still have things to offer.

There are many opportunities to do good. Volunteering, checking on a friend or family member, get involved in a project that serves your community, etc.

The more good you do, the better you will feel.

7. Practice Daily Positive Self Talk

Every day is a new day. The way you talk to yourself is how you can ensure you build resilience and endurance through any challenge.

Here are some positive self talk examples:

“Things may have not gone my way but I can see the good in the situation still.”

“At least I am alive. I have my health, my abilities and the opportunities to use what I have for good.”

“I am worthwhile.”

“I can do it.”

Even more here: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

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The more you practice positive self talk, the more you will overcome and accomplish.

8. Surrender, When Necessary

When you surrender, you give in to the current rather than fight against it. It means you value inner peace most of all. You don’t sacrifice your inner peace for anything. You know your worth, and you are willing to see how a situation unfolds. You don’t try to force solutions either.

Instead of forcing solutions, you allow the best ones to come forth. You also know how to use what you have. You don’t fight against your situation. You instead use it.

When you surrender, you are accepting what is. This makes it easier to move forward.

9. Ask for Help in One Area of Your Life

We are often taught that needing help is a sign of weakness but it is actually a sign of strength. It’s developing skills that you might not be as well versed in. It’s developing mentor/mentee relationships to help you succeed.

Success is subjective to every individual. When you are developing yourself, you need others’ input. You need help to be who you are meant to be.

There is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help instead opens doors for you that you may not have been able to open yourself.

10. Never Stop Learning

Learning is meant to be lifelong. You can follow your interests, and everything is a “Internet Search Engine” away. But how to really commit to this? Take another class, sign up for a workshop, read books on the subject of interest, develop new hobbies…

In Success Magazine,[2] Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich suggests 3 techniques to never stop learning:

“1. Embrace the Mind of a Child.
2. Put yourself in the hands of a trusted teacher.
3. Read, read, read.” Overall, be responsible for your own growth in life.

You are never too old to learn something new. Start today.

11. Set Boundaries and Say No When Appropriate

Having boundaries can feel uncomfortable because we are telling others what we do not accept. It is also necessary for healthy relationships. You will use them to protect yourself, your heart and your mind.

No one can make you do anything. If you are uncomfortable with something, you have a right to say no. Those who truly care about you will not be offended. You are also setting the bar high, or setting an example for others who are too scared to have boundaries too.

You will make better choices if you have better boundaries: How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

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12. Follow Your Gut

Trust your instincts. They are trying to tell you what to trust in.

You may not want to do something but feel pressured to do it. Your gut is the one speaking to you, telling you not to do it if you don’t want to. It can save you from many things, for example preventing you from making poor choices.

When you follow your gut, you preserve your interests and secure yourself.

13. Do What You Love

Are you doing what you love? You must choose what you can’t live without. Don’t sacrifice that for anything. Life is too short.

Your best also comes out when you are doing what you love. You can give more, do more if you’re happy with what you are doing.

So, do what you love. Don’t question it: Why You Should Always Do What You Love (And How to Do It)

14. Appreciate What You Have

Good Deeds Day defines gratitude as,[3]

“Gratitude allows us to recognize good in our lives. Focusing and appreciating the good in our lives constantly reminds us about the great things all around us… Gratitude allows us to see that the sources of that good are usually close by. Practicing gratitude allows us to recognize those who bring goodness into our lives and humbles us in order to give credit to those we are grateful for.”

At the end of the day, you need to recognize what you do have rather than focusing on what you don’t have. You must choose gratitude as your attitude in order to live a happier, better life. You will win then.

Counting your blessings everyday will help you bring in more blessings. You are limitless. You will overcome more too if you have that positive perspective.

Appreciating what you have starts with the simple things in life. Recognize what’s working. Find your reason to hold on. And then change the world.

Here’re 32 Things You Should Be Grateful For if you need some reminders.

Final Thoughts

Goal setting is about finding what will better yourself and lead you to happiness. You will find peace with yourself when you are on the right path.

You have to make the decision to make the best of everything, and you have to remember what really matters. Your goals will shape you for the rest of your life.

Good luck!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Anika Huizinga via unsplash.com

Reference

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