Am I Having an Existential Crisis?
Updated: Apr 27
An existential crisis is part of a collection of terms that can involve questioning life and its meaning of it, death, and uncertainty. At times it can be useful to think of how we are just a small part of something greater than us, being one human on one planet in an infinite universe. However, the other side of this thinking is when it creates anxiety and can leave people feeling hopeless with a sense of purposelessness.
An existential crisis can show up as existential dread, meaning that the person dreads trudging through a meaningless existence. People experiencing this can express feeling bored, trapped, or isolated. Sometimes the crisis shows up as existential anxiety, where the person feels panic and anxiety, with an accompanying need to find meaning in what appears to be a meaningless world. This crisis can also be experienced as an existential depression where the person comes to believe that nothing that they do, or that anyone does matters.
The literature shows that many intellectually gifted children and adolescents have these experiences, as both their inquisitive minds and sensitivity to the world around them lead to anxiety or depression that is existential in nature. Adults can have this condition triggered by life transitions such as a loss of career, religion, death of a loved one, or it can accompany their own mental health struggles. Older adults also struggle with this as they reflect on their life and feel themselves coming closer to death.
Some questions that might accompany an existential crisis include asking:
What is the meaning of life?
What is the point of existence?
Why should I care about my daily life when there are so many terrible things happening in the world?
Do I have a purpose?
These thoughts can feel intense and heavy, and at times can lead to more rumination, or being stuck in our own heads. It is part of our humanness to want answers for why we think or feel certain ways, why we suffer, or why others can be cruel. Some people find answers by studying philosophy or science. Others might find meaning-making and support in spiritual practices, or by talking to a professional.
If you choose to see a therapist and talk about the heaviness of your experience, it is important that they are able to both help you define and validate your experience. An existential crisis can feel lonely and isolating, and it is important to open up to someone that will remind you that you are not alone. A good therapist will help you explore what triggered the crisis, such as living through a world pandemic. Your work could also be around exploring your values, finding ways to cope such as creative outlets, and assessing any accompanying mental health conditions.
People who experience existential crises may also contemplate suicide. Therefore it is so important that you address both of these with your therapist. You can also call your local crisis line, or contact the national suicide at 1-800-273-8255
A therapist will also help you balance both processing the existential crisis while living your life. It is important to remember that you matter and that you are not going to feel stuck forever in this crisis of meaning-making.
Victor Frankl, one of the founders of existential psychology and author of Man’s Search for meaning once said that this “existential frustration” is not pathological. Our concerns and despair over “the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a disease.” To reduce stigma we need to create more spaces to discuss the existential crisis as a normal part of emotional, social, and spiritual development.
Here is the link to episode five of my podcast where I cover more on existential crisis https://www.buzzsprout.com/1929025/10515371
If you have questions, or are interested in my counseling practice or seeking consultation from me please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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*Art by Kim Krans The Wild Unknown Archetypes Deck and Guidebook.