Life Events & Trauma

4 Min Read

What is An Existential Crisis?

Sometimes feeling unsure about your life and major choices is normal, and even a sign of good mental health. However,  some people are more likely to experience — or certain life events are more likely to cause — unrelenting and intrusive questions about the futility of life and their place in the world.

An existential crisis may occur when a person frequently wonders whether life has any inherent meaning or purpose. A person may also question their existence and life choices within a world that may seem meaningless.

Occasional existential concerns are common and at crossroads, it can be healthy to question your life choices and goals. However, lengthy existential crises can contribute to a negative or paralyzing outlook on life, especially if you’re unable to find answers that satisfy your questions of meaning and identity. 

An existential crisis may also occur after a long period of negative emotions, feelings of isolation, and other chronic stressors.

questioning life existential crisis

Existential Crisis Symptoms

It can be difficult to tell whether you’re experiencing an existential crisis. The most common signs of existential crises include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed about and preoccupied with death: Existential crises often include an increased awareness of mortality, the difficulty of life, and the reality of death. For many people, contemplating death can feel overwhelming and confusing. You might have thoughts along the lines of: “What’s the point of life? “
  • Remorse toward things you can’t change: You might find yourself thinking about the path you’ve chosen in life so far, and you might feel sad or remorseful that things did not go differently. For example, you might wish you had chosen a different career path. Feeling remorseful about your past decisions may also correspond with depression.
  • Worrying more than you usually do: You might feel preoccupied with worry about the meaning of life, the choices you’ve made, or existential threats, like climate change or natural disasters. Preoccupation like this may also correspond with anxiety.

Causes of Existential Crises

An existential crisis can occur due to a significant change or shift in your personal life, such as:

  • Starting a new life stage: People who have recently finished college, entered their quarter or middle life, or retired may find themselves questioning who they are and what they’re doing with their lives. For example, if you recently entered your middle life, you may be questioning the choices you made over the past decade. Young people are also vulnerable to existentialism, as they may face uncertainty toward their future, especially during adolescent years.
  • Questioning your career path: If you’re leaving an old job, starting a new one, or questioning your career altogether, struggling to find meaning can lead to an existential crisis.
  • Moving: Especially for individuals who have recently immigrated to a new country, moving and adapting to a new way of life can lead to uncertainties about meaning and identity.

Existential Crisis and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Millions of people in the US are struggling with loneliness, isolation, and the fear of death as they practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you’re struggling with a pre-existing mental illness such as depression or anxiety, the current situation can be particularly challenging. It’s important to remember that increased online access to professional help is available and that it’s essential to take care of your mental and physical health during this time.

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What should you do if you’re experiencing an existential crisis?

Experiencing an existential crisis does not necessarily mean that a person has a mental health problem. In some cases, an existential crisis can be a positive experience. Questioning your life and purpose is healthy, and it can provide direction and lead to fulfillment in one’s self. The following options can help you positively overcome an existential crisis:

  • Therapy: Finding a therapist specializing in existential depression can help you manage your anxiety, find meaning in life, and overcome life’s grand challenges. Common approaches to existential crises include psychodynamic psychotherapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), existential psychotherapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy. 
  • Journaling: Maintaining a written record of your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings around your existential despair can help you clarify your questions and help you find meaning during a crisis of meaning. Additionally, noting small and meaningful events in a gratitude journal can help remind you of the things you enjoy about life, along with positive experiences and interactions that collectively add meaning to life.
  • Social support: Reaching out to a friend or family member may help you see your existential crisis in different ways. For example, talking to your friends about your career path can help you overcome fears or shame and learn about new options and possibilities to explore.
  • Meditation or mindfulness practices: Studies have shown that mindfulness practices can help reduce the symptoms of stress that may correspond to an existential crisis. 

What should you look for in a therapist?

Questioning yourself and the world can be healthy. However, if your existential crisis leads you toward depression and anxiety, consider reaching out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. WithTherapy’s unique service will provide you with mental health professional matches that you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the qualified licensed mental health professionals on WithTherapy will help you navigate your questions and find meaning through therapy.

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