Depression

How to Get Through Your Existential Crisis

October 28, 2020

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An existential crisis can arise from unresolved personal conflict and make you question your place in the world. The human condition can be a stressful experience. Everyday, we deal with a whirlwind of feelings ranging from fear and anxiety to guilt and shame. Coupled with the countless aspects of life that lie beyond the range of our control and understanding, human beings can crack under the pressure and find themselves in a dark place.

Existential crises are generally the result of a tornado of depression, anxiety, and stress. Though those emotions are normal to experience for short periods, they can become prolonged and create a toxic combination. If you have feelings of deep despair and the meaning of life becoming less comprehensible over time, there may be an existential crisis on the horizon for you. Realizing you’re experiencing a crisis of this nature is one of many things you should learn, and this also includes:

  • What an existential crisis is
  • The symptoms of an existential crisis
  • How to treat an existential crisis
A person's hand holds a small butterfly, which sits on top of a finger.
An existential crisis can leave you questioning the meaning of life. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

What is an Existential Crisis?

Questioning the purpose of life and other aspects of the human experience isn’t unhealthy or uncommon. But once an inability to answer those questions causes prolonged distress and despair, the result may be an existential crisis. This type of crisis can have a variety of causes, including a traumatic event, history of unresolved emotions, or lack of fulfillment with life.

Existential crises exist in several subtypes, each of which revolves around anxiety building due to questions about:

  • Freedom and responsibility 

This question revolves around the tension between having freedom and choice while suffering with the consequences of those choices

  • Death and mortality

This question pertains to matters of how the experience of death compares to the human condition of life

  • Isolation and connectedness

This question relates to life’s purpose and meaning being based on one’s social connectedness to others

  • Purpose and lack of purpose

This question addresses what the purpose of life is or if there is meaning at all

  • Confronting emotions and avoiding emotions

This question is about the efficacy of either processing feelings or avoiding them 

Not having the answers to these questions can lead to psychological distress that takes a toll on your well-being. Once your mental health begins to be put at risk by these unresolved questions, the stressful symptoms of an existential crisis may start to emerge more severely. 

A person stands alone in a hoodie staring out at a lake surrounded by pine trees.
An existential crisis can leave you feeling alone in more ways than one. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

The Symptoms

Anxiety

Existential anxiety can feel all-consuming and tough to overcome. It’s caused by a hyper-awareness of the boundaries that define life and go beyond the realm of our control. Factors like death and the probability of chance are natural and unavoidable factors of life--but sometimes the inability to understand and influence these factors can cause an intense anxiety toward life. Unhealthy coping mechanisms that result from the anxiety usually go in one of two directions: avoid living the risks of life as much as possible or completely distract yourself from the reality of life.  

Depression

Existential depression can feel like life’s most daunting unanswered questions are weighing you and your life down. A sense of hopelessness and lack of belief in life having purpose can lead your mood into a downward spiral. Without feeling like life has a point, you may begin to wonder what’s the point of eating? Why work all your life if life itself is pointless? Your daily experiences and tasks may remind you of life’s impossible-to-answer questions, leading to a disinterest and neglect exemplary of depression. 

Isolation from friends and loved ones

The symptom of existential isolation can be both physical and psychological. While experiencing existential isolation, you may find yourself feeling less interested in being around friends, family, and other people in general. You may also feel that these relationships don’t bring you as much joy and relief as they did before the existential crisis set in. What truly sets existential isolation apart from general feelings of isolation is the assumption that you can never overcome your isolation in life--that you’ll never find true satisfaction and unity within relationships with others. 

Feeling overwhelmed

Not being able to answer some of the heaviest questions that make life sensible and understandable can leave you on a hypothetical hamster wheel struggling to ever find resolutions. A seemingly endless journey in finding these answers can feel draining and overwhelming. The weight of these questions only mounts atop the stress that results from not being able to find answers. In the depths of serious existential crisis symptoms, these life questions can cause anguish more intense and daunting than what can be handled. 

Person in a button down shirt writes in a bright orange journal.
Journaling is an effective method for treating your existential crisis. Image courtesy of Pexels.com

How to Get Relief from Your Existential Crisis

Positive Thinking

Believing that life is meaningless and without purpose can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that life will lead to nothingness, your subsequent choices and actions will confirm that becoming true for you. Combat those negative, consuming thoughts that fill your head with doubts about what you’re doing with your life. 

By reminding yourself of life’s positivity and all the wondrous things it has to offer, you may feel the weight of life’s questions lightening up for you. Positive affirmations and chants can help lift the negative cloud that’s anchoring the existential crisis you’re dealing with. 

Accept Life’s Mystery

With the heart of any existential crisis being the distress of not comprehending the most complex questions about life, it’s necessary to rewire how you react to those questions. Rather than torturing yourself by searching for answers that aren’t available, find intrigue in life’s mystery.

Seeking answers to questions about life’s meaning, mortality, and other existential topics can be an enjoyable process if you accept life’s open-endedness. Remove the pressure on yourself to tie up life’s loose ends. 

Find Life’s Meaning through Activities

Positive thoughts aren’t the only way you can remind yourself of life’s purpose and meaningfulness. By indulging in interests, hobbies, and activities that bring you bliss, you may jog your own memory of all the things life offers to us. It’s easy to believe that life is an empty vessel that offers no sense of purpose for people when you’re deprived of meaningful activities. 

Typically, a sense of purpose has to be sought after and attained. Life typically doesn’t hand meaningfulness to people. Search for jobs that bring you gratification and a sense of doing important work. Look for local events and activities that will make your free time more purposeful, whether with a book club or painting class. 

Journal

Journaling and writing out your thoughts is another ideal way to channel those negative thoughts from your mind. The accumulation of negative thoughts and outlooks is commonly what causes an existential crisis to begin. Having an outlet for those negative thoughts as well as a place to drive them out with positive outlooks can make a considerable difference in recovering from an existential crisis.

A private journal is ideal for having your negative thoughts juxtaposed to your positive ones. With those thoughts written together in a journal, you can process and have a more coherent understanding of yourself. 

Professional treatment

If your existential crisis symptoms feel like they’re too much to handle on your own, there are options to receive help from mental health professionals. 

Existential Therapy

Existential therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that can help address the existential crisis symptoms concerning the role of the self in life, free will, and meaning of life. The existential therapeutic approach focuses on one’s self-awareness and identity along with emphasizing that anxiety is an unavoidable experience of the human condition.  Existential therapists will often focus on reminding you of responsibility and combating negative internal thoughts. By promoting an overall improved understanding of how your decisions are at the will of life and being content with that, existential therapy can be a fantastic tool to help end any existential crisis. 

TMS for Depression and Anxiety

Transcranial magnetic stimulation can treat the depressive and anxious symptoms of an existential crisis. TMS works by using electromagnetic pulses to influence communication between neurotransmitters in the brain. By influencing those neurotransmitters, aspects of your mental state like mood and outlook can be improved with TMS. 

TMS can help address differences in brain chemistry within various areas of the brain, therefore improving symptoms of anxiety and depression that are symptomatic of an existential crisis. 

Existential crises can be difficult to pinpoint since they are defined by symptoms that the average person can experience acutely everyday. Once the weight of those symptoms starts to feel too heavy for you to carry though, always know that there’s a treatment option to help you find your way out of a crisis. 

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