What Is an Existential Crisis?

An existential crisis is an umbrella term that encompasses any uneasy feelings concerning the meaning of life. These thoughts typically come down to two foundational questions: Who am I and what is my purpose in life?

Existential crises can appear at many points in a person’s life. Some people may never experience one of these crises, but there’s a good chance that any one of these questions may arise at some point in your life:

  • Who am I?
  • What’s my purpose in life?
  • What am I using my remaining time for?
  • Am I being authentic to who I truly am?
  • Have I made the right choices in life?

When Do Most People Experience an Existential Crisis?

An existential crisis most commonly appears during a person’s teenage years and in their late twenties. However, these thoughts can also come up at other times, especially later in life when a person may begin to question their mortality and past achievements.

Are depression and anxiety the same as an existential crisis? An existential crisis is different than depression and anxiety. It refers to a pattern of thoughts that isn’t recognized as a medical condition. Unlike anxiety and depression, an existential crisis usually occurs as a result of something that triggers you.

Existential Crisis Causes

Existential crises can appear at any point in your life. They are usually accompanied by significant events that make you question specific aspects of your existence. Here are the most common events that trigger existential crises:

  • Severe, possibly life-threatening conditions, such as cancer
  • Losing a job or facing adverse economic changes
  • Death of a loved one, family member, or close friend
  • General signs that you’re aging, such as your child moving away from your home
  • Highly traumatic events, like a near-death experience

While existential crises can affect anyone, some specific conditions can increase your risk for existential questioning. For example, people with depressive, bipolar, and obsessive-compulsive disorders are usually more prone to existential crises.

How to Know if You’re Having an Existential Crisis

Existential crisis symptoms can be separated into two distinct categories. There are the purely psychological symptoms, which manifest in your thoughts. These thought patterns include:

  • Constantly thinking about and being aware that you’ll inevitably die sooner or later
  • Noticing a lack of meaning in everyday life
  • Feeling left alone at all times
  • Sudden loss of identity
  • Feeling unable to change your life

Along with psychological symptoms, you may feel some physical side effects. Keep in mind, though, that these are mostly related to anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions that sometimes accompany an existential crisis:

  • Lack of energy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Inability to feel pleasure from everyday activities

How to Deal With an Existential Crisis

Here are some common existential crisis treatment options:

Talk to people. Existential crises will often lead you to isolate yourself from people. Try talking with a loved one or a person in your life that you feel comfortable confiding in.

Change your perspective. While this is easier said than done, try to adjust your viewpoint regarding your current and past experiences in life to something more positive.  A trained professional can help you change the way you perceive your life.

Meditate. Practicing meditation and mindfulness will help you stay grounded in reality and conscious of any negative thought patterns. A regular mindfulness practice will encourage you to focus on the enjoyment that everyday activities bring to your life.

Keep a journal. Experts often recommend keeping a diary when you’re going through periods of existential questioning. A journal is a fantastic way to keep track of your thoughts while also freeing up your mind.

Excerpted from “What Is an Existential Crisis?” from WebMD. Read the full article online for additional details.

Source: WebMD | What Is an Existential Crisis?, https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-existential-crisis | © 2005 – 2024 WebMD LLC

You might also be interested in these library resources:

Tags: , , , ,