Existential Crisis: How To Find Your Way Back

Updated May 12, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Nicole Gaines, LPC

Humans have always had a deep fascination with the subject of purpose. From religion to philosophy, questions relating to life's purpose have been a source of much debate. This has led to diverse theories and beliefs across all aspects of humanity. When we get to a certain point in life, it is normal, even rational, to self-examine our values, our aims, and the moral implications of our actions. Although we are more likely to grapple with existential dilemmas when we are burdened with the absence of clarity and certainty in our personal life, the trigger point may not always be a significant or obvious event.

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The human thirst for affirmation and meaning is almost insatiable. Whether we are driven to seek this knowledge to discover our importance or to understand the complexities of life is an existential problem on its own. However, when a person experiences feelings of angst and existential despair, and anxiety in the persistent search for meaning or becomes disorientated due to our inability to find an adequate reason for life, these negative feelings may manifest a mild or severe existential crisis.

This article will examine existentialist philosophy, the factors that lead to an existential crisis, and how you can deal with them.

History

The existentialism concept originated as a philosophical perspective inspired by European philosophers Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre. It later became a dominant feature in Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Franz Kafka's literary works in the early part of the 20th century. Existentialist philosophy is often attributed to being coined by the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel in the mid-1940s. Existentialist philosophy primarily revolves around a crisis of existence, with the dominant themes of death, meaninglessness, authenticity, and freedom.

In a nutshell, existentialism can be defined as a “philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice.” Existentialism posits that the human condition's nature is a key philosophical problem, arguing that life has no inherent meaning. That purpose can only be found through self-determined values or aspirations.

What Is An Existential Crisis?

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An existential crisis is an uneasy period in a life dominated by the belief that human existence is inherently nonsensical and pointless. It is a complex state characterized by doubts surrounding the subject of what it means to be a human and general dissatisfaction with certain or almost every aspect of their personal life. An existential crisis can last for an indefinite period and can be experienced by many individuals.

During this dark period, the person experiencing the crisis becomes cynical and disillusioned with the notion of existence while obsessed with death's inevitability. These feelings become an overwhelming part of their daily life and often take a toll on their mental and emotional well-being. An existential crisis may result in depression, and the term existential anxiety relates to the crisis as a form of anxiety disorder.

What Causes An Existential Crisis?

Existential dilemmas occur disproportionately over some time. A myriad of factors contribute to an existential crisis, but more often than not, it comes in the aftermath of a life-altering or life-threatening event. This event could be a personal turning point, like reaching a lifelong milestone or the death of a loved one, and other times an existential crisis occurs as an offshoot of a much wider social situation, like in the case of a natural disaster, an economic recession, or a seemingly senseless trend. The end of a relationship can also result in an existential crisis, just as well as the start of a marriage.

Other times, a crisis of existence could result from a discovery, either in the form of an epiphany or the unraveling of a secret. It is not uncommon for an existential to occur when a person is going through an identity crisis, also known as the individual's crisis, which makes them question their personality merits. A widespread existential dread could emanate from a social or political change that affects many people's lives.

Some of the leading cause of existential crisis include, but not limited to, the following situations:

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  • Being diagnosed with a terminal illness or condition
  • Entering a new age, e.g., a midlife crisis
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • A traumatic event like rape, robbery, or accident
  • Social upheaval such as armed conflict
  • A career switch or the loss of a job
  • A change of environment
  • Inability to overcome an addiction

How Does An Existential Crisis Affect Your Health

There is a widespread existential crisis across many countries at the moment, or as the psychology scientist and researcher Clay Routledge puts it, a “crisis of meaningless.” With depression being one of the major symptoms of an existential crisis, it appears that mental and emotional clarity flies out the window the moment an existential crisis steps in through the door.

It is common for people experiencing an existential crisis to experience some form of sleep disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, along with feelings of resentment, loneliness, helplessness, weariness, and unworthiness. The negative emotions arisen from existential despair make it a genuine mental health concern.

How To Find Your Way Back

Some of the most effective treatments for an existential crisis can involve therapy on its own. However, ultimately, due to how personal an existential crisis can be, consult a professional to know what solutions would be appropriate for you. Some of the tips below focus on how you can cope with an existential crisis.

Keep your friends and/or your family close —When going through an existential crisis, there is always the tendency to isolate yourself from people, some of whom may be friends and family. But while a period of solitude may help you clear your mind without the distractive influence of human interaction, spending quality time with your loved ones could also help you gain a less cynical perspective of your purpose in life.

Humans are social creatures, and life can take on added meaning when shared in the company of those we care about. Human relationships can make you feel needed, which is vital when seeking a sense of belonging. Spend time with people also gives you the chance to acknowledge the essence of life, based on the diverse experiences of those who know you best.

Understand that purpose is a choice — Live the kind of life that fills you with a sense of value and fulfillment. Be realistic in your expectations and maintain an honest appraisal of the world. Some of the turmoil that comes from an existential crisis often stem from the inability to reconcile the way the world is with how we want it to be or how we believe it should be.

The world is a cruel place sometimes, and no matter how hard we try to make sense of it, the vastness of his complexity can leave us feeling out of depth or insignificant. Rather than allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by mysteries and situations beyond your control, you can choose to keep an open mind in your search for meaning.

Manage your attitude — In the cause of an existential crisis, you may be confronted with questions that the core of your being. Instead of chosen to relate with these questions from a solely pessimistic standpoint, consider the alternate aspect of how the insight gained can improve your decision-making.

For example, if you have been dealing with the existential anxiety of living in a violent neighborhood, try not to focus only on how this confirms the human propensity for primitive behavior, but if it is possible to relocate to a more secured part of town where you will be less worried about your safety.

When you treat your existential dilemmas as motivation for needed change in your life, you begin to see possibilities of how you can make things better rather than dwelling on the damning futility of your actions.

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Share your concern — Finding someone with whom you can discuss some of the intellectual arguments of your existential concerns may help you feel less lonely and provide you with a sense of clarity. This person may be a mentor, a cleric, or a colleague at work, but engaging them should broaden your perspective on the existential issues you cannot seem to understand.

Sharing your existential dilemmas with a trained professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, could help you resolve some of the questions that have you feeling conflicted. However, due to the peculiar nature of existential crisis being a psychological issue as much as it is a philosophical phenomenon, a therapist whose theory is rooted in existential theory is likely to understand your situation a lot better than a conventional therapist.

Existential therapists aim to help people experiencing existential depression embrace the power of choice, discover the importance of authenticity, and have a renewed sense of purpose through techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and talk therapy.

BetterHelp has a large pool of licensed and experienced therapists to help you with your existential anxieties and depression. If you need someone that can help you navigate through your existential concerns, then you can start your journey here.


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