How to Deal with an Existential Crisis

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Have you ever found yourself staring into the vast, star-studded night sky, feeling suddenly small and questioning your place in the cosmos?

Or perhaps you've caught your reflection in a mirror and wondered, "Who am I, really?" If these scenarios sound familiar, you may have experienced what's called an existential crisis. 

This profound psychological journey can be triggered by life's big transitions or losses and is often characterized by intense feelings of unease and questions about one's purpose in life

. But fear not, while the path through an existential crisis can feel labyrinthine, it can also lead to profound self-discovery and personal growth. 


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Olivia Woodring, LPCC, NCC

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Understanding Existential Crisis

An existential crisis is a moment of profound questioning and deep contemplation about the nature of one's existence. It often arises when individuals start to question their purpose in life, the inevitability of death, or the meaning and value of their actions.

This introspective period can be triggered by significant life events, such as the loss of a loved one, a major failure, or even a sudden success.

In essence, it's a crisis of meaning, where previously held beliefs and values no longer provide satisfactory answers to life's biggest questions.

The philosophical and psychological aspects of an existential crisis are deeply intertwined. 

Many philosophers, from Sartre to Nietzsche, have grappled with questions about the purpose and meaning of life, which form the crux of existential crises. 

On the psychological side, existential crises often evoke feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and despair, as individuals struggle to find meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe. 

However, it's important to note that existential crises can also lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a renewed sense of purpose, as they force individuals to confront their deepest fears and reconsider their life's direction. 




Causes of an Existential Crisis

An existential crisis can be triggered by a variety of life events and personal experiences, including:

Life Transitions:  Major changes such as moving to a new city, changing careers, or entering retirement can disrupt our sense of identity and purpose, leading to existential questioning.

Loss or Bereavement:  The death of a loved one can cause individuals to confront their own mortality and question the meaning of life.

Isolation or Loneliness:  Feeling disconnected from others can lead to feelings of insignificance and existential despair.

Personal Trauma:  Experiences of severe trauma can shatter one's worldview and instigate a crisis of meaning.


Impact of an Existential Crisis

An existential crisis can have significant mental health implications. As individuals grapple with questions about their existence and purpose, they may experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression. 

The uncertainty and fear associated with these crises can lead to feelings of hopelessness, numbness, and profound sadness.

Although these emotions are typical during the existential inquiry phase, their persistence or intensification could indicate a more severe mental health condition that necessitates professional intervention.

In addition to its impact on mental health, an existential crisis can also affect personal relationships and performance in work or academic settings. 

As individuals question their life's purpose and meaning, they may withdraw from family and friends, leading to strained relationships.

This introspective period can also cause a lack of motivation and concentration, which can negatively impact job performance or academic pursuits.

It's important to remember that these impacts are temporary and can be managed with the right support and coping strategies. 



Practical Steps to Deal with Existential Crisis

Self-care strategies: 

During an existential crisis, it's crucial to engage in self-care practices that can help manage feelings of anxiety and depression.

This may include maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and making time for hobbies and activities that bring joy and relaxation. 

In addition, keeping a gratitude journal can be a helpful tool in shifting focus from negative thoughts to positive aspects of life.

Finding meaning and purpose in life: 

An existential crisis often stems from a lack of perceived meaning or purpose in life. Therefore, working towards finding personal meaning can be a powerful step in overcoming such a crisis. 

This could involve exploring new interests, setting personal goals, or even seeking professional guidance from a therapist or counselor.

Building supportive relationships: 

Socializing and building supportive relationships can provide a sense of belonging and help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation commonly associated with an existential crisis. 

This might mean spending quality time with friends and family, joining clubs or groups with shared interests, or seeking support from mental health professionals.

Mindfulness and meditation practices: 

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help manage the anxiety and stressful thoughts that come with an existential crisis.

These practices can help individuals stay present and focused, reducing feelings of overwhelm and despair. 



Seeking Professional Help

There may come a point in an existential crisis where professional help becomes necessary. If feelings of despair, anxiety, or depression become overwhelming, persist for an extended period, or start to interfere with daily life and responsibilities, it's time to seek help from a mental health professional. 

Several types of therapy can be beneficial in these situations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns, while existential therapy specifically focuses on helping individuals confront and make sense of the existential questions at the heart of their crisis.

Both therapies offer strategies for finding personal meaning and establishing a sense of purpose in life.


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Conclusion

In conclusion, an existential crisis, while challenging, is a normal part of the human experience that can lead to significant personal growth.

It's important to remember that feelings of anxiety and depression, impacts on personal relationships and work or academic performance, are temporary and manageable with the right strategies. 

Self-care, finding personal meaning, building supportive relationships, and practicing mindfulness can all help navigate this difficult period.

If these feelings become overwhelming, seeking professional help can provide essential support and guidance. For those currently experiencing an existential crisis, know that you are not alone and that help is available. 

Addressing an existential crisis directly and honestly can ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of oneself and a more authentic and fulfilling life. 


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July 14th, 2024

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