The Crisis of Existence: How to Overcome an Existential Crisis

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The Crisis of Existence: How to Overcome an Existential Crisis

“Who am I?” “What is the meaning of my life?” “Why are we born?” “Have I made the right choices?” “Do my choices even mean anything?”

The common theme among all of these questions is that they are existential in nature, which means they are philosophical questions concerning the nature of our existence. You must have sought answers to these questions at some point of time in your life. The nature of these questions is such that they can bring a sense of dread. They can leave you feeling lost and you may struggle to find meaning in anything. This sense of uncertainty can be overwhelming, and may lead to an existential crisis.

If you keep up with the news, sometimes reading about events such as wars can push you to think on such lines - everything seems so pointless. Alternatively, the COVID-19 pandemic was an event that pushed many to think in that direction. Such thoughts may also arise when you are experiencing big changes in your life, wondering if you’re making the right choices, and if these choices even matter in the grand scheme of things!

It’s natural to wonder along these lines and to try and seek answers to these questions. Existential psychologists even think of this as an important life milestone. However, such questions can push you into a state of worry and despair. Then, how can you deal with an existential crisis? Let’s explore this topic in depth through this article.

What is an Existential Crisis?   

An existential crisis is a situation which is concerned with conflicted feelings regarding the meaning of life. It triggers a recurring pattern of thoughts regarding one’s identity and purpose in life. Existentialists, i.e. those who hold the philosophy that finding meaning in life is paramount, view this existential anxiety as an inevitable part of life that everyone will experience, and something that is positive and that can teach us important lessons about life. It is completely normal to wonder about these ‘big’ questions because they help us find our place in this world.

Anyone can be hit with existential dread - it is a normal phenomenon for every age group.

  • During the teenage years, there are questions about one’s identity that pop up. This is known as the sophomore crisis.
  • Next comes the quarter life crisis, when you are a young adult. The questions grappled with during this stage are usually more intense than those grappled with in the earlier years.
  • Then comes the most commonly talked about, which is the mid-life existential crisis. This marks the completion of half of a person's life, and on its account, brings in questions about what next.
  • In the older years, existential crises are retrospective in nature, which means they look back at the life the person has lived, and have to do with topics such as legacy, contribution made to society, and if life was lived meaningfully or not.

Existential psychologist Irvin Yalom classified the thoughts encountered during an existential crisis can be classified into four major buckets - death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. At their core, all of these thoughts try to think in depth about the fabric upon which our existence is based. For example, how much freedom is too much freedom? Who defines how much freedom is enough? Who makes the rules, and why should others follow? Breaking free from these concerns and finding answers for yourself is considered the key to living a fulfilling life.

There are many things that can cause a person to think of such existential questions. Some examples include:

  • Big changes in normal life
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
  • Losing a job or facing adverse economic changes
  • Death of a loved one
  • The realization that time is moving ahead
  • Traumatic events and experiences surrounding death

Existential anxieties are a very common occurrence. Reasons can range from something of a daily nature that elicits such thoughts, or life changing events that cause you to pause and take a deeper look at everything. They do not only arise out of extremely negative events - they can also arise out of happy moments. This can include something like getting married or the birth of a child. Times of doubt and uncertainty can also trigger such questions to strike the mind. It may not even be necessary for there to be a clear trigger every time. It is very natural to wonder about these things.

What Does an Existential Crisis Look Like?   

An existential crisis has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Apathy and boredom
  • Constant worry about the future
  • Thoughts of death
  • Loss of a self of self
  • Feeling lonely
  • Experiencing a loss of meaning in life
  • Inability to get sound sleep

The symptoms of an existential crisis might look quite similar to those of disorders such as anxiety and depression. While existential anxiety and existential depression are distinct problems of their own, an existential crisis is not something which can be given a medical diagnosis.


How to Let Go of Existential Anxieties   

It can be challenging to get through an existential crisis. However, successfully navigating an existential crisis can provide an avenue to generate meaning in life, giving you the ability to look at things in a newer light and develop a new perspective.

Here are some ways in which you can cope with an existential crisis:

Find Meaning in Your Life   

As has been postulated by many existentialists, the main reason for an existential crisis is the fact that we lack meaning in our life. There are various frameworks in our life upon which life is based, and that provide meaning to it. When these core frameworks get shaken up, we start to lose meaning in life. An example would be our connections; when we feel that we do not belong, it shakes up a core framework of our life and we start feeling that life is meaningless. Thus, developing meaning in life can help let go of existential anxieties.

Existentialists truly believe that every individual has the capability to generate meaning in their life. To do this, reflect on what truly matters to you. For this, take your values, passions, and the legacy you want to leave behind into consideration. This will help you identify what things you need to do to add meaning to your life. Once this is done, engage in activities that provide you a sense of purpose, such as pursuing a passion, volunteering or helping others, learning new things, building new and meaningful connections with others, and so on.

Question Your Thoughts   

It is natural to question things and feel uncertain about life at times - the first step is to accept this fact. Not every question will have an immediate and clear cut answer. There will be situations where not everything will appear in black and white. It is okay to sit with the unknown and allow the process of exploration to unfold. Embracing uncertainty can reduce the fear and anxiety associated with it.

Once you’ve done this, try to sit with your discomfort and get to the bottom of it. Examine your thoughts and try to see what they mean. An important thing to remember here is that existential anxiety can cause you to narrow down the way you look at life. Keep an open mind and try to look at things from different angles and perspectives.

Talk to People   

Talking to people helps a lot. Saying the thoughts in your head out loud can allow you to make sense of them in a much better way. You can try to reach out to friends, family, or support groups - sharing your thoughts and feelings with others can provide you with comfort as well as a different perspective.

You can also consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. A mental health professional can offer you a safe space and provide their guidance and support, allowing you to effectively navigate through your existential crisis and provide you with ways to cope.

Practice Mindfulness   

Mindfulness and meditation can help ground you in the present moment, reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of inner peace. Mindfulness means sitting with your thoughts and observing them without acting on them. Over time, with enough practice, mindfulness allows you to build a tolerance for distress. The thoughts that would send you into a frenzy earlier would not seem as distressing with continued practice. This practice can also enhance self-awareness and provide clarity in the midst of existential questioning.

Journal the Thoughts

When things feel hopeless `and despair is at an all time high, it may be helpful to reflect on your life. Writing can be a great tool to facilitate the process. Gratitude journaling, which involves writing about the things you are grateful for and saying thank you for the good things in life, can help you gain a renewed perspective on life.

It may be possible that there are things in your life that give it meaning, but you are unable to see them at the moment. Writing out your thoughts can help you get to the bottom of them more efficiently.


An existential crisis, while often painful and disorienting, can be a catalyst for personal growth and self-discovery. It’s okay to embrace uncertainty. Seek meaning and connect with others - this can help you navigate through these challenging periods and emerge with a deeper understanding of yourself and your place in the world. It is okay to question and explore the big questions of life. In doing so, you may find new purpose, direction, and a renewed sense of meaning.

Solh Wellness is here to support you whenever you need a helping hand. At Solh Wellness, we understand that everyone needs support at times. We offer a range of services to support you, including counseling, support groups, and educational resources.

  • Explore a range of informative articles to understand and learn more about existential anxieties and how to overcome them.
  • Connect with a like-minded community that understands you through our support groups, share your experiences, and hear from those who may have dealt with similar problems.
  • Reach out to our range of qualified mental health professionals for guidance and make your way towards self growth.

We are here to help you navigate your existential crisis and support you every step of the way. Remember, you are not alone!