Existential Crisis: What It Is, and How To Come Out on Top

CoachHub · 20 October 2022 · 11 min read

At some point in a person’s life, they experience an existential crisis. While some may not be aware that this is what it is, others may find themselves using the phrase without knowing what it truly means.

What is an existential crisis?

The dictionary of the American Psychology Association, defines existential crisis as the turning point in a person’s life where they seek to understand the meaning of life and own their choices and decisions. It involves a phase in a person’s life that makes the individual question the essence of human existence.

When an individual experiences an existential crisis, they’re bothered about the meaning of life, and the significance of the choice they make alongside. It occurs from a consciousness of the reality of death, and the fact that what they do or don’t do may not count in the long-run.

existential crisis

How common is an Existential Crisis?

It is a common experience that comes from the awareness that we’re free to make choices, but we will still be responsible for the consequences that come from those choices. As humans, everyone has to deal with this reality at some point in their lives. 69.7% of respondents in a survey indicated that they’ve experienced an existential crisis (Scienceofpeople).

A person may begin to question the meaning of their existence when faced with difficult life situations or are transitioning to a new phase of life. It could be due to experiencing a tough time adapting to certain life changes, facing uncertainty about safety, and losing a sense of security. A person who loses a loved one is likely to face existential anxiety, especially if the deceased was a significant part of their lifestyle, or if they’re dependent on the deceased.

While some may consider existential crisis a bad thing because of the ill feelings that come with it, people who hold on to the philosophy that there’s a meaning and purpose to life – existentialists, may consider it a means to an end. They may see it as the awareness required to discover all that there is to life, an awakening of reality, and the beginning of the journey to understanding the essence of life.

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What causes an Existential Crisis?

Many factors are responsible for an existential crisis, as different people go through various circumstances that lead them right to that point. Some possible causes include the following;

Entering into milestone ages:

People become aware of the need to find meaning in life when they’re entering milestone ages that remind them that death is inevitable.

Grief and the death of a loved one:

For some, the death of a loved one can cause them to despair and slip into an existential crisis. The shock that comes from sudden death, and the reality that the person will never again walk in through their doors, can make one experience this.

A traumatizing life experience:

Surviving a ghastly accident or being caught up in a war zone may put an individual into a reflective phase of existential crisis. These experiences will differ from person to person, but will often lead to the same problem.

Unexpectant switch of events:

In a work setting, switching job roles for a new one or an outright loss of a job can make an individual experience an existential crisis.

Medical diagnosis:

A person diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or terminal illness may slip into an existential crisis. The shock that such illness may ultimately end their life can be painful to take in.

Relationship dynamics:

An individual who is newly married or currently undergoing a divorce may face an existential crisis that makes them wonder about the meaning of life, as they enter into an unfamiliar phase.

Mental disorders:

Certain mental disorders may leave people dealing with an existential crisis. In this case, the condition is what propelled the crisis and not vice versa. Some of these include; anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression, etc.

How to Identify Existential Crisis?

An individual going through an existential crisis will be plagued with certain experiences that can serve as a pointer to this phenomenon. Knowing the symptoms will help you to easily identify them when you or a loved one is experiencing this condition. Some existential crisis symptoms include:

Anxiety:

This is a common symptom when experiencing an existential crisis. It involves a feeling of worry about the state of life, what choices to make, and the fear of the unknown.

Feelings of being overwhelmed:

People undergoing this may also feel overwhelmed by everything. The need to make choices can be overwhelming especially when they’re unsure about the outcome of certain choices.

It may further lead to depression:

When an existential crisis is not duly managed, the individual is likely to slip into depression, as they feel they no longer have reasons to be excited about life and all that’s going on around them.

Obsessive worry:

The individual may seem to worry obsessively out of fear that something may go wrong. It could also be due to a grief that the person is yet to heal from.

Seclusion and isolation:

When going through an existential crisis, there’s a tendency that an individual might want to stay alone and away from friends and other social activities.

Lack of motivation and decline in physical energy:

The individual may also feel less energized and motivated to get done with pending projects and hardly have any interest in starting new ones.

Feelings of loneliness and helplessness:

An individual may feel lonely and sometimes helpless even if they are constantly surrounded by people.

Various Types of Existential Crisis

The term existential crisis collectively describes various conditions that people may face in seeking meaning to life.

So, what are the types of existential crises?

Meaning of life

You might be at a point where you’re wondering, “why are we all here if we’ll all still die?” Here, you may begin to consider the futility of sleeping, eating, running around, and the rinse-and-repeat order. A person who’s having to go through a life transition and having difficulty adapting at a particular phase of life is likely to have this question. Truth is, if life is supposed to end, then the real way to live might be to live just because you’re here.

The reality of fear and responsibility

People deal with an existential crisis in different ways. This category of people, experience fear once they realize that they are free to make their choice, but that they would be responsible for the consequences of those choices, whether good or bad.  There’s also an underlying fear that there’s no absolute way to determine what choices are right or wrong. Since it’s difficult to determine, some may begin to live life as paranoid and become fearful of shortcomings that may arise from the decisions they’ve made.

The problem of authenticity:

An individual may deal with questions regarding their identity and why they choose their current path. It may bring feelings of anxiety as they question if all they spend their time doing is valid and if there’s more to their existence than they know now. It could also be from a realization that they’ve lived a different script from their true identity up till that point. All of these questions will usually bring feelings of insecurity that culminates in an existential crisis.

Grief and illness:

Experiencing the death of a friend or loved one can force an individual into a phase of existential crisis. If they’ve never given thought to how transient life can be, they come face-to-face while dealing with the grief of their loss. When an individual or someone close to them who used to be full of life is dealing with a terminal illness, the individual may become conscious about what we call life and the meaning there is to it.

Questioning the value system:

An individual may face a value system crisis, that gets them questioning the reasons why they choose to live the way they do. With this reality, they may consider a rethink in the value system, a new and ethical way of life, while fixing their mind on the fact that the new ethos will be the direction they will now live by.

How to manage an Existential Crisis?

In dealing with an existential crisis, an individual is already aware that chance and death are major delimiters that maneuver the turns of events and put the ultimate stop to a person’s existence respectively. It makes it evident that avoiding might necessarily not be the way to deal with things, and of course, that existential crisis is not a biological phenomenon.

We must figure out the right way to manage an existential crisis without forgetting the lessons that may come along with it. In addition, one must not get so absorbed in seeking the meaning of life that we forget to live while finding it.

If you’re this or know someone who is, here’s how to deal with an existential crisis positively:

1. Take note of the questions:

Don’t just allow the questions to live in your mind, making you toss and turn, leaving you anxious, and robbing you of restful sleep. The best way is to note it in a journal or notebook, this allows you to seek answers to the questions one step at a time. This way, you’re in charge of what’s going on, and the crisis is not essentially the one driving you to do what you do.

2. Don’t leave out people who care about you

One of the easiest ways to slip into depression induced by existential crisis is to yield to the tendency to shut out everyone. As a matter of fact, that’s when you need to be around them more and find the time to talk about what’s going on in your mind to them. Maybe in those little conversations, you may find that being surrounded by people you care about is enough reason to live another day. They may also share their perspectives about how they draw meaning from life and help you find answers to the questions you seek.

3. Replace worry with meditation:

As noted earlier, you may find it easier to stay worried and anxious, but don’t do it, as it’s likely to take a toll on your mental health. If you spend the best part of your days getting worried in the guise of finding the meaning of life, if you eventually find it, you may discover that the unhealthy habit you’ve built has taken a toll on you mentally. Instead, replace worry and anxiety with meditation. You’re likely to find answers to the deeper questions of life this way, and you would have developed a healthy habit that would still come in handy later, as you live through your new-found meaning to life.
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4. Take note of the things you’re grateful for;

When going through an existential crisis it’s easy to feel like life has lost its color. You might want to momentarily take your mind off the thoughts and stay in the present to realize that there are still things that make life colorful after all. For instance, if you have a favorite cup you love to sip coffee or tea from, you might want to start your gratitude from there. If there’s a spot where you prefer to go when you want to be alone, you might want to be grateful for that space.

Note that, the crisis is not as a result of ingratitude to these things, but attention to these things can help to find those pieces that come together to give your existence meaning. It’s possible that you might not have been paying attention to them for a long time. You may decide to keep a journal where you write down these things. Somewhere in the pages of that journal, the answers to the questions you seek – the purpose of life and your existence, may become clear to you.

5. Get an expert coach:

In seeking meaning in life, you could enlist a coach’s help to guide you through your purpose discovery. Additionally, you could recommend people around you who may be experiencing this to get coaching as well. An employer can play a significant role by enlisting and providing coaching sessions that help their employees identify if they are going through an existential crisis. This doesn’t replace the need for therapy or medical intervention where necessary, but a trained coach can easily identify patterns that lead to an existential crisis in an individual before they even realize it.

6. Seek therapy and medical Intervention:

It may be necessary to seek medical intervention and therapy when faced with an existential crisis. For instance, the thoughts associated with grief can become obsessive and the symptoms might require medication to manage. Talking to a therapist can help to heal from the underlying cause of your crisis and you can get professional help to deal with the thoughts ravaging your mind. When seeing a therapist, you can rest assured that you have a tag team to deal with the crisis. This is also valid for those who may be far from their loved ones or have no one looking out for them. Therapy sessions will help you to find ways to heal from the hurt of loneliness and you’ll find the strength to seek new relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

Final words…

Anyone could experience an existential crisis; could be a manager, an employee, or a student in college. The important thing is to seek appropriate guidance in dealing with it, instead of slipping into a phase of unhealthy seclusion. Having a coach can help you or anyone around you to easily identify existential crisis symptoms and receive appropriate guidance on how to manage them.

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Samuel Olawole
Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specializes in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him traveling or listening to good music.

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