What is an existential crisis?

An existential crisis is the experience of oneself ruminating over questions revolving around the meaning of life, which are so complicated that you find yourself getting stuck over them:

  • Why am I here?
  • What’s the meaning of life?
  • Does life after death exist?
  • Does Karma exist?
  • What’s my purpose?
  • Is there a God?
  • Why is there so much pain the world?
  • ..
  • to name just a few!

As the amount of time you spend with the questions increases, so does the feelings of dread, sadness, or pointlessness, that come when you find yourself lost and alone in the process of thinking with no clear answers.

Having an existential crisis is common

Having an existential crisis is more common than one might think and is experienced by the majority of the population at one point or another. This might vary according to personality type, life circumstances, sense of social belonging and connectedness as well as cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs. This is especially the case during periods of great political and social turmoil, as we’ve been experiencing.

Whilst it is natural to think in an existential way, it is important to use the skill of grounding as this will allow for a feeling of connectedness and safety whilst our thoughts travel in potentially uncharted and unanswered directions.

Utilising looks of compassion towards oneself and the people around you will enable the mind to explore interesting topics, whilst protecting it from the negative pull which these questions can lead to.

Setting an allowed amount of time for rumination may be useful as it will also allow an intention for the thought provoking exercise as well. An intention can be to observe the thoughts and where they go, rather than get pulled in a negative emotion if some of them are distressing.

It would be useful to also be clear about whether this is a useful place for your mind to be, or whether it is going to destabilise you more. If the latter, it is strongly advised that an activity is used to distract the mind from such rumination.

However if, there is truly some interest in exploring these questions further, then it is possible to not feel so alone with this exploration. Finding sources which you can relate to or which bring some sense of comfort or direction with these bigger questions may be helpful. A number of clients seen by Surrey Psychology have referred to Russell Brand for example as a relatable character to learn more about existential thoughts. Other prefer spiritual leaders such as Thich That Hanh for example.

Finding your own source of inspiration is important to feel a sense of connection and not disconnection when these thoughts are present.

However, if you are feeling lost and disconnected, please be aware of symptoms of an existential crisis which include anxiety, low moods, worry and low energy levels. These symptoms can also coincide with feeling lost and out of control, substance abuse, and decreased social activity. Unchecked, an existential crisis can go on for some time and can result in a rapid decrease in one’s standard of living.

Overcoming an Existential Crisis

Whilst wrapped up in the thoughts and feelings associated with an existential crisis it is easy to feel as though there is no way out. But there is help available, as well as practical steps you can take at home. These include relying on the support of loved ones, focussing on what you can control,  and finding joy in the small things. If you can, practicing meditation and mindfulness is a wonderful way to clear and focus the mind.

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