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By THE BALANCE
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Anxiety, depression, and stress affect almost everyone at some point in their life. For many people, these feelings are transient and have no impact on their quality of life. Others, on the other hand, may experience intense sadness as a result of unpleasant feelings, leading them to question their position in life. An existential crisis is a term used to describe this situation. In this article, we will look at what an existential crisis is and what symptoms can help one identify an existential crisis. Further, we will see the different types of existential crises. Some examples are also given, after which we will discuss possible treatment options for existential and how to effectively deal with it.

Psychologists and psychiatrists such as Kazimierz Dabrowski and Irvin D. Yalom have been researching the concept of an existential crisis since 1929. An existential crisis is characterized by emotions of dissatisfaction with life’s meaning, choices, and freedom. The basic worries are the same, whether referred to as an existential crisis or existential anxiety: that life is intrinsically worthless, that our existence has no meaning since there are restrictions or boundaries on it, and that we must all die at some point.

Existential anxiety frequently arises during transitions and represents a problem adapting, which is frequently linked to the loss of safety and security. An existential crisis is viewed as a journey, an awareness, a required experience, and a complex phenomenon by existentialists. It stems from a realization of your own liberties and how your life will end one day.

It’s not unusual to seek meaning and purpose in one’s life. The trouble with an existential crisis, on the other hand, is that you can’t find sufficient answers. Anyone, at any age, can have an existential crisis, although many people have them in the face of a tough situation, such as the struggle to succeed.

Existential issues are frequent, and questioning your life choices and ambitions while you’re at a crossroads can be beneficial. Long-term existential crises, on the other hand, might lead to a pessimistic or debilitating attitude on life, especially if you can’t discover answers to your existential issues.

Everyday tensions and hardships may not result in an existential crisis. This sort of crisis is more likely to occur after a period of severe depression or a major incident, such as major trauma or a significant loss.

You may feel depressed during an existential crisis. Loss of interest in favored hobbies, exhaustion, headaches, despondency, and chronic melancholy are some of the symptoms that can occur. You can have suicidal thoughts or feel that your life has no purpose if you experience existential depression, according to Leikam.

Hopelessness is closely associated with emotions of meaninglessness in this type of depression. “Is it only to work, pay bills, and die?” you might wonder. It’s difficult to know if you’re going through an existential crisis. The following are some of the most prevalent symptoms of existential crisis:

Death has you feeling burdened and preoccupied: Increased awareness of mortality, the hardship of life, and the reality of death are common features of existential crises. Contemplating death can be frightening and perplexing for many individuals. “What is the goal of life?” you might be thinking. Remorse for things you can’t change: You may find yourself reflecting on your life path thus far and feeling unhappy or apologetic that things did not turn out differently.

Worrying more than usual: You may be obsessed with concerns about the purpose of life, your decisions, or existential risks such as climate change or natural disasters. Anxiety may be linked to this type of preoccupation.

A person could have a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety or Depression
  • Feeling a little overwhelmed?
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Insufficient motivation and energy
  • Loneliness
  • Obsessive anxiety

An existential crisis frequently arises in the aftermath of big life events, such as:

  • Changing careers or jobs
  • Bereavement of a loved one
  • A dangerous or life-threatening sickness is diagnosed.
  • When you reach a big age bracket, such as 40, 50, or 65,
  • Being in the midst of a tragic or horrific event
  • Having a family
  • Divorce or marriage

Among the several types of existential crises are:

Crisis of freedom and responsibility

You have the power to make decisions that can affect your life for the better or for, the worse. Most people would rather have this independence than have someone else determine their decisions for them. However, with freedom comes responsibility. You must accept the ramifications of your decisions. You can’t blame anyone else if you utilize your freedom to make a bad decision. Among some, this freedom is too much to bear, and it leads to existential anxiety, which is a generalized fear of life’s purpose and choices.

Death and mortality crisis

After reaching a certain age, an existential crisis can strike. For example, your 50th birthday may compel you to confront the truth that half of your life has passed you by, causing you to reassess your life’s basis. You might ponder the meaning of life and death, or you might wonder, “What occurs after death?” Anxiety might be triggered by the fear of what comes after death. This type of crisis can also happen when you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or when you’re about to die.

Isolation and connectedness crises

Humans are social beings, even if they appreciate periods of solitude and seclusion. Strong bonds can provide you with mental and emotional support, as well as fulfillment and joy. Relationships aren’t always lasting, which is an issue. People can become physically and emotionally estranged, and death frequently separates family members. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, making some people believe their lives are meaningless.

Meaninglessness and a crisis of meaning

Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life can give people hope. However, when you look back on your life, you may feel as though you didn’t do anything or make a difference. People may begin to doubt their own existence as a result of this. Albert Camus, a French philosopher, journalist, and author, claimed that the ability to be passionate about something that could otherwise be considered useless demonstrates a love for life itself. If you can stop focusing on the final result, or “goal,” and instead focus on the act of “being” itself, your life will become about living it fully, choosing integrity, and being passionate. This seems very similar to the medical model of anxiety’s foundation for mindfulness meditation.

Authenticity

An existential crisis may push you toward authenticity, which can be stressful. You might be thinking about how short your life is and how you’re spending it. You may sense worry, but also deeper meaning when you stop taking it for granted that you will wake up each day alive.  Because you are confronted with a far larger problem, all of the ordinary day-to-day difficulties that concerned you so much no longer appear to matter, and all of your thoughts, fears, and anxiety about the mundane melt away. Will any of this matter at the end of your life? Will it make a difference what you do for a living, how much money you have, or what car you drive?

Major Life Event or Life Stage

Many people go through existential crises when they go from infancy to maturity or from adulthood to senior living. Graduations, starting a new job or changing careers, marriage or divorce, having children, and retirement are all examples of major life events that might trigger an existential crisis.

Fear and responsibility

Existentialism emphasizes that we are all free to make decisions in our lives and that with that freedom comes responsibility. However, given your ultimate fate of death, your acts may appear insignificant when seen in the context of your entire existence. Freedom can lead to sorrow in this sense, and the responsibility that comes with it can generate anxiety. How many times have you been torn between two options and worried that you made the wrong choice? This anxiety over making the wrong decision reflects fundamental concerns about freedom.

Existentialists argue that our uneasiness or angst stems from the fact that there is no “correct” path or guidance to tell us what to do. In the end, we must all find meaning in our own lives. If the weight of this obligation becomes too much for us to bear, we may retreat into behaviors that protect us from anxiety.

Emotional, experiential, and embodiment crises

Letting yourself be overwhelmed by unpleasant emotions can lead to an existential crisis. Some people believe that blocking off pain and suffering will make them happy. However, it frequently leads to a false sense of happiness. And life can feel empty if you don’t experience true bliss. Embodying emotions and accepting feelings of anguish, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction, on the other hand, can lead to personal growth and a better attitude on life.

Before we move to the example of Existential crisis, it is pertinent to mention that, in his essay, The Last Messiah, Peter Wessel Zapffe, a Norwegian philosopher and nihilist, established four ways that he believes all self-conscious individuals adopt to cope with their awareness of indifference and absurdity in existence: anchoring, isolation, distraction, and sublimation:

Anchoring:

“Fixation of points within, or creation of walls around, the liquid fray of awareness” is what anchoring is. Individuals are given a value or an ideal via the anchoring mechanism, which allows them to focus their attention in a consistent manner. “God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future,” Zapffe said, citing God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, and the future as examples of collective fundamental anchoring firmaments.

Isolation: 

It is defined as “the arbitrary removal of every bothersome and damaging thought and feeling from consciousness.”

Distraction:

When “one limits attention to the crucial bounds by constantly captivating it with perceptions,” it is said to be distracted. To keep the mind from spiraling in on itself, distraction focuses all of one’s efforts on a task or concept.

Sublimation:

Sublimation is the process of redirecting energy from bad to good channels. Individuals take a step back and consider their existence from an aesthetic standpoint (e.g., writers, poets, painters). Sublimation, according to Zapffe, was the source of his written works. Others argue that an existential crisis is a positive thing, a burden that distinguishes gifted persons and deep thinkers from those who don’t think deeply about life:

Why is it that gifted people have a disproportionate amount of existential concerns? Partly, this is due to the fact that serious thought and meditation are required to even contemplate such ideas, rather than simply focusing on the mundane aspects of life (James Webb, “Existential depression in gifted individuals). 

Jay Williams was living his dream in 2003. He was selected by the Chicago Bulls after earning a National Championship as a standout basketball player at Duke University. He had millions in his bank account, the result of a lifetime of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice.

This all changed one morning in June when Williams climbed on his brand-new Yamaha R6 bike and revved the engine. He wasn’t ready when the bike rocketed forward, sending him careening into a power pole at 60 mph, thinking he was in neutral. Williams lay on the ground after the accident, unable to sense his left leg, and cried, “You threw it all away!” as per New York Times. You tossed everything away!

Years of agonizing procedures and physical therapy to restore his broken leg followed, as well as severe despair that drove the once world-class athlete to consider suicide. Basketball had been the one constant in his life, the one constant that characterized him as a human being, and now it has vanished. So, what’s the point of continuing to live? One of the most prominent examples of an existential crisis is this.

Other examples include starting to lose faith in a religious system that has directed all of your actions and offered you meaning; losing a loved one (parent, spouse, child) over whom you have built your livelihood; underperforming at a profession in which you have put all of your time and energy.

People experiencing an existential crisis are taught to realize the four “givens” of life: death, purpose, isolation, and freedom in existential therapy, also known as existential-humanistic therapy. The goal of existential therapy is to admit your powerlessness to change those facts while exploring inherent sources of drive and meaning.

Williams had steadfast support from his mother, Althea, as well as his former college coaches and colleagues during his existential crisis. When Routledge asks Americans to list the things that give them purpose, “the clear majority say families and personal ties,” according to Routledge. Routledge’s findings were echoed by a Pew Research Center poll, which revealed that 69 percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation or social background, believe that family gives them meaning. With 34%, the next most frequent response was “career.”

Routledge is concerned that various social tendencies in America are convergent, perhaps leading to a societal existential crisis. He sees the disturbingly high suicide rates among people of all ages and races as a reflection of a culture that has lost touch with the things that gave us meaning in the past: marriage, children, religion, and even close personal relationships.

And when loneliness and depression strike, far too many people are left without a “meaning immune system” to keep them from giving up.

Routledge isn’t the first to see the modern world’s existential illness. Existential therapists like Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a moving Holocaust memoir published in 1946, argued that industrial and technical advancement had left us with too much free time and insufficient sources of permanent meaning. “We cannot explain such ubiquitous phenomena as sadness, anger, and addiction until we recognize the existential vacuum behind them,” Frankl remarked.

Because existential anxiety is linked to a recognition of life’s ultimate bounds, which are death and chance, this sort of worry might be viewed as inevitable rather than harmful. As a result, existentialists suggest that rather than eliminating worry, each of us must learn to “live with” it.

When faced with an existential crisis, there are both useful and unhelpful responses. One option is to choose between not living at all and giving up on life. The second is to become so engrossed in daily distractions that you stop living a genuine life. There is no room for existential worry, but there is also no room for an honest life, according to this theory.

In essence, it’s a dysfunctional coping or avoidance tactic. How many people do you know who live their lives with their “eyes closed,” never seeing the broader picture?

However, having an existential crisis can be beneficial since it forces you to consider your life’s purpose and provides direction. Here are some suggestions for turning an existential crisis into a pleasant experience for you or someone you care about:

Make a note of it. 

Is it possible for you to use your existential angst to push you and lead you to a more honest life? What might this fear teach you about your relationship with the rest of the world? Take out a notebook and write down your responses to these questions. How to deal with an existential crisis can be found in the answers to these questions.

Seek assistance. 

Talking to family and friends about your existential anxiety can help you develop a new perspective on life and remind you of the great impact you’ve had on their lives. Ask them to assist you in identifying your most admirable attributes.

 Change your perspective

What matters most is your frame of mind and the prism through which you view this experience. Instead of viewing the situation as a crisis or something negative, consider it a chance to make positive adjustments that will improve your happiness.

Write down your feelings of appreciation in a gratitude diary.

Keep a thankfulness diary to record the things you are grateful for in your life. It may require some soul-searching to figure out where you want to put your focus, time, and effort. You can figure out what you wish to alter by writing down the things you appreciate and find meaningful.

Make friends with others.

When you feel cut off from the people in your life, you may experience an existential crisis. Reestablishing ties might assist you in regaining your footing. So reach out to your friends and family, as well as people who have gone through similar situations.

Connect with a therapist if these symptoms endure more than a few months or lead to persistent depression or suicidal thoughts. It is critical to have someone to assist you in navigating these feelings.

Practice mindfulness

Spend more time doing activities that make you happy. By experiencing these moments with all of your senses, you may bring mindfulness to them.

Refocus your efforts.

Many people’s jobs were lost as a result of the outbreak. This shift made them realize they were devoting the majority of their time, energy, and purpose to their jobs. As a result, when it was no longer there, it created a crisis.

That is why refocusing your energy is beneficial. Your job is an important element of your life, but it’s only one of them. To attain a better balance, focus your energy on your relationships and activities.

It’s the same thing that happens when someone invests all of their energy into a relationship only to end up divorced. They must rebalance their lives by concentrating more on their friends and careers. When one area of our lives falters, we may rely on the other to keep us going.

Don’t get caught up in the past.

When people begin to dwell on the past, they might become very depressed. But there’s nothing we can do about it. “Don’t look back,” I always say. “You’re not going in that direction.” Rather than looking back and regretting what has occurred, look forward to the path you want your life to take.

Consider meditating. 

Meditation can aid in the replacement of negative ideas as well as the prevention of anxiety and excessive worry associated with existential crises.

To conclude this head, it is important to acknowledge that giving support is a fantastic way to assist. Recognize what the person is going through, point out what you’ve noticed, and avoid being judgmental. You could even offer to assist them in getting counseling.

There’s a stigma attached to having an existential crisis, as though it’s a negative thing. However, this time can also be a time of opportunity, growth, and redirection toward the things that make you happy in life.

Treatment by a professional

If the symptoms of existential crisis become too much for you to bear on your own, you can seek treatment from a mental health expert.

Existential Therapy:

Existential therapy is a type of psychotherapy that can help with symptoms of existential crises such as the role of the self in life, free will, and life’s meaning. The existential therapy approach emphasizes self-awareness and identity, as well as the fact that anxiety is an inevitable part of the human experience. Existential therapists will frequently emphasize the importance of taking responsibility for your actions and battling negative internal ideas. 

Existential therapy can be a terrific tool to help end any existential crises by developing an overall improved understanding of how your decisions are at the will of life and being content with it.

TMS for Anxiety and Depression:

The depressive and anxious symptoms of an existential crisis can be treated by transcranial magnetic stimulation. TMS affects communication between neurotransmitters in the brain by employing electromagnetic pulses. TMS can improve aspects of your mental state, such as mood and outlook, by affecting those neurotransmitters. TMS can assist resolve variations in brain chemistry in various parts of the brain, hence alleviating anxiety and depression symptoms associated with existential crises.

Because existential crises are characterized by symptoms that the typical person can experience acutely on a daily basis, they can be difficult to detect. When the weight of those symptoms becomes too much for you to bear, remember that there is a therapy option available to help you get out of a crisis.

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