I used to think an existential crisis was something that happened to people who were middle-aged or older, and it wasn’t something a young person needed to worry about. I also assumed that once you went through an existential life crisis, you were good and you would probably never have to go through it again. But, I was wrong. You can have an existential crisis at any age, and you can have them repeatedly throughout your lifetime.
An existential crisis can mean different things, but generally it means coming to a turning point in your life where you feel a desperate need to figure some things out such as what’s your life purpose, does your life have meaning, and are your relationships, values, and work in sync with the rest of your life in a meaningful way. Heavy stuff to have to think about.
An existential crisis may make you feel confused, lost, depressed, and as if you’re not getting what you need in your life. You’re spiritually exhausted, and you don’t know what you should be doing to feel fulfilled and/or worthy.
Please know that whatever you’re feeling shouldn’t be ignored. Though it may be difficult to deal with, once you come through an existential crisis, you will have a greater sense of who you are, your purpose here on earth, and a clearer vision of what you need to do to achieve the personal satisfaction of knowing you’re exactly where you need to be in your life.
The word “crisis” sounds alarming, and often it is. But, there are times when it simply means change or a critical situation. With an existential crisis, it means being transparent with yourself and looking with open eyes at your life.
While change can be intimidating and scary, the results can actually be exhilarating, liberating, and leave you in a better place than where you started.
I’ve certainly had my share of existential crises—some that shook up all my preconceived notions of what I had thought a successful and emotionally rewarding life looked like, and others that simply made me take a moment to access what was working in my life and what wasn’t.
If You’re Having an Existential Crisis, Here’s What to Do
Don’t pretend an existential crisis isn’t happening:
One thing I’ve learned is that acting as if something isn’t happening, doesn’t stop it; if anything, it will make it worse. It is better to deal with a problem or a situation as it occurs rather than letting it bloom into something bigger. Life coach Stacy Caprio says, “Don’t try to ignore your inner crisis thoughts or push them away. This will only make you feel worse in the long run and lead to even more built up resentment and self-hate.”
During an existential crisis, be present:
Putting all your attention towards your phone or any other distraction is another way to avoid dealing with your feelings. Sometimes being present is the key to becoming more aware of what’s missing in your life and what you need to make it a more emotionally successful one. “The more you practice being present in each moment, letting go of the worries and the stories in your head, and being aware of what is in front of you, the easier it will be to make choices guided by your heart,” says Rachel S. Heslin, author of “Navigating Life: 8 Different Strategies to Guide Your Way” and founder of “The Fullness of Your Power.”
Move your body during an existential crisis:
There are going to be plenty of opportunities to examine your thoughts and feelings, but before you do, go for a hike or schedule a workout. Doing something physical will help you with getting clarity later and it will make you feel better. “One of the first things to do when facing an existential crisis is to get out of your head,” Rachel S. Heslin says. “Put on some music that you love and dance your heart out. Go for a walk and look at the sky. Try to pay as much attention to as many different physical sensations as possible.” She goes on to explain why this is helpful. “Focusing on two or more physical sensations at the same time has been shown to not just divert your mind from what you’ve been thinking, but it can trigger a shift in your consciousness similar to meditation.”
Go inward during an existential crisis:
One of the things that will help you get through your existential crisis is to go deep within yourself and deal with the issues that you’ve been ignoring. Rabbi Jacob Rupp suggests using an existential crisis as an “opportunity to seriously examine your life and your thoughts and all the things that you held to be true” and cautions, “Just because you’re thinking something doesn’t mean to take action; whenever making any drastic choices, weigh them longer.” You may have unearthed a great truth about yourself but consider the consequences before doing something you can’t undo.
Identify the trigger of your existential crisis:
What happened to bring this crisis about? Did someone else get your promotion at work or did you get into a fight with your partner? If you can identify the trigger now, it will help to prevent you from feeling overwhelmed in the future and you will be better prepared on how to handle it.
During an existential crisis, focus on gratitude:
When going through an emotional upheaval it can be challenging to remember everything that you already have. When you make a gratitude list, it can help remind you of how much you’ve accomplished, what you have, and the good in your life.
Appreciate the world during an existential crisis:
Listen to some music, take in an art exhibit, go out for a gourmet meal, or experience some of nature’s wonders such as taking a walk on the beach, having a picnic in a meadow, or feeling the spray of a waterfall. Beauty and art give off very positive energy and they can help improve not only our moods but our mindsets.
Comparing yourself to others is an existential crisis trigger:
Comparison is the thief of joy. Remind yourself that what you see on social media is a glorified version of other people’s lives; just because things appear to be perfect for them, they too have their own struggles. You have your own journey that you’ll do on your own time. The only person you are competing with is you.
Realize that having an existential crisis is common:
An existential crisis, or feeling at odds with your life, is a common problem that people experience all the time. Realize that an existential crisis it just comes with the territory of being human.
Talk to people during an existential crisis:
Once you realize you’re not an anomaly, express what you’re feeling to other people. They may have suggestions of what helped them through their existential crisis, or if not, they’ll be there to sympathize with you.
Figure out what’s important during an existential crisis:
When you’re having an existential crisis, it’s a good time to take stock of your life and figure out what’s working for you and what isn’t. Are your values still in line with what you believe, or do you need to do a reassessment? Just because you believed something once doesn’t mean that you’re required to always believe it.
An existential crisis is a great time for positive change:
Not only is an existential crisis the time to change your thinking, but it’s also a good time to get rid of the toxic people in your life. If someone doesn’t make you feel good or is too critical and unhelpful, it’s okay to end that relationship. You need supporters and advocates, not people who make you feel like a failure. Psychotherapist Patti Sabla says, “Take inventory of the people to whom you are close. Look at who is in your life that is healthy and should stay, and who is toxic and needs to go.” She goes on to say, “If there is anyone who you communicate with that makes you feel ‘less than’ or may have contributed to your existential crisis, give them the boot. Your goal as you manage this crisis is to surround yourself with positive supporters.”
Try new things during an existential crisis:
It may not feel like it, but right now is the perfect time to step out of your comfort zone. When you explore and engage in new things, it not only will indicate some new directions for you to go in, it will help to energize you. Trying new things is fun and can get you excited about life again. Bonus, it can help direct you to what you should be focusing on.
Be receptive during an existential crisis:
Try to be open to whatever answers you get from self-questioning, talking to people, and what your gut tells you. Perhaps you never truly considered being an artist because you needed to put food on the table and have a roof over your head, but not being able to be creative in your job isn’t working for you any longer. Your answer may lie in the middle somewhere, but you won’t find it if you’re not willing to consider all your options.
Remember that your life’s purpose can change:
You’ve gone through your existential crisis and now know what your purpose is. Great! You’ve discovered how to direct your choices to align with that purpose. However, purposes have a way of morphing and changing and what you start out with may not be the one you finish with and that’s okay. Don’t try to force yourself to stick to one path if that path is no longer satisfying to you. It’s okay to change things up from time to time.
Be gentle with yourself during an existential crisis:
The best thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. You’re going through a lot of emotional and psychological upheaval. There’s a lot to process and you don’t want to be harsh or critical of yourself as it can make things even more difficult and can delay your healing. Think of your existential crisis as a time of self-care and the re-assessment of who you are and where you are going.
Having an existential crisis doesn’t have to be painful. Look at it as a chance to grow, and to rediscover or solidify your life purpose. Finding meaning in your life is extremely important and can help strengthen your feelings of self-worth and self-empowerment.