Existential Crises

Updated: May 22


Art by Geena San Diego

Some people in the world have their whole lives figured out, and others are trying to figure out what they want to do. The thought of being unprepared for the future can seem terrifying to people and can lead to thoughts such as What is the point of living if we are all going to die eventually? or, What is my purpose in life? People who contemplate these thoughts experience an existential crisis. There are different types of existential crises: crisis of freedom and responsibility, crisis of meaning and meaninglessness, crisis of emotion, embodiment, and experiences, and crisis of death and morality. An existential crisis can occur when one is under a great amount of stress, has a difficult time making a decision, or has a lot of time to think to themselves. Sometimes, life can seem meaningless, and the occurrence of an existential crisis can be a reason why.


Crisis of Freedom & Responsibility

We all have the freedom to choose what we want to do with ourselves. Crisis of freedom and responsibility is when one acknowledges that freedom and reflects on it. With this freedom, people are able to make good and bad decisions. People who experience this type of crisis may be anxious that they will make the wrong choices in their life. This is because these people don’t want to face the consequences when making the wrong choice. The thought of having to make right or wrong choices for the rest of their life can frighten someone and trigger existential anxiety. Existential anxiety surrounds the meaning of life and the choices that one makes.


Crisis of Meaning & Meaninglessness

People who begin to question their existence in life may experience the crisis of meaning and meaninglessness. People who go through this type of crisis tend to think about what they have done in their life so far, and may feel that they have done nothing meaningful in their life. This may lead them to think that they have no purpose in their life, believing that their life is pointless. They may ask themselves, “What is the meaning of life if everyone is just going to die?” This can cause self-conflict, as people who experience this would go looking for a purpose. However, they struggle in finding an answer that satisfies them. Having a purpose provides hope, and people who believe that they have no purpose in life may feel hopeless.


If you don’t feel true happiness, life can feel empty. Some people believe that blocking out their negative emotions would make them feel better, but that’s not necessarily true. When someone bottles up their emotions inside, it can lead to a false sense of happiness. People with this type of crisis often ask themselves, “Why can’t I be truly happy?” and it may upset them. They may contemplate this thought for a long time, and may even experience major depression. People who come across this may desperately go searching for genuine happiness, but will always find themselves lost, as they can’t seem to find their meaning of true happiness. This is known as the crisis of emotion, embodiment, and experiences. And although one may go through a long period of depression, people will realize over time that holding in their emotions is not a healthy way of coping and try to get the genuine help that they need.


Crisis of Death & Mortality

An existential crisis can also occur at a certain age. This is the crisis of death and morality. This type of crisis usually occurs when one realizes that their time in this world is almost over. Amid this crisis, some may ask, “What happens after death?” The fear or the thought of death may lead to existential anxiety, as one may not want life to end yet.


In most cases, there will only be a temporary solution for resolving an existential crisis. This means that although someone has gotten over their crisis, they can still relapse. A person who wants to resolve an existential crisis has to take multiple steps to do so, even if the solution is temporary. Someone who wants to end their crisis must acknowledge and express their fears, as well as accept that they can’t know or explore everything. In addition to this, they must learn how to build new relationships and move on from past ones. People who have an existential crisis feel as if they are worthless. Despite that though, they must not let it get in their way, as they can find and choose their own purpose in life.


I’ve personally gone through a few existential crises. Although I am yet to find a permanent solution, there are a few things I have learned in the occurrence of it. One thing is, don’t abandon the people that you admire just to seek answers to finding your purpose in your life. It can lead you to feel lonely. Another thing is to know when you should let go of certain things, because holding onto grudges will only make it hurt more. Something else I learned is that it’s okay not to know your purpose yet. I want to tell people that no one is stuck like this forever. I want people to know that there is hope, and that things change and get better. Sometimes, it feels like we are all living in the same, boring cycle every day, but it’s not true! Not everything is going to be “for nothing,” and not everything is a waste. Lastly, I want everyone to remember that life is what you make of it and that there are no instructions on how to live your life. Whatever gets in your way, you will be able to overcome it! If you think you may be experiencing an existential crisis, don’t hesitate to tell a friend, your doctor/therapist, or call the existential crisis hotline at: 1(800)-488-7211.

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