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Existential Crisis: Types, Symptoms, Causes And How To Break Through

Having a dull day or even a week is pretty normal. All of us go through rough patches - experiencing stress, extreme sadness and anxiety but most of us get through it with time. However, for some, these emotions are not short-term and can lead to despair which will in turn negatively impact their lives and make one question themselves and their life.

And it is when one reaches the point of questioning their place in life - the condition is termed as an existential crisis. Contrary to certain beliefs that existential crisis is a lifestyle problem of the 2000s, it has been studied by psychologists and psychiatrists such as Kazimierz Dabrowski and Irvin D. Yalom as early as 1929 [1] [2] .


One important thing to be noted is that - an existential crisis is not the same as the normal anxiety or depression. Existential crisis normally begins when one starts to question their life's direction and want answers to life's big questions.

However, doctors point out that it is while it was not uncommon to search for meaning and purpose in your life, failing to find the satisfying answers can cause frustration and lack of any joy [3] .


Types Of Existential Crisis

An individual can develop existential crisis in different forms and they are as follows [4] :

  • Crisis of freedom and responsibility
  • Crisis of emotion, experiences, and embodiment
  • Crisis of meaning and meaninglessness
  • Crisis of death and mortality
  • Crisis of isolation and connectedness.

The phase of deep reflection, rooted in an individual's conflict can arise at any moment of life.

Symptoms Of Existential Crisis

Not every episode of anxiety and stress does not indicate that you are suffering from an existential crisis. Natural and normal in an individual's life, it is, in fact, a representation of the moment of transformation for the individual, such as attaining self-knowledge, moral and emotional maturation, personal growth, and even a spiritual awakening [5] .

The signs that one is developing or is on the verge of existential crisis are as follows:

Existential crisis depression:While going through existential crisis, one can experience normal feelings of depression. This causes signs such as loss of interest in favourite activities, fatigue, headaches, feelings of hopelessness, and persistent sadness [6] . In extreme cases, it can also develop thoughts of suicide.

Existential obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD):Existential crisis can cause your mind to have racing thoughts that, fast-moving and repetitive thought patterns, which can also increase your anxiety or feelings of unease. This condition is termed as existential OCD.

Existential crisis anxiety:This one differs from everyday stress in the sense that everything can make you uncomfortable and anxious, such as your existence. This state is termed as existential crisis anxiety.

Causes Of Existential Crisis

Stress and challenges from every day that tend to be deeply rooted in one's mental and emotional space can pave way for deep despair. The crisis is usually stemmed from an event or a situation such as major trauma or a major loss.

Some of the common causes of an existential crisis are as follows [7] :

  • History of bottled up emotions
  • Guilt about something
  • Dissatisfaction with self
  • Losing a loved one in death
  • Feeling socially unfulfilled.

When To See A Doctor

Some individuals are capable of breaking free from their crisis on their own. But if the symptoms of worry and sadness are clinging on, even after months - it is time you go consult a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist [8] .

Mental health experts can help you in coping with the stress and crisis. Seek immediate help if you have suicidal thoughts. Keep in mind, however, you don't have to wait until a crisis reaches an extreme point before speaking with a doctor or other healthcare provider.

Treatment For Existential Crisis

A mental health expert can help you through the situation by aiding in coping with the signs. Some of the most common treatment measures are talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy which aid in changing the thought patterns to improve the mental condition of the individual [9] .

A therapist can help with severe anxiety, depression, or obsessive thoughts.

Some of the other measures in coping with the condition are as follows [10] :

  • Take control of your thoughts
  • Keep a gratitude journal to overcome negative feelings
  • Don't expect to find all the answers
  • Remind yourself of why life has meaning.

On A Final Note...

An existential crisis can affect anyone - it is natural to human behaviour. However, what matters the most is how you manage it and help yourself get out of the spunk. Talk to someone, get help and take care of yourself.

View Article References  
  1. [1]   Thurman, N., Picard, R. G., Myllylahti, M., & Krumsvik, A. H. (2018). On Digital Distribution’s Failure to Solve Newspapers’ Existential Crisis: Symptoms, causes, consequences, and remedies. In The Routledge Handbook of Developments in Digital Journalism Studies (pp. 172-185). Routledge.
  2. [2]   Butėnaitė, J., Sondaitė, J., & Mockus, A. (2016). Components of existential crisis: A theoretical analysis. International Journal of Psychology: A Biopsychosocial Approach, (18), 9-27.
  3. [3]   Sand, L. (2008). Existential challenges and coping in palliative cancer care: experiences of patients and family members. Institutionen för onkologi-patologi/Department of Oncology-Pathology.
  4. [4]   Montgomery, H. A., Miller, W. R., & Tonigan, J. S. (1995). Does Alcoholics Anonymous involvement predict treatment outcome?. Journal of substance abuse treatment, 12(4), 241-246.
  5. [5]   Ventegodt, S., Kandel, I., Neikrug, S., & Merrick, J. (2005). Clinical holistic medicine: the existential crisis—life crisis, stress, and burnout. The Scientific World Journal, 5, 300-312.
  6. [6]   Dunn, E., Arber, A., & Gallagher, A. (2016). The immediacy of illness and existential crisis: patients' lived experience of under-going allogeneic stem cell transplantation for haematological malignancy. A phenomenological study. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 21, 90-96.
  7. [7]   Pines, A. M. (2017). Burnout: An existential perspective. In Professional burnout (pp. 33-51). Routledge.
  8. [8]   Peitzmeier, S. M., Agénor, M., Bernstein, I. M., McDowell, M., Alizaga, N. M., Reisner, S. L., ... & Potter, J. (2017). “It can promote an existential crisis”: factors influencing Pap test acceptability and utilization among transmasculine individuals. Qualitative health research, 27(14), 2138-2149.
  9. [9]   Amin, N., & Tate, R. (2016). Java and scala's type systems are unsound: the existential crisis of null pointers. Acm Sigplan Notices, 51(10), 838-848.
  10. [10]   Senkevich, L. V. (2016). Phenomenological and process dynamic characteristics of existential identity crisis. Global Media Journal.

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