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What are common symptoms of an existential crisis?
- emotionally, it is accompanied by very unpleasant feelings. They can include depressed mood, anxiety, fear, despair and an overall feeling of emotional pain. The caliber of the experience is rather substantial and often stands out as far outweighing other emotionally distressing experiences.
- cognitively, individuals can find themselves spiraling in thoughts that keep leading to more questions. Common areas people may think of are their personal values, views of the world, their outlooks on life and what it may or may not hold for them
- for some, behavior may be affected. It can range anywhere from being completely withdrawn to impulsive.
What can someone do to alleviate them?
- the first step is to not be afraid of the experience. Not be afraid of the emotional distress and the deep questions that arise. Stay calm, be in the moment, and just observe the experience one is having in their mind.
- you can identify and describe what you are emotionally and physically feeling. observe your thoughts, write them down, observe them. And give this time. If you have a moment of feeling intensely distressed, it will not last forever. Emotions are much like waves, your mind rides that wave and then it settles down again.
What are the causes of an existential crisis?
- the classic and most commonly known ones are mile stones, especially in chronological age. A well known one is when one reaches the middle of their life. But this can happen at other times too. these include adolescents as they learn who they are and where they fit in this world. After retirement is another as those over 65 continue to work on maintaining meaning in their lives and process the concept of human mortality.
- career/professional types can exist as well. Such as when one is having trouble figuring out what to pursue. Or someone did pursue a route and it did not work out.
- life events may also be a trigger. Trauma is a major one such as interpersonal traumas or even on a larger scale with society such as involvement with the legal system.
- the above is not by any means an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of flavors they can come in.
What do you tell patients who are experiencing this type of crisis?
- that it is important to not be too hasty about trying to get it resolved
- let it take the time it needs to process, explore, and learn why it is important to you
- it helps to identify goals and the more specific the thought processes, the better
- and to really truly take things day by day and moment by moment. Ask yourself what made today or this morning a good, decent or not favorable day.
- don’t be shy about trying out in healthy doses different activities, learning new things, meeting new people
- as you gather information and your mind takes the time it needs to process, bit by bit you will start to carve out your own plan and be able to make progress