What Is An Existential Crisis, And How Do You Survive One?

This is what it feels like. Plus: How to find your happiness again afterward.

What Is An Existential Crisis (And How To Deal With It to find happiness) getty

Growing up, I always thought an existential crisis was like a midlife crisis, so I always told myself that I had time to deal with these types of crises because they’re so far in the future to think about.

Turns out, I was wrong. And how did I know I was wrong? Because that existential crisis came much faster than I had anticipated and I wasn’t ready for it nor was I aware of what it was at the time.


So, what is an existential crisis and how do you know if you’re having one?

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Remember that everyone is different and experienced things in different ways and at different times. So the description and explanation will be generalized so you are able to apply it to yourself.


An existential crisis entails many different factors depending on how you look at it. Essentially, it occurs when you are no longer content or satisfied with what you perceived as the meaning of life, your level of happiness, as well as your role or purpose.

You may start feeling confused and lacking some sort of direction. You may also start to feel meaningless and may question whether or not you have been serving your purpose or wasting your time.

That is a very brief and vague description of an existential crisis because it involves different aspects of life, depending on where you are in your life at the time of an existential crisis.

Existential crises are subjective experiences as people experience the crises in different ways as well as cope with it differently.


If you are questioning whether or not you are experiencing an existential crisis, here is a list of signs to look for to confirm whether or not you’re experiencing an existential crisis.

It’s important to note that an existential crisis has both positive and negative traits or signs. It’s more about what you do with yourself and changes or lack of changes you make during this time:

  • You've come to the realization that you are, unfortunately, going to die one day and what would your purpose have been? How would people remember you?
  • You start becoming terrified of the future and the unknown.
  • You are increasingly sensitive to things you normally wouldn’t be.
  • You start seeing the beauty in moments and cherish those memories more deeply.
  • You are searching for answers to questions such as "who am I?" or "what am I doing here?"
  • You are confused or questioning who you are.
  • You are reevaluating your life.
  • You may become motivated to change something in your life to resolve the crisis or you may become paralyzed in your current state.
  • You increasingly dwell on death.
  • Start taking more risks realizing you won’t live forever.
  • You may quite possibly become a hypochondriac.
  • You may feel you don’t belong.
  • You become overly upset when you don’t feel another person is living life to the fullest.
  • You are reaching out to people more often than you have previously.
  • You are overly anxious or nervous about what you’re supposed to be doing and what you are doing.

The good news is (yes, there is good news) that once you become aware you are in an existential crisis, there are ways to cope and deal with it.

The crisis ultimately happened because there was some part of you that was no longer aligned with your previously defined purpose. As we go through life, we experience different things and we are always changing and with that comes the responsibility of shifting our thoughts or plans.

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Here is a list of some ways to cope and deal with an existential crisis:


1. Make changes.

Now that you’re aware of your existential crisis, you’re in a better position to make some changes. Do not go head first and change everything all at once because that rarely ends well.

Take the time to ponder and explore and define yourself and your life on your terms.


2. Keep it at the forefront of your mind and in your conscious awareness.

If you try to repress it and not address it, you are delaying the inevitable so nip it in the bud sooner rather than later. You’ll feel better knowing you didn’t waste more time than you already feel you’ve wasted.

3. Take part in hobbies.

While in the process of exploration and making changes, engage in hobbies or activities that let your mind and thoughts rest for a bit. You don’t want to be stuck in your head all of the time.

4. Surround yourself with positive things.

Whether it be music or art or whatever you find to give off positive vibes and energy. When you do this, you’ll be in such a better mindset and your focus will be in the right direction.

5. Identify what brought the crisis to light.



Was it something with your job, relationships or something else? This will help you as you grow and change throughout the rest of your life because it won’t be as overwhelming once you can identify the trigger.

You’ll be better prepared if there is a next time.

6. Look at life through your own lens.

Don't look at life through some social or political lens. You hold the power to your life and don’t allow it to be swayed or distorted by external forces.

7. You're not alone.

Remind yourself that this is a common problem and many people go through it. It doesn’t make it any less real for you by any means, but you are not alone in that so many others have or are currently going through an existential crisis.


8. Have fun!

Life is short and once you get past the initial shock and realization that we don’t live forever, you’ll make better use of your time and make every moment count.

So, as confused as you were prior to reading some signs and ways of coping with an existential crisis, you are probably more confused after reading them.


The reason for this is because it is a subjective experience and only you have the answers to the questions you’re asking yourself. No one else can really define what your purpose is in life or what you are supposed to be doing except for you.

Make sure to take the time to understand yourself and your life path. Take notes on what your true values and beliefs are and make little, subtle changes that will eventually become a natural process as you go through life.

As long as you put in the work and the effort to resolve the existential crisis, you will remain content with your life and the path you are on.

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Brittney Lindstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.