Existential anxiety is related to our existence in life. This type of anxiety can feature significant issues like life’s meaning and eventual death. Many things can trigger existential angst, like getting older, scary things happening in our world, and more.
Even though existential anxiety can lead to stress, it can also have positive side effects because it makes you value your life, purpose, and time you have left.
What Is Existential Anxiety?
Simply put, existential anxiety is stress from questioning the meaning of your existence. When people start wondering how they are alive, why they are here, and what they “should” be doing with their lives, it can lead to existential anxiety.
There are four main concepts when it comes to existential anxiety:
- The inevitability of death
- Freedom and responsibility
Symptoms Of Existential Anxiety
Like generalized anxiety, the symptoms of existential anxiety are similar. However, this type of anxiety strongly focuses on feeling worried about your life’s purpose or future.
Some common symptoms include:
Avoiding people or situations you used to enjoy
- Worrying all the time
- Having tightness in the chest
- An increase in heart rate
- Feeling dizzy or nauseous
Is It Existential Anxiety, or is it an Existential Crisis?
Existential anxiety is vaguer than an existential crisis. An existential crisis involves questioning the meaning of life and a person’s life purpose.
However, an existential crisis usually has an identifiable cause and can happen during incredibly stressful times like a significant loss or trauma. It can also occur during substantial life transitions like becoming an empty nester, retirement, and more.
In addition, an existential crisis only sticks around for a specific time. Significant life transitions can create more anxiety and confusion and lead to someone thinking about their identity.
What Triggers Existential Anxiety?
We mentioned a few triggers of existential anxiety already. Here are the five most significant ones:
1. The Death of a Loved One
When a loved one dies, many people might start to think about their place in the world. They may also compare themselves and wonder about they fit into things.
2. Significant Life Changes
These can include weddings, having a baby, buying a house, moving to a new place, or anything that dramatically changes a person’s routine.
3. Getting Older
As people get older, they may start reflecting on their lives and wonder what’s next. However, young people may also experience this.
4. Losing a Job or Feeling Stuck in a Job
Losing a job can bring up feelings of stress financially. However, being stuck in a career that you may not be passionate about can also create its own sets of anxieties and stresses about where someone’s direction is going.
5. Any Event That Makes Someone Question Life’s Meaning
These events can include pandemics, climate change, extreme weather, and more, even if they do not directly happen to someone. These events can bring up feelings of existential anxiety because they show how unpredictable life can be.
How to Cope with Existential Anxiety
Existential anxiety can be stressful, but you can cope in many different ways. Here are some ideas:
Start trying to feel comfortable with the unknown.
When it comes to existential anxiety, you might have to start telling yourself that you may not always have the answers. Even though this sounds difficult to practice, you can start by understanding how existential dread cannot offer any concrete solutions. This fact alone can be difficult for many people to accept. However, once you begin to think about it, you can better process it.
Speak to a therapist about your anxieties.
There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on life’s more profound questions and trying to find meaning. It becomes a problem if it’s causing you debilitating anxiety and causes you to miss out on things you have otherwise enjoyed.
If you find that you can’t distract yourself from the anxious thoughts and it starts to become much too overwhelming, then reaching out to a qualified therapist for support is always an excellent idea.
Therapy can be a great setting to examine existential questions and anxieties and find ways to get more comfortable with the unknown.
There are even Humanistic and existential therapies, which specialize in discussing the questions and challenges of existence. These approaches may be helpful to you if you struggle with existential anxiety.
Talk to family, friends, or loved ones.
When these stressful and scary thoughts come into your head, it can also help open up to your loved ones you feel safe with and trust. Sharing feelings of existential anxiety can not only help you but may help others who are going through a similar experience—getting the insight from other people that you love and respect can create a new perspective and a sense of connection and closeness.
Finding ways to support others can also create a community while reflecting on your search for meaning.
Knowing how to navigate existential anxiety can be a complex process. Wondering about life’s questions and answers can take up time and create much stress.
However, the best way many people find meaning in their lives is by creating it themselves. They do so by doing things that bring joy and relaxation and increase a sense of connection to the surrounding world.