The hardest thing about going through an existential crisis is that you feel constantly depressed and alienated.
Nothing makes sense anymore and everything feels meaningless – including all of your old accomplishments, desires, professional attachments, relationships, and goals.
You want to find your real purpose in life. You want to know why the f*ck we’re all here in the first place, but you don’t know where to start.
If you can relate to these feelings, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been there before and it’s a dark place. Worst of all, it can sometimes last for years (like mine did).
As someone who has been through this, I’m not here to bullshit you.
I’m not promising that what I’ll share will help it all become magically better.
But I do hope you find a little bit of solace.
And by the way, did you know that this whole website is dedicated to people who are going through the existential crisis? So stick around and drop in to say hi in the comments.
Table of contents
- What is an Existential Crisis? (Definition)
- 15 Signs You’re Experiencing an Existential Crisis
- WHY You’re Going Through an Existential Crisis
- Why More and More People Are Experiencing the Existential Crisis
- The Existential Crisis Can Be a Good Sign
- 7 Ways to Get Through the Existential Crisis (and Actually Benefit From it)
- When the Existential Crisis Becomes Existential Despair
What is an Existential Crisis? (Definition)
Put simply, an existential crisis is a period in life where a person is at a crossroads and is questioning their entire reality. They may wonder what the meaning of their life is and whether they have a higher purpose. They may wonder whether life itself has meaning or is just a random, chaotic product of chance. And as a result, they may suffer from tremendous anxiety, depression, isolation, and feelings of being lost. The existential crisis is often spiritual in nature and is sometimes a byproduct (or trigger of) the spiritual emergency.
15 Signs You’re Experiencing an Existential Crisis
Are you going through an existential crisis? Pay attention to the following signs:
- You’re searching for the meaning of life
- You feel alone and isolated
- You’re consumed by melancholia/existential depression
- You feel like your ‘old life’ has withered away
- You don’t know who you are anymore
- You feel like your past accomplishments are meaningless (and as a result, you feel lots of regret)
- You see through the shallowness of society’s goals and desires
- You crave for something deep and meaningful
- You realize that the Universe is far more complex than you previously thought
- You feel a sense of smallness or powerlessness in the face of everything
- You’re acutely aware of your mortality (and feel existential anxiety as a result)
- You feel fundamentally different from others
- You feel like there’s something innately ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ about you
- You feel empty inside
- You can’t seem to find any place that feels like ‘home’
How many of the above signs can you relate to?
When I was going through an existential crisis my entire worldview shattered. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian background and could no longer come to terms with an ‘all-loving God’ who would send people to burn in hell for eternity. I went through years of confusion, emptiness, anxiety, and depression wondering what the purpose of all this was. It was an extremely difficult, traumatizing, and heart-breaking time. (And yes, thankfully I have pulled through it, hence why I’m writing this article.)
But my story is only one of millions, and there are many reasons why you may be going through a crisis. We’ll explore below …
WHY You’re Going Through an Existential Crisis
Why did all of this happen to you?
There are a number of reasons. Here are the most common that you may have experienced:
- Sudden death of a loved one
- Job change or loss
- Chronic illness of shock diagnosis
- Moving to a new place or country
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- Getting married/divorced
- Relationship breakdown
- Having a baby
- Entering a new life phase (e.g., adulthood, mid-life, old age)
- Loss of religious beliefs
- Natural disaster (flood, hurricane, fire)
- Excessive drug use
- Mystical experience
- Sudden spiritual awakening and dark night of the soul
- Prolonged isolation
Tell me in the comments, which of these causes triggered your existential crisis?
As you can see, the existential crisis is caused by literally any big life event or change – whether positive or negative.
Anything sudden can be destabilizing to your mind. Think of it like an earthquake that sets off a domino effect within your psyche. Before you know it, you have cut off all your friends, quit your job, and have completely withdrawn from society because it all feels too much.
Again, I want to emphasize the fact that this won’t last forever.
It might feel like it and you might believe, in your present frame of mind, that you’re the only person out there who is going through this. But you’re not. And there are people who understand what you’re going through. So please take solace in that and keep reading to get support.
Why More and More People Are Experiencing the Existential Crisis
Yes, you heard it right: the existential crisis is increasing in prevalence.
It’s becoming a global phenomenon.
With record numbers of people experiencing major depression and other symptoms associated with the existential crisis, the question is WHY?
With all our technology, wealth, and material abundance, why are we feeling more and more empty inside?
There are many possible answers, but I believe that the main cause is emotional, philosophical, and spiritual in nature.
We live in a world that worships the reductionistic mechanistic scientific view of life. Anything mysterious, magical, or remotely spiritual in nature is scorned and looked down upon. We pretend we’re ‘above all that childish nonsense’ when in reality it’s what we need the most.
As clinical psychologist and scholar, C. Michael Smith writes,
The world seen only through the lenses of scientific-calculative thinking is a thin, dry, hollow, surface world, devoid of mystery, depth, and meaning. There is an existential nausea (Sartre) that comes with such a nihilistic view of reality. Such a view is itself a symptom of deep spiritual, social, and ecological pathology. Some face this nihilism with stoic courage, others retreat into fundamentalistic and traditional forms of security, where they may have some limited contact with the sacred, while still being touched by the nihilism of the modern scientific worldview. Some seek a genuine sense of the sacred to give their lives meaning and direction, but cannot find it in the institutional religions of the west. Some turn to the numinous resources of the East, some to occult interests; some are now turning to shamanism, others the psychedelics, to rekindle a sense of mystery and meaning characteristic of the sacred.
As a society, we deal with our existential emptiness many ways, but the unifying sobering reality is that we are spiritually destitute. We’ve lost touch with our spiritual nature and are suffering horribly as a result.
I’ll explore how to get back in touch with your spiritual nature (and what worked for me) a little later.
But first, let’s explore why this is not all so doom and gloom …
The Existential Crisis Can Be a Good Sign
I know this sounds totally absurd.
But the fact that you’re experiencing existential anxiety signifies that you’re not a mindless sheep of society.
You are alive goddammit, and more than that, you’re in touch with your spiritual nature.
As spiritual philosopher Krishnamurti once wrote:
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
The fact that you’re maladjusted, the fact that you’re questioning everything and feel a sense of despair means that you’re getting more in touch with your own truth – not the version of truth that society likes to spoonfeed us.
As author Tim Farrington writes,
Doubt as to whether you are in a dark night or “just depressed” is probably a very good sign; it means you’re alive and paying attention and that life has you baffled, which is the precondition for truth in my experience.
Perhaps more than anyone, the Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist, Viktor Frankl, was acquainted with the depths of existential crisis. He writes in his wonderful book The Doctor of the Soul:
The ‘symptom’ of conscientious anxiety in the melancholiac is not the product of melancholia as a physical illness but represents an ‘accomplishment’ of the human being as a spiritual person.
In other words, feeling existential anxiety is not just the result of depression (or melancholy), it’s actually an accomplishment that signifies we’re in touch with our spiritual nature.
Mirabai Starr, author of numerous spiritual books writes, “Someone who is broken … who has struggled all his or her life with some intense deficiency, may have a uniquely powerful relationship with God.”
And it’s true.
The more you suffer existentially, the closer you are likely to draw to the Divine.
I realize you may be an atheist or simply not interested in spirituality, but perhaps it’s time to reconsider your relationship with the mysterious at the very least. We’ll look more into this below.
7 Ways to Get Through the Existential Crisis (and Actually Benefit From it)
Again, I know “benefiting” from your existential crisis may sound ridiculous.
But hear me out.
The existential crisis is an opportunity for you to find your life purpose, figure out what truly matters in life, and connect with your spiritual nature.
What you’re going through may be horribly painful, but you’re experiencing a death and rebirth. You’re undergoing a mental, emotional, and spiritual renewal process.
Everything in life works in cycles. Think of life like the four seasons. What you’re experiencing right now is the winter stage of existence. But after that comes spring.
Here are some paths/practices you may like to explore. Many of these I have used myself during my existential crisis period – and they helped tremendously:
1. Record (journal) all your thoughts every day
This one was a BIG help for me – and I believe it can be for you too. Writing down all your thoughts and feelings is a good way of getting them out of your mind. The more you let your thoughts accumulate, the more overwhelmed you can feel. So let it all out. Journaling is extremely therapeutic and is recommended by professionals and depressed folks alike constantly.
Learn more about how to journal.
Here’s an example of a journal entry:
I’m feeling horrible today. I watch and listen to people talk about their lives, but it all seems futile. I can’t relate to any of them. Not even a bit. All their plans, goals, and shallow desires – can’t they see that it’s all going to perish one day? Their banality suffocates me and I feel like I’m walking in the land of the dead. Everyone is asleep. Why can’t they just wake the fuck up? Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow, but for now, I just wanted to get these feelings out.
As you can see, your journal entry doesn’t need to be long. It can be a tiny paragraph or even a few words. It also doesn’t need to be wordy, well-written, or poetic. The point is to benefit from it by making a habit out of it.
If you need a little guidance, see our Dark Night of the Soul Journal for inspiration and help.
2. Turn your pain into art
Some of the best art (think Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Goya, etc.) has come from those who have suffered tremendously. You don’t need to be good at art (or an “artist”) to benefit from artistic self-expression. The point isn’t to create something that will please others, but something that helps you feel better and process what you’re going through.
If you need ideas, go on Pinterest and look up different art projects. Places to start include watercolor, sketching, collage, and paint pouring. You can also read our art therapy ideas article and see if that interests you.
3. Get in touch with your inner warrior
There’s a reason why we’ve named this website “lonerwolf.” The wolf is symbolic of the inner warrior, the inner force of nature who refuses to give up. S/he is the fire within you that voyages courageously into the unknown, fights for freedom, and respects your true self.
When we go through an existential crisis it can feel like all our power, all our energy, has been drained from us. We may struggle to get up in the morning and keep moving forward. We may feel small and defenseless in the face of life.
The way to move through these feelings is to reconnect with your inner warrior, in whatever way he/she/it appears to you. We like to see this fiery essence as the wolf, but you may see it differently.
To connect with your inner warrior, you may like to turn to your dreams. Before going to bed, ask your unconscious mind to present to you an image of your inner warrior. Then, pay attention to your dreams. Note down anything significant when first rising in the morning. If you struggle with this activity, repeat it for a week.
You may even like to take a herb like mugwort, blue lotus, or a lucid dreaming supplement to make your dreams more vivid (please do your own research regarding dosage requirements and look into the precautions).
An alternative is to practice visualization. Imagine you’re walking down a staircase and at the bottom is a golden door. Once you open that door, you’ll come face-to-face with your inner warrior. What does he/she/it look like? You might like to play some music that puts you in the right frame of mind for this activity (think warrior music which you can find for free on Youtube).
Once you’ve connected with your inner warrior you can work with this inner image in your daily life for strength and guidance. You may like to journal with this inner force, talk with it through visualization, or create a piece of artwork that you put somewhere noticeable and special in your home.
4. Connect with nature
If you struggle to connect with others, go out in nature. Connect with the birds, trees, and plants. Sit and watch what happens around you and find delight in the small things.
Spending time in nature was one of the major ways I got through my existential crisis. I would often spend hours sitting outside observing how the clouds moved through the sky and the way the wind danced through the trees.
If you don’t live near nature, try taking regular trips to your local wildlife reserve, forest, or park. Nature is soothing to the soul and will help you to get out of your head. If you’re interested, I wrote this article on the art of forest bathing (shinrin yoku) a few years ago.
5. Find what brings you joy and meaning
Even the smallest things can bring you joy like a patch of sunlight on the floor or the feeling of cold water against your hands as you wash the dishes.
By practicing mindfulness exercises, you can connect with the present moment more and step out of the cycles of dark thought that accompanying the existential crisis.
Finding the meaning of life is a longer path, but something that can also bring you a sense of purpose. We’ve written more on the topic of finding the meaning of life and you’re more than welcome to go check that out.
6. Practice self-care and self-love
Take care of yourself. This is a tough time. I know it’s hard, and I know that most days you don’t have the energy for much. But treat yourself with as much love as you can muster. Even opening the window for some fresh air can be seen as a small act of self-love or putting on some warmer socks.
Two forms of self-love and care that you may like to start with are affirmations and gratitude. I know you may feel skeptical toward them, but there’s a reason why they’ve entered the mainstream: they work.
You may like to start a gratitude journal and list five things you’re thankful for each day (being grateful has been scientifically proven to help you feel better). And you may like to find/create one or two affirmations that you carry with you and repeat throughout the day. Examples may include, “I am strong, and I’ll get through this,” “It’s okay to not know all the answers,” “I surrender to the cycles of life,” “I’m feeling better every day.”
7. Simplify and minimize sources of stress
You’re going through enough inner stress as it is, so don’t be afraid to let go of people/responsibilities that cause you more harm than good.
One way of minimizing your stress is by creating a calm and clear mind. Try guided meditations that soothe your mind and body each morning and evening. I love the free app “InsightTimer” for all its variety and I use it on my phone each day. I encourage you to do the same.
8. Connect with others
See if there are any depression support groups around you. Not everyone experiencing depression is going through an existential crisis, but some are. And you can find a sense of kinship there.
Otherwise, there are many groups online (such as on social media) that you can join for support. Alternatively, you can simply browse around this website and see that you’re not alone in your existential difficulties.
You may also wish to call a mental health hotline if you desperately need to talk with someone or go to a website like 7cups that offers free support.
9. Explore spirituality
As psychologist Christa Mackinnon writes:
Studies find correlations between spiritual well-being and positive psychological responses when people are confronted with existential crisis situations. A recent study of 60 lung cancer patients in America, for instance, found that aspects of spirituality, namely meaning in life and prayer, have positive effects on psychological and physical responses, and an in-depth study of 160 terminally ill patients in palliative care came to the conclusion that spiritual well-being provides a sense of peace and offers some protection against end-of-life despair in those for whom death is imminent.
You don’t need to buy into anyone’s bullshit – find what type of spirituality works for you. That might be simply praying or lighting a candle, or it could mean learning how to be a spiritual healer and finding a higher sense of purpose.
I personally enjoy the path of inner work and I incorporate many eclectic practices into my spiritual path like working with the archetypes, spirit guides, practicing meditation and mindfulness, creating sigils, connecting with nature… the list goes on.
Find a path that works for you and let it give you hope.
Read: Soul Searching: 7 Ways to Uncover Your True Path »
When the Existential Crisis Becomes Existential Despair
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others, your existential crisis has become existential despair. You need to seek help immediately.
I am not qualified to help (I can only give general advice), so I strongly encourage you to seek out a psychologist, therapist, or counselor who can provide you with ongoing help.
I know this may feel scary and you might feel ridiculous, but it’s worth it. Please do it. Yes, you might be given medication, but that’s a stepping stone toward greater holistic health and understanding in the future.
For a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.
This is a Time of Death and Rebirth
The existential crisis is a time of death – the death of old beliefs, death of old ways of being, and death of old values.
But after death comes rebirth. Just look at the cycles of nature. What you’re experiencing isn’t going to last forever. After the night comes day, and after winter comes spring.
I hope this article has shown you how valuable this process you’re going through actually is. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. You are not alone.
You are actually saner than most people because you are questioning the insanity of the world around you. You are in the process of getting in touch with your true spiritual nature.
Tell me, are you going through an existential crisis right now? How does it feel for you? Please share below. Let’s help others not feel so alone.
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This article was helpful in letting me know that I’m not alone. I identified with all 15 of the signs, but had no idea that what I am experiencing has a “name.” I feel so disconnected from most everything and everyone.. I have found myself distancing myself from someone who I consider a good friend because I feel like there is no deep connection. Sure, I can talk to her, but I can’t REALLY talk to her about deep things. Things that might make a lot of people uncomfortable. I have no time for superficial bullshit or small talk or complaining. It’s all very hard to put into words and I do feel lost sometimes and like nobody understands me.
Thank you both for all the work you put into this website and your books and your Instagram. They all have helped me understand things I would’ve never known otherwise.
I am suffering now. The reason behind my suffer is Divorce & then my 2nd relationship Break Down. dont know how to overcome. Felling so lost & alone.
I am 30 years old and have had Asperger’s syndrome my whole life. I cannot make close friendships or form lasting romantic relationships. I have only one friend in the entire world. I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing everyone around me gushing about their wonderful marriages or their children or all the amazing places they get to travel to. I am always on the outside looking in. I am physically a beautiful woman but I am one of the saddest and loneliest people I have ever known because I am so fundamentally different from everyone else. The older I get and see things only getting worse in my life the more I consider suicide. Thank you for your kind words Luna. You have spoken to my soul. I am glad you made it through your existential crisis and I desperately hope I have the strength to make it through mine too.
Thank you again for a well written and helpful article. I have gone through my own existential crisis over several years and have used (and continue to use) many of the techniques you suggest on a daily basis.
My current challenge is living with the sadness of the wider social and environmental crisis facing humanity and the Earth (eg. bio-extinction crisis). I have retired from my profession as an urban/environmental planner, mainly from disillusionment and disgust. These are difficult times!
Thanks to you and Sol for your excellent website.
Peace & love
Sudden death of a 3 loved ones, Job loss, Moving to a new place (from San Diego to Dallas), Chronic stress and anxiety, Entering a new life phase (collecting Social Insecurity now!!), Loss of religious beliefs, Natural disaster (Hurricane Harvey – moved to Houston from Dallas), Excessive drug and alcohol use (which began when I was 14), Sudden spiritual awakening and dark night of the soul, Prolonged isolation And I can add the diagnosis of my ADHD at the age of 58 and the previous decade of therapy before that for my sexual/physical/emotional abuse as as a child. And now life is changing. My heart and mind anyway. I’ve realized this is going to be a process for the rest of my days here on the planet. Funny thing…much of my discovery occurred when I went back to college in my late 40’s. After graduating high school at the very bottom of the heap I was surprised to find myself on the dean’s list my first semester at college (Chemistry, English Comp and Statistics)…but it wasn’t until I transferred to architecture school that the real pressure began and that’s when my existential crisis began in earnest. Thank you for the… Read more »
It’s time I’m so aware of time and the need to use it wisely, I go to work which I now hate and wish the shift to end , i get home and I feel empty and don’t know what to do to enjoy my time, I’m on a hamster wheel and can get off it to really enjoy time.
The breakdown of my marriage & about a year later the death of my grandma has thrown me into a state of questioning mostly myself & what I’m putting out to my loved ones. I’m a mother of 3 & the more I question life the more I feel I have failed them. I feel selfish for being ‘asleep’ for lack of a better word for basically their whole life…I’m struggling with the next step I need to take & how I can take it with them in my mind.
For me personally existential crisis may be a result of narcissistic abuse.. which took a long time to see because it’s quite clever at concealing it’s reality, essentially creating habitual negative thought patterns about yourself and victim identity that is false. But even more damaging- invites the same relationship dynamics to take shape in a variety of forms – which in my own experience has shown me the many shadow sides of humanity and forced me to somehow feel responsible to reconcile it all. Which is obviously impossible. So maybe existential crisis- dark night of the soul is your awakening to your own truth? And acceptance of the shadowy sides of life. Of the ability to use your empathy to accept those who have hurt us, and others, as they also have their stories and experiences- which may or may not ever be fully realized depending on their ability to “do the work” that it takes to heal and begin to one again see the light of dawn? I am in a healing process and thank you for your inspirations. And comment to my comment would be deeply meaningful to me.
1-14. And the main problem seems to be that I feel “I’m not allowed to be myself and enjoy what I have and the great things I would be capable of.”
Wow! I’d give this a try