8 Ways To Cope With An Existential Crisis

6 minute

You’re not growing up if you’re not asking yourself “what am I doing with my life” at least once every two days. And there’s no dearth of memes online that echo this feeling. In fact, ever since the phenomenon that is 2020 descended upon us, jokes about death, the pointlessness of life, and everything in between have only doubled. However, beyond the few chuckles that something you’ve seen online might elicit, there’s the complex phenomenon known as an existential crisis. While it’s natural to question the meaning and purpose of life, an existential crisis is often seen as a downward spiral, wherein a satisfying answer is never arrived at. This could lead to an ever-present feeling of frustration and loss of contentment and joy. 

Usually triggered by a traumatic event like the death of a loved one, illness, a painful separation, health woes, or even a job loss, the overarching feeling that an existential crisis can cause is dissatisfaction. And if you’ve found yourself being sucked into this loop of dread over and over again, we’ve got a few tips to help slow down your brain and give you a bit of relief. 

1. Pull The Handbrake On Your Thoughts

When you feel yourself slipping into a spiral, pause your thoughts by getting up and walking around or mentally hitting the hand brakes on them. Then replace your negative or pessimistic ideas with meaningful things like a hobby or house chore. You could also sign up for a class or a volunteering experience. Even something as simple as practising being compassionate can help break the patterns that regular episodes of existential crisis can create. 

2. Write It All Down

Don’t let your thoughts be limited to the confines of your brain, put them on paper instead. This way, you’ll keep them from compounding into something greater than it is. In addition to this, you could keep a gratitude journal and write about all the things you’re thankful for in it. Whenever you discover something or someone you’ve enjoyed investing your energy, time, and effort into, make a note of it. By writing all of these down, you’ll have something to go back to, to remind yourself of why you’re here. 

3. Work On Being Comfortable With Uncertainty 

Life, as it stands, simply doesn’t have all the answers all the time. And although most people know this, it’s harder for them to convince their brains of it. That said, it’s important to remind yourself of this simple fact either way. For instance, while asking life some big questions, it’s important to vocalize or mentally remind yourself that you probably won’t hear back from life on any of them. You could also answer these questions for yourself in smaller instalments and work on accepting these smaller answers as the key to understanding the bigger picture. 

4. Talk To Someone

The more disconnected you are with the people in your life, the more likely you are to have prolonged episodes of existential crisis. Staying in touch with your loved ones can help keep you grounded and make you feel a little less lonely and isolated. This is especially important if you’ve had recurring episodes for more than a couple of months. If left untreated, repetitive episodes can lead to depression or suicidal feelings. And if you find yourself veering towards either, do reach out to a therapist. They could help you navigate these emotions. 

5. Head Outside

We spend a little too much time indoors, especially due to the fact that we’ve had so many lockdowns in the past year. However, neglecting physical movement can be detrimental to your ability to fight off existential crises because your body is just as agitated as your mind is during an episode. So just take a quick walk outside, pace in your balcony, or grab a few hiking supplies and do a long hike. Doing any of these for however long can help take your mind off of things for a while and give you a fresh perspective on things. It might sound overly simplistic but it is skin to something that scientists call the astronaut overview effect wherein there’s a noticeable cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space. This positive effect of awe on the brain is currently under study but there’s no denying the fact that just heading out and getting a whiff and a peek of the natural world can be just as awe-inspiring. 

6. Invest Your Time Wisely 

Another seemingly overly simplistic solution that has been found to work is to pick how much of your time goes into the things you do on a daily basis and ensure that you don’t invest too much of it into just one thing. For instance, during the pandemic, a lot of people who lost their jobs realized that they had put too much of their time, energy, and effort into their careers and felt empty without it. This, naturally, sparked existential crises. This is why it’s important to have hobbies, interests, relationships, and goals outside of your career, spread out evenly and in a balanced manner so as to have something going for yourself at all times. The bottom line is: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. 

7. Don’t Look Back

We hear about this in movies, songs, and motivational speeches - it’s important not to live in the past. But we rarely ever take this bit of advice as seriously as we should. Spending too much time looking back can send you down a road that will lead nowhere. The regret that it can cause can be hard to work your way through. Instead, try and focus your attention back on the present by engaging in activities that are physically challenging or mentally challenging. This will keep you from going down memory lane. 

8. Find Reasons To Love Life

It’s difficult seeing yourself in a positive light when there’s a storm raging through your mind but it’s important to find reasons to love yourself. Refer back to the notes you made, talk to your loved ones and ask them if you’ve had a positive impact in their lives or what they think your most admirable qualities are. Remind yourself of these when you’re feeling down. 

Most importantly, however, remind yourself of the fact that an existential crisis can help you find ways to pick yourself off of ground bottom and work with a blank canvas. You get to choose your purpose and the direction your life will take. And you can make the most of this newfound awareness to ensure that your life ends up being fantastic.  

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