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?
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 cometo 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.
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.
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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.
Brittney Lindstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.
Jan 14, 2017 by Lucy Adams
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What is an existential crisis? How do you deal with it? How much do we know about this phenomenon? How to resist the destructive temptations? If you are asking these questions, I suggest your emotional state is far from perfect. Well, keep calm and get ready to dig into your inner world together with Lucy Adams, an outsourcer from BuzzEssay.
Any existential crisis begins the moment a person thinks about his existence in this world.
- Do I have the right to live in this world? Do I have enough resources to cope with the challenges that life throws me?
- What is this world? Where can I find support in it?
- Who am I? Am I satisfied with the quality of my life?
- What is the meaning of my life? What tasks are in front of me in this world?
These reflections relate to the conditions that make the life of an individual possible. To get the motivation to live, a person has to answer these basic questions of existence more or less clearly.
Do I have the right to live in this world?
This is the motivation for physical survival and the spiritual overcoming of being (“to be able to be”). Why do some people “stay in the saddle” more firmly than others? What are the reasons? These people are called strong. They can accept and endure life as it is. They are calmer about the givens of existence.
We come into this world in different circumstances. People who quietly accept the givens of existence direct their attention and efforts on the creation of their lives in the best way they can. They fill a predetermined shape with themselves and their interests. If they have a house, they create comfort in it instead of crying that the walls are painted black. No hysteria! Just plans, strategies, and work.
Others are waiting until the world adjusts to their needs and desires. They dream of the life they want to live. And when life’s circumstances do not fit into this pattern, they fall into rage and despair. Come up with the details of how you’ll spend the day, and then every detail and discrepancy to the predetermined scenario will spoil your mood and knock you out of the balance.
The first fundamental motivation’s main task is to learn, to accept, and to endure. “To accept” means taking the givens of existence as they are while keeping up the emotional balance. The consequence of this “accepting” is a feeling of trust, experienced as the readiness to detect a plurality of supports (including the spiritual ones) that go beyond the individual’s life and the rational.
I can be in this world, but is my life is good? Why do I have to live if nothing pleases me?
This is the motivation for obtaining the mental joy of life and the experiencing its values. #2 is closely connected to depression.
We’re talking about:
- Being emotionally open and involved with life.
- Being sensitive despite fear of feeling pain and suffering.
- Being courageous and social (open your soul to people, share emotions, etc.)
The fullness of sensual experiences are revealed to man when he doesn’t hide but meets everything that life brings to him. Suffering is a natural part of life, as well as joy.
If a person hides from negative feelings, he’s also hidden from any positive feelings. As a result, he’s not able to fully enjoy life. You can’t turn off negative emotions only. Enjoy life like it is.
Do I have the right to be who I am?
The evaluation of one’s behavior, desires, and intentions is fixed in the judgment that justifies or blames the personality. The verdict to oneself is the result of scrutinizing and watching oneself. We always evaluate ourselves (at least, a little bit) when interacting with other people.
The self-assessment that takes place through the coordination of the situation along with the actions of the person is called conscience. Unfortunately, the self-assessment is always affected by the opinion of respected people. It may confuse the person and put forth a few questions such as:
- Am I right? Am I doing right?
Well, everything that agrees with the person (consistent with one’s conscience) is right.
By answering the question “Do I have the right to be who I am?” a person becomes more secure in the face of people who hurt him with their opinions. The individual can stand up for oneself, no being afraid of being oneself in front of others. These are the consequences of the self-worth development of an individual.
When a person is justified in his own eyes, he can safely present his thoughts and labors to the judgment of people. A consequence of the high self-worth of an individual is the readiness to begin an equitable dialogue with the outside world.
What is the request of my current life situation? What life problems are the most relevant to me? In what context do I live? What should I do?
This thinking process confronts the existential vacuum, a sense of deep frustration, and experiencing the meaninglessness of life. A person who lives his life consciously tends to see it as included in the most general relationships: historical, cultural, biographical, and religious.
The main task for the individual in #4 is to realize his identity among the challenges of our troubled world. “Become alive” – these two words best characterize the goal of a person who asks the questions stated in #4. One has to get a sense of inner harmony and a certain position about oneself and the world around them.
Having successfully experienced an existential crisis, a person becomes open to oneself, which presents a good foothold for self-confidence, recognition of the value of oneself, an adequate assessment of oneself, easier and less traumatic experiences from the criticism from others, etc. This leads to the fact that the person becomes stronger against the outside world and its assessments. No existential therapy needed.
Last Updated on March 2, 2020
Being human carries with it a certain desire to know who you are, where you’re going, and why you’re here, to begin with. Sometimes, these questions compound over time, and suddenly, you’re faced with an existential crisis. Those questions reach critical mass, causing panic attacks, stress, and more.
Some people even consider horrible thoughts like suicide if the crisis is extreme enough. Navigating this experience can be challenging, so we’ve put together this helpful list of tips for positively navigating your crisis for the best outcome. Keep reading to learn more!
Table of Contents
Don’t Run Away From Friends and Family
A common practice during an existential crisis is to isolate oneself and seek answers without any support, and while alone time is certainly helpful, you shouldn’t completely isolate yourself from other people; especially the people you love. Having an existential crisis means questioning your purpose, but where can you find a large part of that purpose? Your friends and family, of course!
Friends and family offer not only a support system for us but also a sense of belonging. Humans are social creatures; we like to be surrounded by those that are like us, that care about us, and that gives us a sense of community. Why sacrifice your best support group to find your purpose, when some of it lies within that group?
Don’t Be Afraid of the Big Questions That Come With It
During an existential crisis, you’re going to ask some big questions, whether or not you necessarily want to ask them. The key here is to not shy away from those big questions. For example, if one of your questions is “why am I here?”, there may be a deeper issue at hand.
Maybe you’re unhappy or unfulfilled in your job, your marriage, or some other aspect of your life; but you’ve ignored it to the point where you’re questioning everything.
A good tactic for this question is to write down or take a mental note of everything that adds value to your life, and everything that doesn’t. This is important, because you may find that the “doesn’t add value” section is much larger than you thought.
When we say “adds value”, we’re talking about something that makes you feel happy, fulfilled, and content. Everything else is secondary!
It’s OK To Question Your Faith
If you’re a religious person, you may find yourself questioning your faith or your belief in God altogether. This is a classic existential question, but it’s one you shouldn’t avoid. It’s ok to question your faith, your God, and your beliefs .
Many of us fall into belief patterns because of habit or the way we were raised, even if they don’t make sense or aren’t compatible with our lives.
You’ll likely run into judgment or scrutiny from faithful family members, friends, or members of your congregation. Expect this, accept it, and keep asking questions. Remember that these questions came into your mind for a reason, so don’t ignore them!
Be Truthful With Yourself
Sometimes, the truth hurts. That’s the nature of it. It isn’t always pretty, dolled-up, or pleasant, and that’s the whole point of seeking the truth.
An existential crisis is nothing more than your mind’s way of saying “hey, there’s a greater truth here that I want to know.” There’s nothing wrong with finding these truths, but you must be truthful with yourself first and when you find the answers you’re looking for.
If during your search you find that certain aspects of your life are unfulfilling and bringing you misery, be honest about why that is.
Is it the people in those areas of your life? Is it because of your decision-making? Is it because you’ve gotten complacent?
Now, when we say truthful, that doesn’t mean be overly harsh with yourself, either. There’s a difference between telling yourself the truth and just being downright self-destructive. If you’ve failed in an area of life, admit your failure and commit to change; don’t just say “I suck” and leave it at that.
Existential crises can sometimes reach a point where you’re struggling to get through them on your own. This is where seeking help comes in, whether it’s from a counselor or even a religious figure you trust to help you answer these questions. A religious figure will help you find your answers through faith, whereas a counselor or psychiatrist will help you find the deep-rooted issues behind your crisis.
Whichever route you choose, just be sure you go into it with an open mind. You’re probably going to find some answers that surprise you or that contradict long-held beliefs. That’s the beauty of an existential crisis, you get to ask those important questions and find the answers…even if they’re not pretty.
Man’s search for meaning is an ongoing battle with himself, but the day we stop asking questions is the day we give up hope of ever finding it. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.
A period of personal crisis can offer wisdom, if we take the time to listen.
Posted January 31, 2021
At some point in life, many of us will experience an existential crisis. Such a struggle usually involves the loss or wavering of meaning and purpose in life. There might also be a sense of personal insignificance or aloneness in the world. An existential crisis could be accompanied by a range of feelings like sadness, despair, frustration, or anxiety.
An existential crisis can emerge for many reasons. It might occur after a major life change. It could be a painful one like the death of a loved one, something positive like the birth of a child, or something more neutral like turning a certain age (e.g., a milestone year like 50, or a personally meaningful year like the age when a parent died). It can also arise in anticipation of a major change such as when you anticipate losing a job, ending a relationship, or when you know grown children will soon be leaving the nest.
Sometimes crises occur suddenly when we encounter a new idea, have a new insight, or get an important piece of news. They can also arise gradually, a bit like slowly turning up the volume on something until eventually you cannot ignore it anymore.
Whatever brings it on, and however it manifests, an existential crisis does not have to be completely negative. While there might be painful thoughts or emotions involved, much of the struggle can be salutary if we make space for it. Below are three tips for navigating such a challenge.
Be curious about your crisis. Instead of trying to shove it out of your awareness, cultivate a sense of openness and curiosity about this experience. Why is it arising now? What wisdom or insight might it have to offer? Oftentimes, crises arise when some deeper truth has been ignored. The only way out becomes to listen closely to what needs to be heard. What is true that you have been ignoring? What longing has remained unfulfilled? This can require being painfully honest with ourselves. It may involve facing potentially inconvenient truths about our careers, our relationships, or how we use our time.
Be willing to take action. Existential crises often arise when something is out of alignment in our lives. We aren’t living according to one of our deeply held values, or something just feels off and we aren’t sure what yet. For most people, there is a wish for a deeper sense of meaning or a longing for something new.
Show respect for the wisdom in your crisis by doing something different. Don’t be short-sighted and do anything you might regret later on, but do see what you can jiggle around in your life to get new kinds of stimulation. Sometimes our crisis turns out to be a response to monotony, and just shaking up our usual routines can make a difference.
If you sense that you need bigger or more bold change, start to do small things differently. This can build our confidence for the bigger future actions we may need to take.
If we don’t know what’s next, try a bunch of small experiments to keep the stakes low while also allowing yourself to explore what the next chapter might look like. It might be reading a whole new kind of book, taking a class in a subject you always meant to study, showing up at the religious service of a new congregation, joining a new club, or reaching out to someone who you think might make a good new friend. Be open to surprise and synchronicity and stay tuned in to your emotional responses to these new experiences.
Be patient with yourself. It is normal to experience existential crises from time to time and to varying degrees. The very fact that you are committed to living a meaningful life means occasionally you will realize that you’ve lost your way. This is part of life’s journey, not an aberration.
At such a time, we need to feel our pain or grief in order to come to terms with it. Trying to ignore it, or hurry through it, will only compound the pain next time around. Only after we’ve slowed down and patiently let ourselves feel our emotions and make space for new perspectives can we begin the process of getting back on track.
Existential crises can be painful in the moment, but in the long run they can offer wisdom, hope, and profound positive transformation. By being patient, curious, and willing to take action, we can carry ourselves safely through to a better and more meaningful tomorrow.
Are you going through an existential crisis? Here are 10 ways to identify your type of crisis, find meaning, and thrive in the face of trouble.
Table of Contents
- What Is an Existential Crisis? (Meaning)
- 4 Existential Crisis Statistics You Should Know
- What Type of Existential Crisis Are You Going Through? (Quiz)
- 10 Signs You’re Going Through an Existential Crisis
- #1: Social media becomes your main source of validation.
- #2: You greet people with a bright smile, even if you’re dying inside.
- #3: You’ve lost your calling in life.
- #4: “I hate myself” becomes your slogan.
- #5: You’re afraid to speak out.
- #6: You’re chronically indecisive.
- #7: You don’t know what to do.
- #8: You’ve lost all motivation.
- #9: Your despair shows in your art.
- #10: It feels like there’s no end.
- How to Get Out of an Existential Crisis
- Step #1: Examine
- A change in your environment
- Divorce or breakup of a relationship
- Job or career change
- Physical or mental health issue
- Death of a loved one
- Sudden injury
- Lack of people interaction
- Step #2: Narrate
- Step #3: Find Meaning
- Step #4: Action
15 years ago, I was going through an existential crisis:
- My first book had failed.
- My business was barely paying the bills.
- I was working with soul-sucking, demanding, difficult clients.
So, I did what any courageous (or crazy, as some might say) person would do…
I shut down the business and pursued my true passion—the science of people. I mastered the art of public speaking and changed my entire business model.
And you know what??
Going through this crisis was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because the website you’re on now is the result of the hardship I went through.
Today I’m going to show you a science-backed framework to help you get out of a funk.
First, let’s break it down to the fundamentals.
What Is an Existential Crisis? (Meaning)
An existential crisis, also known as existential dread, anxiety, or anguish, is a period of time where a person may feel a lack of meaning or purpose in their life. People experiencing an existential crisis commonly report a great sense of apathy, purposelessness, and lack of motivation, usually lasting a few months or longer.
The research lab here at Science of People conducted a survey, gathering data from 250 unique individuals (thank you, survey-takers!). Many of them even experienced existential crises themselves. These numbers might surprise you:
4 Existential Crisis Statistics You Should Know
- 67.9% of people said they’ve experienced an existential crisis.
- The leading cause of an existential crisis is a lack of purpose or calling, followed by career or finance-related difficulties.
- 19.4% of people said their existential crisis lasted between 3–6 months. 34.7% said they are still going through one.
- 59.5% said they know someone else who has been in an existential crisis.
What Type of Existential Crisis Are You Going Through? (Quiz)
Alright, how do you know if you’re going through an existential crisis? Whether you’re a twentysomething or you’re in a midlife crisis—anyone can experience an existential crisis.
I found there are 5 types of crises. Take this 2-minute self-test to see what type of crisis you have.
For the following 4 questions, make a mental note of the letter that best describes you.
- If I could have a superpower, it would be:
- A. The ability to fly
- B. Being able to live as long as I want
- C. Mind reading
- D. The ability to heal others
- E. Being happy all the time
2. When I wake up in the morning, my biggest worry is:
- A. How to go about starting my day
- B. My impending death or illness
- C. Being alone
- D. Not making a big enough impact
- E. Not finding happiness
3. My friends or family would say my biggest weakness is:
- A. Being indecisive
- B. Stressing out about health or old age
- C. Not being able to form strong relationships
- D. Having no passion in life
- E. Being too negative
4. Which of these situations has caused you the most amount of stress recently?
- A. Seeing different paths my life could take but not knowing which choice is the “right” one.
- B. Death of a loved one
- C. Not being able to connect with others
- D. Not knowing my purpose in life
- E. Trying to remain happy, even with negative emotions
Great! You finished the quiz. Now did one letter stand out above the rest?
- If you scored more As: You have a crisis of freedom and responsibility. You wish you had more freedom to make choices, but even these choices can be overwhelming and lead to indecisiveness and inaction.
- If you scored more Bs: You have a crisis of death and mortality. Old age or an illness may cause you to think about the meaning of life and what comes after death.
- If you scored more Cs: You have a crisis of isolation and connectedness. You may feel anxious about being alone and wish you had more quality connections.
- If you scored more Ds: You have a crisis of meaning and meaninglessness. You may have a dead-end job or feel like you’re just “getting by” in life. A lack of significance or making a difference may cause you anxiety.
- If you scored more Es: You have a crisis of emotion, experiences, and embodiment. If this is you, you tend to block out negative emotions and try to only feel positive. However, blocking out pain, anger, and grief may only lead to more suffering.
The key you should know is this:
There are many types of existential crises, and you can be experiencing more than one type.
OK, so you’ve got a good idea of the 5 types of existential crises. Now let’s take a look at some real-life problems you may be facing. Can you relate to these symptoms?
In this Article
- The Theory Behind Existential Therapy
- The Principles of Existential Therapy
- How Does Existential Therapy Work?
Life is full of questions. Sometimes you wonder what the meaning of life is and why you are here in the first place. Existential therapy helps put a lot of focus on the human condition as a whole.В
It relies on a positive approach that applauds human aspirations and capabilities. It also acknowledges that human beings have limitations. This therapy approach has several similarities to humanistic therapy, emphasizing the good in human beings.
The Theory Behind Existential Therapy
The theory behind existential therapy helps you explore lifeвЂ™s difficulties from a philosophical perspective.В
The bottom line of this therapy approach is to encourage you to take responsibility for your success. It suggests that your source of inner conflict is the confrontation you have with the issues of life. Instead of looking back into your past, you should look at the here and now. Try to get meaning out of any given situation as a whole. In doing so, you can end the fear of the unknown that grips you way too often.
The Principles of Existential Therapy
This form of therapy is founded on the belief that you face certain givens in life. Unfortunately, these experiences cause internal conflict within you as they seem to work against your inherent human existence. Existential therapy recognizes four major existential givens.
Freedom and responsibility. According to this approach, you are free to choose among many alternatives. This leaves you with enough room to take responsibility for your actions, life, and any failure to take action.
If you’re always in the habit of blaming other people for your problems, a therapist using this approach will help you see things from a different perspective. They’ll make you recognize how your actions led you to the situation you’re in and how you let others decide for you. You’ll also be able to see the price you pay for doing so.
The solution is to help you look at the various options you have in every situation. Trust yourself to search within and find the answers you need. You will discover how you have lost touch with your identity and instead let others design your life.
Awareness of death. Existential therapy proposes that the thought of death motivates you to live your life fully. It pushes you to take advantage of every opportunity you have to create something meaningful.
Isolation is part of life. This theory suggests that you live in a state of social isolation вЂ” your life is devoid of social relationships with other people, and you live alone. You should always strive to give a sense of meaning to life by creating a relationship with yourself. Learn to listen to yourself and to respect your decisions. Decide how to live with yourself and be firm about it.
During an existential therapy session, your therapist might also encourage you to identify the challenges you face from relationships. They will help you pick out what you get from relationships and understand why you avoid close ones.
The search for meaning. Therapists who use this approach encourage you to ask yourself what you want from life. You also must identify where you get meaning from in your life. This teaches you to trust your capacity to find your way of being.В
When you’re committed to creating, loving, building, and working, meaning in life will come as a by-product of this engagement. Leading a meaningless life can lead to emptiness and hollowness, also known as an existential vacuum.
How Does Existential Therapy Work?
The concept of existential therapy aims to help you have a wide perspective on life. This will increase your self-awareness and increase the potential choices you have in life. It also aims to teach you to take responsibility for your actions and options and to experience authentic existence.
This therapy is not technique-oriented. Instead, the interventions are based on philosophical views about human existence. The approach applies best when you are bereaved or trying to cope with failures in work or marriage. It also applies when youвЂ™re dealing with developmental crises or physical limitations due to age.
Existential therapy is an approach that targets the underlying factors that cause internal conflict within you. It targets both mental and behavioral concerns, although it may not directly address the problem at hand. This approach is quite adaptable in creating meaning and can easily be blended with other treatment options.В
Combining different approaches maximizes efficiency and promotes quicker recovery. However, existential therapy may not help people who don’t wish to explore their internal mental and emotional processes.
American Psychological Association: вЂњDifferent Approaches to Psychotherapy,вЂќ вЂњIn search of meaning.вЂќвЂЊ
Cambridge Core: вЂњExistential guilt and the fear of death.вЂќвЂЊ
Careers in Psychology: вЂњStart an Existential Therapy Career.вЂќвЂЊ
Counselling Directory: вЂњExistential therapy.вЂќвЂЊ
Journal Storage: вЂњCan We Reconcile Existential Responsibility With Psychotherapy.вЂќвЂЊ
New School of Psychotherapy and Counseling: вЂњWhat is the Existential Approach?вЂќ
Palliative & Support Care: вЂњExistential Isolation.вЂќвЂЊ
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services: вЂњBrief Humanistic and Existential Theories.вЂќ
Thinking about death can cause us to feel a sort of existential angst that isn’t attributable to a specific source. Now, new research suggests that acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain medication, may help to reduce this existential pain.
According to lead researcher Daniel Randles and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the new findings suggest that Tylenol may have more profound psychological effects than previously thought:
“Pain extends beyond tissue damage and hurt feelings, and includes the distress and existential angst we feel when we’re uncertain or have just experienced something surreal. Regardless of the kind of pain, taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong.”
Randles and colleagues knew from previous research that when the richness, order, and meaning in life is threatened — with thoughts of death, for instance — people tend to reassert their basic values as a coping mechanism.
The researchers also knew that both physical and social pain — like bumping your head or being ostracized from friends — can be alleviated with acetaminophen. Randles and colleagues speculated that the existentialist suffering we face with thoughts of death might involve similar brain processes. If so, they asked, would it be possible to reduce that suffering with a simple pain medicine?
The researchers had participants take either Tylenol brand acetaminophen or a sugar pill placebo in a double-blind study. One group of participants was asked to write about what would happen to their body after they die, and the control group was asked to write about having dental pain, an unpleasant but not existentially distressing thought.
All the participants were then asked to read an arrest report about a prostitute, and to set the amount for bail.
Just as expected, the control group that wrote about dental pain — who weren’t made to feel an existentialist threat — gave relatively low bail amounts, only about $300. They didn’t feel the need to assert their values.
On the other hand, the participants who wrote about their own death and were given a sugar pill gave over $400 for bail, in line with previous studies. They responded to the threat on life’s meaning and order by affirming their basic values, perhaps as a coping mechanism.
But, the participants in this group who took Tylenol were not nearly as harsh in setting bail. These results suggest that their existential suffering was ‘treated’ by the headache drug.
A second study confirmed these results using video clips. People who watched a surreal video by director David Lynch and took the sugar pill judged a group of rioters following a hockey game most harshly, while those who watched the video and took Tylenol were more lenient.
The study demonstrates that existentialist dread is not limited to thinking about death, but might generalize to any scenario that is confusing or surprising — such as an unsettling movie.
“We’re still taken aback that we’ve found that a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches can also make people numb to the worry of thinking about their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film,” says Randles.
The researchers believe that these studies may have implications for clinical interventions down the road.
“For people who suffer from chronic anxiety, or are overly sensitive to uncertainty, this work may shed some light on what is happening and how their symptoms could be reduced,” Randles concludes.
In addition to Randles, co-authors on this research include Steven Heine and Nathan Santos of the University of British Columbia.
This research was supported by a grant and doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Is the tone of this article intended as satire? It certainly reads like one. Existential crises are what make us human, part of what separates us from the other animals and makes us produce great art and philosophy to cope with *and ultimately overcome* our reasonable initial response to the realization of the apparent situation that life has no inherent meaning and we are all going to die. I want to keep on creating art that isn’t meaningless, and therefore I am going to avoid Tylenol as much as possible from now on. Next you’ll be talking about a wonderful new pill that prevents us from feeling responsible for our actions, or allows us to be happy go lucky right after our spouse of 50 years dies. Wonderful. The main utility of these studies in my view is to let us know what medicine NOT to take. For this service, I thank you with all my heart.
Because 2020 has been a hell of a year
Aug 12, 2020 · 3 min read
In a recent episode of “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” the First Lady talked about how we’re spending a lot more time alone than what we are used to. Not only are we stuck indoors, but we’re also stuck in our own heads which can be maddening after an extended period of time.
“I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression.” -Michelle Obama
Feeling this way is normal, but during the year o f COVID-19, these are not normal times. The usual coping mechanisms are unhealthy distractions or temporary reprieves, but after months of quarantine and one crisis after another, the usual tactics don’t seem to be as effective. It becomes more difficult to ignore those existential questions such as “What am I doing with my life?”, “What is my purpose?” and “Am I happy?”
Two years ago, I went through a severe existential crisis and turned towards books as a lifeline. I figured that if what I’m doing now isn’t working, I need to learn something new. Here are six books that I cherish and still reach for when I need guidance:
“Ikigai” by Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia
Learn the secrets of how to live a long and happy life, shared by the oldest people in the world (at least 100 years old and going strong). Here’s a hint: it starts with simplicity and community.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl
The true story of a Holocaust survivor who survived a concentration camp by immersing himself in his purpose. It’s a powerful reminder that even if you might not be physically free, you can choose to be mentally free. You’ll come out of this story feeling immense gratitude.
“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
Screw being happy. Manson argues that the tough experiences are what gives life meaning. Learn how to prioritize yourself and shut down the noise while still being a good person. He also has a great weekly email newsletter.
“The Courage to Be Disliked” by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi
Being true yourself might mean upsetting others because you can be viewed as a disruptor of the norm. Written in the form of a dialogue, this book teaches you how to remove the obstacles that keep you from being your authentic self.
“The Quarter-Life Breakthrough” by Adam Smiley Poswolsky
The new mid-life crisis is the quarter-life crisis. Adults in their twenties and thirties are starting to feel restless, despite having a decent job and having their basic needs met. Filled with key takeaways, exercises, and resources, this personable book helps you through your quarter-life crisis in a much healthier way than running away to Bali or paying for a graduate degree that you don’t know what to do with.
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey
How can you become a better person? Covey gently leads you into the deep end of the reflection pool in this timeless book packed with relatable anecdotes, practical tips, and exercises for each habit. Grab a pen, highlighter, and a notebook because this book is a gold mine of information.
After I read these books, I kept wondering why it took me so long to find them. I wished that I had read these books ten years ago, but I don’t think I would have been ready for them. When you’re in your twenties, you think you have everything figured out.
When I hit rock bottom a couple years ago, my usual tactics didn’t work for me because I wasn’t trying to actually grow from the experience, I was just trying to get through it. Change and growth starts with the mindset, and the behaviors will follow. You have to rewire your brain and unlearn some bad habits to make room for new ideas and perspectives.
If your mind is keeping you up at night, give it something else to think about by picking up one of these books. I recommend reading the books in the order that I listed them. The first four books focuses on shifting your mindset and the last two are more heavy on the exercises. If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts or recommendations of other books that helped you through your existential crisis.
Sometimes feeling unsure about your life and major choices is normal, and even a sign of good mental health. However, some people are more likely to experience — or certain life events are more likely to cause — unrelenting and intrusive questions about the futility of life and their place in the world.
An existential crisis may occur when a person frequently wonders whether life has any inherent meaning or purpose. A person may also question their existence and life choices within a world that may seem meaningless.
Occasional existential concerns are common and at crossroads, it can be healthy to question your life choices and goals. However, lengthy existential crises can contribute to a negative or paralyzing outlook on life, especially if you’re unable to find answers that satisfy your questions of meaning and identity.
An existential crisis may also occur after a long period of negative emotions, feelings of isolation, and other chronic stressors.
Existential Crisis Symptoms
It can be difficult to tell whether you’re experiencing an existential crisis. The most common signs of existential crises include:
- Feeling overwhelmed about and preoccupied with death: Existential crises often include an increased awareness of mortality, the difficulty of life, and the reality of death. For many people, contemplating death can feel overwhelming and confusing. You might have thoughts along the lines of: “What’s the point of life? “
- Remorse toward things you can’t change: You might find yourself thinking about the path you’ve chosen in life so far, and you might feel sad or remorseful that things did not go differently. For example, you might wish you had chosen a different career path. Feeling remorseful about your past decisions may also correspond with depression.
- Worrying more than you usually do: You might feel preoccupied with worry about the meaning of life, the choices you’ve made, or existential threats, like climate change or natural disasters. Preoccupation like this may also correspond with anxiety.
Causes of Existential Crises
An existential crisis can occur due to a significant change or shift in your personal life, such as:
- Starting a new life stage: People who have recently finished college, entered their quarter or middle life, or retired may find themselves questioning who they are and what they’re doing with their lives. For example, if you recently entered your middle life, you may be questioning the choices you made over the past decade. Young people are also vulnerable to existentialism, as they may face uncertainty toward their future, especially during adolescent years.
- Experiencing a relationship change:Significant relationship changes, such as getting married, going through a breakup, having a baby, and the death of a family member, can lead to an existential crisis.
- Questioning your career path: If you’re leaving an old job, starting a new one, or questioning your career altogether, struggling to find meaning can lead to an existential crisis.
- Moving: Especially for individuals who have recently immigrated to a new country, moving and adapting to a new way of life can lead to uncertainties about meaning and identity.
Existential Crisis and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Millions of people in the US are struggling with loneliness, isolation, and the fear of death as they practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you’re struggling with a pre-existing mental illness such as depression or anxiety, the current situation can be particularly challenging. It’s important to remember that increased online access to professional help is available and that it’s essential to take care of your mental and physical health during this time.
What should you do if you’re experiencing an existential crisis?
Experiencing an existential crisis does not necessarily mean that a person has a mental health problem. In some cases, an existential crisis can be a positive experience. Questioning your life and purpose is healthy, and it can provide direction and lead to fulfillment in one’s self. The following options can help you positively overcome an existential crisis:
- Therapy: Finding a therapist specializing in existential depression can help you manage your anxiety, find meaning in life, and overcome life’s grand challenges. Common approaches to existential crises include psychodynamic psychotherapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), existential psychotherapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy.
- Journaling: Maintaining a written record of your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings around your existential despair can help you clarify your questions and help you find meaning during a crisis of meaning. Additionally, noting small and meaningful events in a gratitude journal can help remind you of the things you enjoy about life, along with positive experiences and interactions that collectively add meaning to life.
- Social support: Reaching out to a friend or family member may help you see your existential crisis in different ways. For example, talking to your friends about your career path can help you overcome fears or shame and learn about new options and possibilities to explore.
- Meditation or mindfulness practices: Studies have shown that mindfulness practices can help reduce the symptoms of stress that may correspond to an existential crisis.
What should you look for in a therapist?
Questioning yourself and the world can be healthy. However, if your existential crisis leads you toward depression and anxiety, consider reaching out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. WithTherapy’s unique service will provide you with mental health professional matches that you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the qualified licensed mental health professionals on WithTherapy will help you navigate your questions and find meaning through therapy.
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