Existential Crises

Feeling uncertain about the course of your life is normal, and even rational to a certain extent. We’ve all wondered at times whether we’re making the right choices about our careers and partners.

However, when these difficulties feel especially urgent or persistent, they can become overwhelming. It's at that point when our anxious, depressed, or unsatisfied thoughts may have manifested themselves as an existential crisis.

Symptoms of an existential crisis

How can you tell whether what you're experiencing is, in fact, an existential crisis? Here are common signs:  

You feel overwhelmed or panicked about death

Existential crises often include an increased awareness of the difficulty of life or even the reality of death. This can be overwhelming to contemplate.

Your thoughts might be along the lines of "What's the point of life, if I'm doomed to die?"

You're sad or remorseful about things you cannot change  

You might find yourself dwelling on the path you have taken in life so far, and feeling sad that things have not gone differently.

For example, you may wish you'd taken a different career path or ended up with a different romantic partner.

This may lead to, or correspond with, depression.

You're worrying much more than you normally do

You may be unusually preoccupied with worry about the meaning of your life, and/or the choices you have made. This may lead to anxiety.

Causes of an existential crisis

Not sure what might have prompted your existential crisis? It could be related to a major change or shift in your personal life.

Here are a few reasons that people experience existential crises:

You recently entered a new life phase

People in the following life stages are all examples of individuals who might find themselves questioning who they are, and what they are doing with their lives:

You experienced a change in relationships or family roles

Significant relational changes, such as the following, might lead to an existential crisis:

You're questioning your career path

Whether leaving an old job, taking on a new one, or considering a new career altogether, finding meaning and belonging in work can be a major theme of existential crises.

You're living in a new place

Particularly for those immigrating to a new country, the process of moving and adapting to a new community might connect to crises around meaning and identity.

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What to do if you’re experiencing an existential crisis

If you’re experiencing the kinds of challenges described above, consider the following options:

What to look for in a therapist for existential crises

You can work with a therapist to treat your existential crisis. When you're starting your search for help, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Look for a therapist who has a specialty in working with clients in similar situations

Therapists differ in their approaches to treating existential crises. Common approaches include:

Helpful questions to ask

These questions may prove helpful when interviewing potential therapists:

Prioritize personal fit

While personality fit is a nuanced factor, it is critical to your success in therapy. Multiple studies have revealed the importance of this factor, often referred to as “therapeutic alliance.”

On your initial phone call with the therapist, ask yourself:

Additionally, consider these factors:

Consider cost, location, and scheduling

Therapy will only work if it works for you. Before making an appointment, ask yourself honestly:

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.