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How often do you experience an existential crisis?

Today is June 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you experience an existential crisis?” In 1844, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote: “Whoever has learnt to be anxious in the right way, has learnt the ultimate.” During your journey of navigating the chaos it is common to experience anxiety, question life, or experience an existential crisis. The human experience is complex, dynamic, and sophisticated.

Anxiety is merely one emotion most people feel at one time or another. While other questions in this Navigate the Chaos series focus on those larger life questions today’s post gives us an opportunity to reflect upon how often we experience an existential crisis and engage in the necessary work to process our thinking during one.

It is normal to experience an existential crisis from time to time, especially after a life event such as the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious health issue, or a significant birthday. Sarb Johal, a clinical psychologist who has worked with the New Zealand and UK governments, as well as the World Health Organization noted that existential crises are “often viewed as a journey, a necessary experience, or a complex phenomenon, an existential crisis stems from the self-awareness that your life will end one day and that mystery, unfamiliarity, and discomfort have replaced any sense of perceived normalcy.”

Assessing the impact of an existential crisis, Katherine King observed “Trying not to ignore it or hurry through it as doing so 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.” When people process their existential crisis they leverage their mind, body, and spirit on what makes their lives fulfilling.

To process an existential crisis, it is important to find meaning. As Clay Routledge observed “meaning reduces existential anxiety and helps someone feel like they’re part of something larger and longer-lasting than their brief, mortal lives.”

Therein lies the impact of the pandemic; it allowed people around the world to slow down and reassess their life situation. Noting the transformational power of an existential crisis, King wrote “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.”

In this way, an existential crisis might move you towards greater authenticity, which may also bring anxiety as you struggle for meaning. Now that the familiarity of your life has been stripped bare, what is your life really about? You might have thoughts about the fleetingness of your existence and how you are living it.

When you stop taking for granted that you will wake up each day alive, you might experience anxiety, but at the same time deeper meaning too. These are actually two sides of the same coin. Because of this, each of us must find a way to “live with” this anxiety rather than try to eliminate it. Experiencing an existential crisis can also be positive; it can guide you to question your purpose in life and help provide direction.

The Cleveland Clinic suggested the following six steps to help you process the thinking and anxiety associated with an existential crisis:

  1. Adjust your viewpoint – View the crisis as an opportunity to make changes that will add to your happiness instead of an experience to dread.

  2. Keep a gratitude journal - Writing down the things you enjoy and find meaningful can help you identify what you want to change.

  3. Connect with people - Reestablishing connections with friends and family can help you feel more grounded.

  4. Practice mindfulness – Give yourself time to enjoy those activities that bring you peace and quiet in order to calm your mind.

  5. Redirect your energy – Use your time wisely and create a better sense of equanimity between work and life.

  6. Don’t dwell on the past – Since no one is going back in time, only look forward and place your vision, energy, and time there so you can create the life you want.

  • How often have you experienced an existential crisis?

  • Have you given yourself permission to engage in the thinking required to process an existential crisis?

  • How has engaging in an existential crisis impacted your ability to navigate the chaos of life and translate one dream after another into reality?

  • How often do you give yourself permission to consider new perspectives that might emerge from your processing of an existential crisis?

  • How comfortable are you with any pain that might arise from processing the existential crisis?

  • How often are you committed to creating a more meaningful tomorrow?

  • How many of the six steps do you engage in to help yourself process an existential crisis?


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