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The (Not-So) Monstrous Existential Crisis

By Maaku Angirish, Psychotherapist In Training

“I can’t come out tonight, I have a lot on my plate!”, you say, and then you lay on your couch and stare at the ceiling until 1am.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe your existential crisis has a more subtle flavour, like an invisible fly buzzing near your ears that won’t go away.

Thoughts that might sound like, “I can’t wait to go home. Do I even want to be here? Oh my god, we’re all gonna die in like, five years, anyway…” and just as quickly as you hear those thoughts, they dissipate, and you take another sip of wine and laugh with your friends again.

Our teeny existential crises can manifest in a million different ways.

You might have heard an existential crisis also referred to as:

  • Existential Anxiety
  • Existential Angst
  • Teen Angst (my favourite!)
  • “I’m not depressed, but I feel depressed?!” (that saga!)

And trust me… the existential crisis is a completely normal experience!

An existential crisis might start to bubble up when you start questioning what you’re doing, where you’re doing it, how you’re doing it, who you’re doing it with, and why you’re doing it at all.

Usually there’s something that triggers an existential crisis. This could be your job, your partner, your friends, your education, your values, or your life goals. Changes or transitions in these areas are usually manageable, but sometimes we get caught out with too many of these areas ‘under construction’.

Let me give you an example.

Everything in life is going swell! You just landed a new job. It’s a bit different to what you’ve been doing up until now, but that’s okay. Although, you think, you could consider going back to university and doing a short course so you’re at least more skilled in this new line of work. But you and your partner are about to make a big grown-up purchase together, so you don’t really have the money for that. But you’ve been noticing that you don’t value financial security as much anymore, anyway… unlike your partner, family, and friends. You’re starting to feel that perhaps adventure or spontaneity is at the core of your being, so really, you feel like you should spend some money on expanding your knowledge. Ah, that’s too hard, maybe you should quit your new job, and-

You get it, right? You can just spiral and spiral and spiral until you’re a bit of a mess.

Let’s be curious about this…what are some other ways that an existential crisis might start manifesting in your life?

  1. Worrying about everything all the damn time

You might find yourself constantly thinking and worrying about everything. The lyrics to a recent Motion City Soundtrack song (ironically titled ‘Everything is Alright’) say, “I’m sick of the things I do when I’m nervous, like cleaning the oven, or checking my tires, or counting the number of tiles in the ceiling…head for the hills, the kitchen’s on fire!”. This is what unchecked worries can look like – they just keep escalating!

  1. Anxiety or Depression

If you’re well-versed in this area, you might already have protections in place for staying safe and healthy during a bout of depression or anxiety. But if these are new experiences for you, they can feel incredibly overwhelming. Symptoms of anxiety and depression are different for each person, but they might look like restlessness, irritability, worrying a lot, sleeping a lot, NOT sleeping a lot, or feeling sad and not quite knowing why.

  1. Not wanting to do anything or see anyone

You might find yourself not cleaning up after yourself as much anymore, or cutting back on your socialising time and spending more time alone. Honouring the growing pains of your existential crisis is important, and for many people, revelling in alone-ness can feel like what they need – BUT, feeling lonely can elevate feelings of anxiety and depression, and we really don’t want to be adding fuel to that fire.

Okay, great. You know what an existential crisis is, and what it might be like. What do you do about it?

For most people, nothing.

Allowing yourself to be present in your existential crisis is a way of honouring your personal growth.

You don’t need to ‘snap out of it’, or expel it out of you like a cheap seafood lunch. Give yourself permission to be curious about the new road you’re meandering down, or the new things you could learn about yourself.

However, if it feels too much, seeing someone who is a professional at listening, talking, and understanding (therapists ftw!) is the best way to go. Our friends might be awesome, but sometimes are not-so-awesome at holding space for our existential crisis. This s*** is exhausting, and if your friends have been through it before either personally or as a bystander, they may not be willing to get involved – and that’s totally fair!

In my experience, therapists LOVE an existential discussion in session, and this can be wildly therapeutic in its own way. When you’re receiving support for your existential crisis, you can safely and slowly shed the old skin of how you used to be and make room to explore and grow into something new.

If you’re a little snake who’s getting a bit stuck in your shedding phase, you can click here to book a session with me. If you’re not into metaphors but think you could do with some support, you can click here, too.