I lost my faith when I was 19. After spending time on the internet and reflecting on everything I’d experienced, I realized that my beliefs about religion were wrong. I had no counterpoints. There was no going back. My first existential crisis.
Existential crises are extremely painful experiences, and I don’t think enough people talk about them. In the information age, ideas that challenge your beliefs are more accessible than ever.
I had no idea what to do back then. But many years and several crises later, I’ve figured out how to handle moments like this.
If you’re having one right now, then read on.
1. Don’t Let Your Life Unravel
It may not feel like it now, but these crises don’t last forever. You might think there is no point in going on, but you have to maintain the life you have.
You have to remember to eat, sleep, and drink water. When I was in my crisis, I was still a student. My brain was racked with the unreality of everything, but I managed to maintain my schoolwork and relationships.
I’m not sure why. Maybe a part of me knew this would eventually pass.
If I had succumbed to the fear then my life would have been set back ten notches once I recovered. And you will recover.
Your reasons for living are just shaken up right now, so you have to operate on willpower and blind faith for a while. Hold out long enough to reach lesson #2.
2. Begin Your Journey Into New Perspectives
Whatever the contents of your crisis, it’s unlikely that you are the first person to worry about it. People have been thinking for a long time. If you want to move forward, then you need to explore what they came up with.
Losing faith in God is a strong example. If you want to know how people have dealt with this, you could read Nietzche or Bertrand Russell. Or you could go the other route and read sophisticated arguments for the existence of God. Or you could read Man’s Search for Meaning.
Just stop getting your philosophy from the internet.
Your crisis is a springboard into new intellectual territory. You can discover wild new ways of looking at the world. You might find that what you were worried about is actually empowering, or a reason to celebrate.
Read about what’s bothering you. It could set you free.
3. Talk to Others, Even If They Don’t Understand Your Existential Crisis
People will ask you what’s wrong when you’re having an existential crisis. If you explain it to them, you might not get the best responses.
The ones I received were roughly, “just focus on school” and “Who cares?” I would nod politely at their advice, but inside, I would be saying:
“The f*** you mean who cares? God might be dead! HOW IS THAT NOT A PROBLEM?”
But not everyone will be like this. Some will give thoughtful takes on your crisis, and outside perspectives matter. They remind you that there are different ways of looking at things. What your panicked mind is coming up with might not be accurate.
You stay stuck in your nightmare if you insulate yourself from others. So even if they can’t fix your crisis, remember that connecting with others is a natural way to increase wellbeing and reduce anxiety. They will keep you grounded.
4. Keep This One Truth in Mind
An anxiety specialist told me once that we are all too obsessed with certainty. He said:
“They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But there are people living on tropical islands who have never paid a tax in their lives, and as for death, no one really knows what death even is.”
Being comfortable with uncertainty is the key to having peace of mind. Despite all the arguments, counterarguments, and philosophical works, I’ve accepted the reality that no one really knows what is going on. We’re all doing our best to figure out the grand mystery.
This shouldn’t bother you. It means that you can figure things out in your way, based on your interpretations, your examination of the evidence, and your subjective experience.
Whatever your crisis is, ask yourself, is this something I can really be sure of? Or are you obsessing over a question that has no definite answer? Maybe it doesn’t matter, and you should go live your one life.
5. Make Your Way To Self Reliance
This is the most important step in getting beyond an existential crisis. It’s also the one that takes the most time. Now, you have to integrate your realizations into your worldview in an empowering way. You have to become self-reliant.
In your crisis, you lost something precious. You lost some critical aspect of why you get up in the morning. So you need to figure out how to fill that space. Maybe you are freer without the thing you lost. Maybe you can forge a new strength being without it. Maybe it was holding you back.
I found that I could find spiritual satisfaction and meaning in other ways. I developed an entirely new way of looking at the world, and I felt emancipated.
Existential Crisis: A Catalyst for Growth
An existential crisis gives you a chance to expand. You get to rebuild your shattered reality as you see fit. There is tremendous potential for growth here.
There will be a painful period of rethinking and reorganizing your life, but if you persist long enough, you can find a way back to wellness and stability.
After that, you’ll have a rock-solid existential foundation, and you’ll be able to handle any idea life throws at you.
Every existential crisis that you manage to get beyond makes you more integrated, and wiser. Some would argue that each one brings you closer to the capital “T” Truth if there is such a thing.
So if you’re hurting right now, keep digging. Keep searching. There are millions of ways of processing and interpreting the world. You just have to find your own way.