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We all have deep questions about life, death, freedom, isolation, and the meaning of life. Sometimes they raise existential anxiety and we may need help to get some perspective on things.

What is existential anxiety?

Existential anxiety is a deep-rooted form of anxiety that relates to the fundamental aspects of human existence. It is distinguished from other types of anxiety by its focus on universal, existential themes rather than specific, individual concerns or situations. This form of anxiety touches on issues such as the meaning of life, freedom, mortality, and isolation.

Characteristics of existential anxiety

Questions about meaning: An intense pondering of the meaning, purpose, and value of life. This may involve a sense of emptiness or meaninglessness in a world that seems random or indifferent.

According to Beyond Blue, 3 million Australians are living with anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.

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Fear of death: An overwhelming fear or concern about death and the unknown that comes afterward. This can also include fear of living a life without significant legacy or impact.

Theparadox of freedom: A concern about the overwhelming freedom to make choices and its consequences. This freedom can be experienced as both liberating and frightening, as it entails full responsibility for one’s own actions and choices.

Feeling of isolation: A sense of being fundamentally alone in one’s experience, especially in facing these existential questions. This can be reinforced by a perception that others cannot fully understand or share this experience.

Existential anxiety in everyday life

In everyday life, existential anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, such as a feeling of worry or restlessness without a clear cause, difficulties in making decisions, or a constant feeling of dissatisfaction. This anxiety can also be a driving force behind certain behaviours, such as a quest for success, the need to be validated by others, or a desire to avoid certain situations that provoke these existential questions.


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Management of existential anxiety

Existential anxiety is not necessarily something that needs to be ‘cured’ or ‘eliminated’. Instead, it can be seen as an important part of the human experience that requires understanding and exploration. Learning to live with and manage this anxiety is part of the process of giving deeper meaning and direction to one’s life.

In summary, existential anxiety is a complex and profound emotion that touches the most fundamental aspects of our life. By acknowledging and exploring these feelings, we can gain insights that lead to a more authentic and meaningful life.

Causes of existential anxiety

When it comes to this type of anxiety, several factors can come into play, including:

  • Personal crisis: Life changes such as divorce, loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.
  • Philosophical reflection: Deep thoughts about the meaning of life and one’s personal goals and values.
  • Social isolation: the feeling of being cut off from others and society.

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Symptoms of existential anxiety

Symptoms may include:

  • A sense of emptiness or meaninglessness
  • Overwhelming concern about death
  • Difficulty making decisions about important life choices
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness

Coping with existential anxiety

Managing existential anxiety is a process that requires both self-awareness and sometimes professional guidance. For many, this form of anxiety can feel overwhelming, but there are concrete steps you can take to help navigate through these complex feelings.

Acceptance

The first step is to acknowledge and accept that you are experiencing existential anxiety. This type of anxiety is a natural part of the human experience, especially in times of great change or uncertainty.

Self-reflection

Take time for introspection. Through meditation, journal writing or just quiet reflection, explore the underlying causes of your anxiety. Ask yourself what it is that creates these feelings and how they affect your outlook on life.

Talk therapy

Talking to a psychologist or therapist can provide a new perspective and help you explore and understand your feelings. Professional counseling can offer tools to manage your anxiety and help you build a stronger sense of self and purpose.

Creating meaning

Try to find or create meaning in your life. This may involve engaging in activities that feel meaningful, establishing goals that are important to you, or contributing to something bigger than yourself.

Mindfulness and meditation

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help ground you in the present moment and reduce overwhelming thoughts about the nature of existence. These techniques promote mental clarity and emotional balance.

Physical activity and health

Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle contribute to both physical and mental well-being. Physical activity can be particularly effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety.

Social support

Sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or family members can be both comforting and clarifying. Feeling understood and supported is important in managing your anxiety.

Artistic expression

Many people find relief in expressing their feelings through artistic means such as painting, writing or music. These creative expressions can offer a way to explore and express complex emotions in a therapeutic way.

Remember, it is okay to seek help. As dealing with anxiety is a personal journey, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual’s experience is unique, and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for you. If you feel you need additional support, do not hesitate to contact a professional for guidance.

Treatment of existential anxiety

There are various treatment options for existential anxiety, including:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): Helps to identify and change negative thought patterns.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Explores how past experiences affect current feelings and behaviors.
  • Existential therapy: Focuses on confronting basic existential questions and finding personal meaning.

Concluding Thoughts

Existential anxiety is a deeply human experience that touches the core of our existence. Recognizing and exploring these feelings can be a first step towards finding greater meaning and purpose in life. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed by these thoughts, it is important to seek professional help. Our service offers contact with psychologists and therapists who are ready to support you through your journey. Visit our website for more information or to book an appointment.


23 frequently asked questions and answers about existential anxiety

What to do about existential anxiety?

Dealing with existential anxiety can be challenging, but there are effective methods. Start by accepting the feeling as part of the human experience. Many people find support in talk therapy, mindfulness, and exploring their outlook on life. Engaging in creative activities or volunteering can also provide perspective and reduce the intensity of the anxiety. Remember, in case of severe symptoms, professional help from a psychologist or therapist is recommended.

What is existential stress?

Existential stress occurs when one feels a deep concern or anxiety about life’s fundamental questions, such as the meaning of life, freedom, loneliness, and death. This form of stress can be triggered by major life changes or personal crises, but also by deeper reflection on existential themes. Talking to a psychologist can help process these feelings.

Does existential anxiety go away?

Existential anxiety can vary over time and is part of the human experience. For many, its intensity decreases as they learn to understand and manage their feelings. Through therapy, self-reflection and support from loved ones, people can find ways to live with these feelings. It is important to remember that if the distress feels overwhelming, professional help should be sought.

What is existential death anxiety?

Existential death anxiety is an anxiety that revolves around thoughts of death and the inevitability of the end of life. This form of anxiety is not uncommon and can arise when thinking about one’s own mortality. Working through these feelings can include talk therapy, making sense of life, and developing an acceptance of the transience of life.

Can existential anxiety lead to depression?

Existential anxiety is not the same as depression, but prolonged or intense existential anxiety can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms. If you feel overwhelmed by existential thoughts and this is affecting your daily functioning, it is important to seek professional help. A psychologist or therapist can offer support and strategies to deal with these feelings.

How does existential anxiety differ from regular anxiety?

Existential anxiety focuses specifically on questions about existence, such as the meaning of life and the fear of death, while ordinary anxiety is often about more immediate concerns such as work, relationships or health. It is more connected to deep philosophical and worldview issues and can be perceived as more abstract.

Can existential anxiety be positive?

Despite its challenges, existential anxiety can also lead to positive personal development. It can motivate individuals to explore and reassess their life values, which can lead to a deeper understanding of themselves and their purpose in life. This process can be a catalyst for meaningful change and personal growth.

What role does culture play in existential anxiety?

Cultural values and norms can influence how one experiences and deals with existential anxiety. Different cultures have different approaches to life, death, and existential issues, which can affect an individual’s experience of and response to these issues. Cultural awareness is therefore important in the treatment of existential anxiety.

Can existential anxiety affect physical health?

Yes, long-term existential anxiety can have a physical impact, just like other stress and anxiety. Symptoms can include sleep problems, digestive problems, headaches and general exhaustion. It is important to take care of both your mental and physical health, and seek medical attention if necessary.

How can I help someone experiencing existential anxiety?

Being a supportive listener is important. Encourage the person to express their feelings and thoughts without judgment. Suggest professional help if the anxiety seems overwhelming. Sharing your own experiences of similar feelings can also be helpful, but remember that each individual’s experience is unique.

Is existential anxiety more common at a certain age?

Existential anxiety can be experienced by people at any age, but it is not uncommon for it to become more prominent during transitional periods of life, such as adolescence, middle age, or old age. These times can raise questions about identity, life goals and mortality, which can lead to existential reflection and anxiety.

How does social media affect existential anxiety?

Social media can amplify existential anxiety by creating a sense of inadequacy or meaninglessness as individuals compare their lives with others. It can also create an illusion of constant happiness and success in others, which can raise questions about the meaning and purpose of one’s own life.

Can existential anxiety lead to an existential crisis?

Yes, prolonged or intense existential anxiety can develop into an existential crisis, where the individual questions the fundamental aspects of their life, such as their identity, values or life goals. An existential crisis can be a difficult period, but it can also lead to important personal insights and development.

How can I use existential anxiety as a driver for change?

Existential anxiety can be a powerful source of self-reflection and motivation to make changes in life. It can lead people to re-evaluate their priorities, explore new interests or change their lifestyle to better reflect their personal values and goals.

Are there any books or resources that can help understand and manage existential anxiety?

Yes, there are several books and resources that can provide insight and tools for dealing with existential anxiety. Examples include works by philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard or Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as more modern books on existential psychology. Online resources and articles discussing existential therapy can also be helpful.

Can one experience existential anxiety without being aware of it?

Yes, it is possible to experience symptoms of existential anxiety without directly linking them to existential issues. Individuals may feel a general sense of worry or dissatisfaction with life without fully understanding that these feelings may have a deeper, existential basis.

What is the role of religion and spirituality in dealing with existential anxiety?

Religion and spirituality can offer comfort and a sense of connection for many people experiencing existential anxiety. These belief systems can provide answers to some of the big questions of life and often offer a community and support that can be helpful.

Is it common to feel guilt or shame related to existential anxiety?

It is not uncommon to feel guilt or shame associated with existential anxiety, especially if you feel that you are not living up to your own or others’ expectations. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and work through them, possibly with the help of a therapist.

Can existential anxiety be linked to creativity?

Yes, many creative individuals experience existential anxiety, and creativity can actually be a way to express and process these feelings. Art, music, writing and other creative outlets can provide a way to explore and express deep existential questions.

How can you help children or young people experiencing existential anxiety?

For children and young people experiencing existential anxiety, it is important to create a safe and supportive environment where they can express their thoughts and feelings. Encourage open conversations about their questions and concerns. It can also be helpful to involve a child psychologist who can offer age-appropriate advice and support.

Can physical activity help reduce existential anxiety?

Yes, physical activity can be an effective method to reduce symptoms of existential anxiety. Regular exercise promotes mental well-being by releasing endorphins, improving sleep quality and reducing stress. In addition, physical activities such as yoga or meditation can help individuals feel more grounded and present, which can reduce anxiety.

How to distinguish between existential anxiety and a general anxiety disorder?

Existential anxiety usually focuses on profound questions about the meaning of life, death and loneliness, while a general anxiety disorder is often characterized by persistent and disproportionate worry about everyday things. Generalized anxiety is also usually more constant and can include physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and sweating. However, diagnosis and assessment by a professional is necessary to make an accurate distinction.

Can a change in lifestyle help manage existential anxiety?

A change in lifestyle can definitely play a role in the management of existential anxiety. Creating a balanced routine with a healthy diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and time for relaxation can contribute to better mental health. Engaging in meaningful activities and building strong social bonds can also help provide a sense of purpose and belonging.

Dealing with existential anxiety: Step-by-step guide

This type of anxiety is a complex emotion that often involves deep questions about the meaning of life, death and freedom. If you or someone you know is experiencing existential anxiety, the following steps can help manage these feelings.

1: Identify the feelings

  • Reflect on your feelings: take time to understand what you are actually feeling. Is it fear, loneliness, meaninglessness or a combination of these?
  • Write down your thoughts: Sometimes getting your thoughts on paper can help you understand them better.

2: Accept your feelings

  • Acknowledge your feelings: Understand that it is normal to feel this way. You are not alone in your experiences.
  • Be kind to yourself: Accept that these feelings may take time to process.

3: Seek support

  • Talk to someone: Share your feelings with a friend, family member or therapist. Verbalizing your thoughts can be very liberating.
  • Consider professional help: Psychologists and therapists can offer tools and strategies to manage your anxiety.

4: Explore and research

  • Read and learn: Explore books or articles on existential philosophy and psychology to understand your emotions better.
  • Engage in self-reflection: Meditation and mindfulness can be powerful tools to explore your inner self.

5: Create meaning and purpose

  • Engage in meaningful activities: Engage in activities that are meaningful to you, whether it’s art, music, volunteering or anything else.
  • Set personal goals: Create small, achievable goals that provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

6: Deal with the future

  • Confront fears about the future: Learn to accept the uncertainty of life and find ways to embrace it.
  • Focus on the present: Practice living in the present rather than worrying about the future.

If you feel you need support in dealing with your existential anxiety, you can quickly and easily get in touch with one of our therapists or psychologists. They will be happy to guide you through different techniques and talk about what you need others’ perspectives on.

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Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.