What happens after we die? Does the answer to the previous question even matter, when we have no idea of our purpose and circumstances of creation? Who or what created the universe, and for what purpose? Nothing is infinite–what happens when space, beyond Earth and our sun, ceases to exist? Is there something that lies beyond?
If you’ve ever had these thoughts before, chances are you’ve experienced an existential crisis. According to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, an existential crisis is defined as a “psychological or moral crisis” that may causes the individual to “ask fundamental questions about human existence.” While mere meditation upon the subject could be useful, existential crises are of the other end of the spectrum. Whether you’re in bed, taking a shower, or studying for a test, existential crises can surface without notice, petrifying one’s thoughts and leading them into a downward spiral of slippery slope logic that manifests into blind panic. Paired with a panic attack complete with uncontrollable terror, numbness, and depersonalization, these episodes can quickly turn debilitating. However, given the right mindset, these crises can be averted and avoided in no time.
When face with a looming existential crisis, it is important to eliminate initial anxiety, as they run the risk of becoming a traumatic, routine experience for its victims. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding strategy commonly used during anxiety attacks. Think of it as a fun challenge: identify five items to look at, four objects to feel, three sounds to listen to, two sources of smell, and one thing that can be tasted. While existential thoughts can be draining, focusing on these different elements can take the initial edge off the panic that may accompany them.
The swiftest way to recover from such an event is to find a direct source of entertainment or work that may shift attention away from the thoughts and into something more trivial and enjoyable. Listen to ambient sounds on www.ambient-mixer.com or YouTube channel ASMR rooms to whisk your mind away to Hogwarts or the Sanctum Sanctorum. Invest in or designate a comfort object, such as a nice scented candle or oversized stuffed animal. Employing such distractions will help you recover from existential crises in mere minutes.
While these tactics are tried-and-true to an extent, they are short-term solutions that will not prevent repeat occurrences in the future. Deep and serious retrospection on the root cause itself may jumpstart one’s path towards recovery. If the existential crisis occurs regularly at a similar time or location each day, identify a place or time that feels most comfortable and begin to search for answers. A good and obvious way to start would be to ruminate upon the cause of these episodes. Often times, existential crises are triggered by feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and anxiety. Finding the definitive roots of one’s emotional instability is a surefire way to curtail the frequency of these crises. Additionally, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Existential crises can arise from or occur with mental illnesses such as obsessive compulsive disorder and major depressive disorder.
Though existential crises can seem trivial or frivolous to bystanders, they are by no means to be ignored or mocked. No matter how busy and challenging your daily life may be, untreated and undiagnosed mental issues may prove just as fatal, if not more, than physical ailments. If you find yourself at the cusp of serious doubt, take the time to practice a some self-care.