We may sometimes hear people say “I think I’m having an existential crisis” and while it may seem light-hearted, it is a serious and debilitating issue that often lies at the root of many psychological problems – such as depression.
An existential crisis is basically when an individual feels they have lost meaning in life, particularly some of the core tenets of human existence, and questions the purpose or the value of life: what is life about.
Of course, throughout our lives we are continually questioning what life is about and making adjustments to how we interpret our world, but sometimes some major life event occurs that rocks our beliefs about the world within which we live. Sometimes there can be an accumulation of events that over time build up to a crisis point.
Existential Crisis and Depression
The fast pace of our society today, and the constant rapid changes that we need to adapt to, increase the risk of an existential crisis. For an example, a person may have a core belief that hard work and a focus on their job and being successful will always be respected and rewarded in various ways by employers, the family and the community at large. When this person is made redundant, demoted to another position, or fails to secure promotions, they focus their thinking on why this could occur and try to make meaning of the event and the way they have performed their work, and the thinking can broaden out to a range of life’s domains. The person is having an existential crisis, which can lead to depression, anxiety problems or manifest in various ways.
A change in our lives can trigger an existential crisis, and the bigger or more dramatic that change is, can determine the extent of the crisis.
For some people retirement, even though it may be something that is looked forward to for many years, can result in an existential crisis.
Often it can be employment or relationship related. For some people it can be world events, political events or exposure to new situations. Exposure to other cultures or the plight of the poor and disadvantaged, may result in questioning the meaning of life and what our life is all about.
The important thing to consider about an existential crisis, is that it is perfectly normal and relatively common in western societies where the pursuit of competitiveness, constant growth and change place enormous pressure on human beings. In many ways it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal, crazy world! Nevertheless, it is an uncomfortable state and can lead to serious mental health problems.
Finding Your Way Through an Existential Crisis
There are various psychological strategies and therapies that can be employed to address such a crisis. Reviewing one’s sense of self, to ensure that it is indeed a current sense of self, is the first step.
The next step is to explore, across all of life’s domains what you, as an unique individual, require for happiness. Restructuring your existence so that there is compatibility between your needs for happiness, and all the various domains of life, will help you move through existential crisis and depression.
You can’t change everything that you find disagreeable in the world, but you can change how you interact with the world so that it is in accordance with your core values, and an accurate and up-to-date awareness of what you need for happiness.
Author: Greg Turner, B App Sc, Grad Dip App Sc (App Psych), Cert GMH, MAPS.
Brisbane Psychologist Greg Turner is a national leader in the field of transcultural mental health, after spending over a decade in senior positions at the Queensland Transcultural Mental Health Centre. He sees his role as a facilitator to enable clients to recover their psychological strength, grow as human beings, and become equipped with strategies to deal with life’s problems as they present into the future.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Greg Turner, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.