Medical News Today: Facing an existential crisis: What to know

In the simplest terms, an existential crisis refers to facing the crisis of one’s own existence. However, this is a very broad umbrella term. There are many types of questions that may cause an existential crisis, and a person may face one of many different issues.

The sections below look at the types of existential crisis a person may experience.


Perhaps the central question surrounding an existential crisis is whether or not a person’s life, or life itself, has any preexisting meaning. A meaningless life is not appealing to many, so humans will tend to create a meaning if they cannot find one.

Historically, this meaning came from religion, but it may now come from such things as family, work, passion and enjoyment, or travel. The basic idea is that a person must find their own meaning because there is no inherent meaning in the life that precedes them.

However, if through this questioning a person cannot find a sense of meaning, they may have deep feelings of existential anxiety.

Emotions and existence

Some people may try to block out or avoid feelings that they struggle with, such as suffering or anger, thinking that this will allow them to only experience feelings they want to enjoy, such as happiness or tranquillity.

This may lead to some people not giving validity to all of their emotions, which may, in turn, lead to a false happiness. This could make a person feel out of touch with their emotions. If this state breaks down, it may lead to a type of questioning that could cause an existential crisis.


Some people may experience feelings of inauthenticity that could lead to an existential crisis.

For example, a person may feel that they are not being true to themselves, or that they are not being authentic to who they are. They may feel that they are not acting authentically in various situations.

Questioning this may lead to a breakdown of the various definitions a person has given themselves, which may cause great anxiety, a crisis of identity, and eventually one of existence.

Death and the limitations of mortality

Anyone can experience an existential crisis. However, some forms of questioning and crisis may go hand-in-hand with certain life events. For example, as a person gets older, they may struggle to come to terms with their own mortality.

Finding the first gray hair or seeing age lines and wrinkles in the mirror can make a person very aware of the aging process and the fact that their life will one day come to an end.

An existential crisis based on death and mortality is not uncommon in people who receive news of a life threatening illness. They may ask themselves if they have truly accomplished anything in life. They may also become truly aware of death and the anxiety of facing the end of their life.

The unknown aspects of death, such as the mystery of what awaits people afterward, can also trigger deep feelings of anxiety and fear in some people. This can also lead to an existential crisis.

Connectedness and isolation

Connectedness and isolation may seem to be polar opposites, but they exist on more of a sliding scale in humans. Humans are inherently social creatures and need to form connections with others to meet some of their most basic needs.

However, humans also need times of isolation to engage with themselves and develop certainty in their own ideals.

Having either too much isolation or too much connectedness may lead to a crisis of sorts. Without isolation, for example, a person may lose aspects of themselves to the group.

On the other hand, a loss of connectedness — due to the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, or feeling ostracized from a group — may also cause someone to question these connections and how they relate to their own existence.


Freedom is a common aspect of existential crises. Being an individual means having the freedom to make one’s own choices. However, the flip side of this is that it also means being responsible for the outcome of those choices.

This can lead to an uncertainty about taking any action for fear that it may be the wrong action or lead to undesirable consequences.

This type of crisis can trigger anxiety not only about choice, but also in relation to how these choices shape life and existence as a whole.

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