Health And Wellness

23 Experts Explain How To Make It Through An Existential Crisis

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woman with head in hands in abandoned house

Existential dread can manifest in many forms. This kind of intense trauma and stress generally comes from a major existential crisis. 

Existential dread can be scary, because it may feel like life itself is no longer worth living. It's possible that someone experiencing these kinds of extreme emotions might not be able to see a clear way out. 

That's why we have 23 experts to explain the best ways to navigate existential dread so anyone can have the tools to find their way through a crisis. 

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23 Expert quotes that tell you how to deal with existential dread:

1. "Existential dread comes in when we don’t know that our life crisis is essential to starting a new bright chapter in our lives with deeper meaning and sense of purpose. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to lean in to the crisis and ask, what can I learn? Who can support me? What do I want to receive? Trust the process that hurt comes up for healing our old wounds, and the result is a new level of joy and higher well-being."

- Amy Armstrong, LISW

2. "Often our anxiety and dread is based on the story we tell ourselves. Are we in a story of joy, abundance, and optimism or in a story of scarcity, fear and pessimism? Here is a question to help you not only to cope, but thrive. Are you a person who finds problems with every solution or someone who finds solutions to problems? If you can move from a problem creator to a problem solver you are on your way to self-healing."

- Jeff Saperstein

3. "Take three to ten long deep breaths. Inhale and exhale for four seconds and send your exhalation to someplace inside you that needs your attention. As your angst eases a bit, visualize a positive experience, recreating the images and the sense of being there. This will help you release the need to answer those unanswerable questions associated with existential dread, and regain your bearings. "

- Patricia Bonnard, Ph.D.

4. "Existential Dread can be melted away with gratitude. When life feels like it has no meaning, turn to the present moment and breathe. Say, 'I am so grateful I have this moment, this breath, these slippers, this food. I have these people that I love, and that love me. I may not know what it all means, but I am truly lucky to be here as part of the great mystery of being.'"

- Cyndera Quackenbush, MA

5. "Ladies, connect with your wise, passionate, inner warrior goddess! Bring her to the party that is called your life! Tomorrow is the theatrical production of today’s thoughts. Think wisely."

- Deborah Picou

6. "We all have an innate seeking to find meaning and purpose in our lives that comes from the deepest part of our soul. It’s our disconnect from this inherent light within us that can have us feeling lost, confused, and out of control. The very first step to find calm, clarity, and provide direction is to get out in nature, listen to the sounds of life all around you, and in stillness ask your light within you what you are seeking, and have faith your answers will mysteriously arrive in different forms — a sign, a synchronicity, or an insight now or in the near future. "

- Carolyn Hidalgo, CPCC

7. "Dangerous times heighten our sense of dread. To oust the dread, make a mental plan of 5 great things you want to do or achieve over the next 5 years. Start planning now, a vision board can help make your dreams come true and lower your sense of dread."

- Barbara Becker Holstein, Ph.D.

8. "A major life stress or loss can make us question who we are and why we’re here on the planet. It disrupts our sense of self; part of our identity changes or is also lost. Connect with a trusted friend or family member who has likely experienced similar feelings and you’ll gain insight by sharing ways to deal with life’s inevitable uncertainties. Through mutual love and understanding, you can reaffirm your value and know you aren’t alone."

- Dona Murphy

9. "The experience of hitting rock bottom during an existential crisis can provide an opportunity to create awareness and positive change; personal growth happens in the trenches. Adopting a mindfulness practice, even ten minutes a day, can work wonders to create the space to get grounded, feel more gratitude, dance with curiosity, and accept what’s going on for you in the present. Mindful introspection helps you to connect with and trust your inner wisdom and deepest desires, and build resilience one breath at a time, so you can pull yourself up and emerge from this normal phase of life transformed and energized about your future."

- Lisa Petsinis, ACC

10. "As our existence on this planet becomes more and more precarious and challenging, it is critical that we find solace in the current moment. Right here, right now, look around and name what you are grateful for. This moment in detail counters the future and the overwhelming big picture."

- Valerie Valentine, LPCC

11. "When you are overcome with dread, the first thing to do is get back into your body. Rub your fingertips together, focus on the rising and falling of your chest during breathing, notice and feel as many of your toes as possible. When you do this, you come out of the part of your brain which is focused on fight or flight, and into the part which allows you to be more grounded in your thoughts."

- Amy Bracht

12. "When my clients dread tackling a chore or a task, I find they are stuck because of one or two basic problems. They are overwhelmed because the scope of the project is too big, so they don’t know where to start. We break the project down into the smallest possible sequential steps, develop a timeline, and set realistic expectations so they can begin to move forward."

- Diane N. Quintana, CPO-CD

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13. "These challenging times threaten a range of existence including mortality, physical safety, and economic security. All beyond individual control, choosing related accessible actions where you have some influence provides some succor and hope. I think of such threats as perverse gifts that awaken individual curiosity, agency, and possibilities."

- Ruth Schimel, Ph.D.

14. "As we navigate through this global existential crisis known as “The Pandemic”, it’s more important than ever to reconnect with our core values. What brings your life meaning? What people and activities are you most passionate about? Can you find one thing to be grateful for each day? Create sacred time and space to explore these questions with loved ones or a therapist, or through meditation and journaling."

- Deborah Roth, PCC

15. "To lower your stress, take the feeling of “crisis” out of it and recognize that this is just a situation and situations can be handled. Next, think of all the times that you have overcome obstacles and challenges and pull on that energy of triumph and the recognition that whatever you have gone through, you ended up Ok. Compared to what you have overcome, today’s situation may seem like a piece of cake and you can move forward confidently and successfully."

- Rhonda Harris-Choudhry

16. "Suddenly your ambivalence took a turn and now you are existing in a pool of existential dread. This may be the invitation you need to get right with yourself and commit to certainty."

- Cassandra Beauvoir, Ed.D.

17. "It begins with a shift in perspective and choosing to believe that every life, including yours, has meaning and purpose. While many say not to look at the past, I say that is exactly what you must do. Connect the dots of your journey like on a child's restaurant activity menu and notice what emerges — you just might surprise yourself with what appears and how you are inspired."

- Ann Papayoti, CPC

18. "There are two equally effective ways of dealing with an existential crisis. The first is focussing on the power of now. Your mind has a way of drifting in the past or the future, keeping it in the now helps combat existential dread. Yoga is the easiest way to get there because when you must hold a pose, your mind has to be in the now for you to keep the balance. Now stretch this "now" or repeat getting into the now through holding another yogic posture. Another equally effective way of dealing with an existential crisis is by tapping into the power of possibilities through visualization and active imagination. When the mind travels into another space, that becomes your 'now' Stay in the now your mind just created and add options to it to make it more meaningful."

- Keya Murthy

19. "Existential dread often occurs when we're facing a big change in our lives, and we feel either ashamed to talk about it or are isolated with no one to talk it through with. Ironically, if left to their own devices, the shame and isolation build on themselves in a cyclical fashion, creating more anxiety. So before trying to "fix" the problem you're facing alone, connect with someone and ask for emotional support. Once we share our stories, the monsters in the closets tend to diminish in number and intensity."

- Kathy Ramsperger

20. "Because 'meaning' is a subjective experience, the only sure path through an existential crisis is to step into a greater dialogue with your soul. Work with a therapist, have honest conversations with and wise and loving friends, or intentionally engage in activities that open your life up to the possibility of uncovering it [meaning] for yourself."

- Judith Pinto, Reg. OT

21. "One key to surviving, and even thriving, in an existential crisis is learning to be the calm in the center of the storm. Saying the Serenity Prayer, used by many members or 12-step support groups, is one way to begin: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

- Patricia A O'Gorman, Ph.D.

22. "Be honest about whatever you are feeling with curiosity and compassion for yourself and everyone else. We do not have control over what is happening to us but we have everything to say about how we react. Choose love over fear, which means being grateful for what you have. And when you see yourself spiraling, stop and breathe in and out slowly a few times until you feel your nervous system settling."

- Marilyn Sutherland

23. "So what can, and must, you do about all your drama, panic, anxiety, and angst? Instead of feeling like you're fighting the Universe (you ARE, as it is in constant motion), harness this guaranteed Get UNstuck NOW! Breakthrough strategy: Sincere gratitude and joy consistently changes your focus, instantly, to what serves you best, in that moment."

- Paul Litwack

Use this expert advice to overcome existential dread. 

Existential dread is wildly frightening for those who experience it. But following expert advice about how to deal with existential dread can really come in handy in a crisis. 

These expert quotes are full of the wisdom that anyone can use to pull themselves out of really tough situations

Of course, if you or someone you know is finding it difficult to recover from existential dread, even with repeated efforts to treat yourself, then you may need to talk to a professional therapist. 

Call SAMSHA's national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to talk to someone who can help. 

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is the senior editor of expert content at YourTango. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.

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