How to stop an existential crisis (& my experience)

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Being in an existential crisis and experiencing unwanted, intrusive, existential thoughts can feel very burdensome and hard. It can take over your entire life and end all your previous dreams. But there are ways to stop an existential crisis, and here’s how you can do it. I’ll also share my personal experience, in case it can help you as well.

What is an existential crisis or existential thought?

Existential thoughts are thoughts about our existence, such as:

  • Why am I alive?
  • What are we humans even doing here?
  • What should I do with my life?
  • What is the meaning of my life? Should I live on?
  • Why should I work, have goals, or care about anything?
  • Does it matter if I’m alive or dead?
  • What’s the meaning of doing anything society “wants” you to do? Should I refuse?

Why does an existential crisis happen?

In my view, existential thoughts are a natural effect of human intelligence, awareness, consciousness, and cognitive abilities. If we were more stupid, we would not be able to think about our own existence and reality. So in a way, it’s a blessing to have this ability.

Most people experience an existential crisis after a life-altering experience. Perhaps after reaching important personal goals and realizing that such things didn’t really matter at all, we may have lost something that was important to us ( job, status, relationship, loved ones, religious belief, etc.). 

Anything that may dramatically change our perception of reality, which we formed while growing up, may cause an existential crisis. In a way, you can see an existential crisis as a transcendence from normative views of reality. Having an existential crisis may be the first time you are able to see “above” what others tell you about how things should be or what matters. Old beliefs have been shattered, and it’s your chance to build up your own view of reality.

Being stuck in an existential crisis

Existential thoughts
Photography by Damir Samatkulov

Having existential thoughts and going through an existential crisis where we question everything, is very hard mentally. We may get stuck in such feelings for weeks, months, years, or decades. Some may even choose to end their lives before they get through it.

To stop an existential crisis and move forward, one can either find ways to reason with oneself to continue to live on, or go towards nihilism and possibly suicide. By writing this article, I hope to push you away from depressing nihilism and instead give you options of things you can do to want to continue living on.

If you are going through an existential crisis, I hope that you will be able to come out of it as a better person, because that is probably what will happen when you succeed. You will have transcended old beliefs and immature views of reality, and you will be able to live much more freely, openly, and be less judgemental towards yourself and others.

How to stop an existential crisis

In short, in order to stop an existential crisis you need to do the following:

  1. Abandon and give up on answering existential questions
  2. Dedicate your life and energy to helping others & creating things
  3. Realize that it is your choice to be or not be in an existential crisis

First: Abandon existential questions

Overcome existential crisis thoughts

First, let’s get onto the same page that existential thoughts are meaningless. Yes, just as how your existence may be objectively meaningless, your existential thoughts are even more meaningless. 

It may feel like such thoughts are the most important things that you could dedicate your life to think about, but the truth is that there will never be any answers to existential questions. Ever.

  1. You will never, ever, find an answer to your existential questions
  2. You can not do anything about it (answer or no answer)
GIVE UP YOUR EXISTENTIAL QUESTIONS. Give up the quest for answers. Let it go. Allow yourself to ignore it, to remove yourself from such thoughts because they are meaningless. They do you no good and only hurt you.

Once you realize this first step, everything in your life will become easier. This is the most crucial step to stop an existential crisis. I understand how hard this is, but it is the only way to get past this. I also know that you want to do this, that you want to stop having these questions, which is why you’re reading this. So, let yourself do it. Give yourself permission to let go and move on.

Second: Dedicate your life to helping others

Image by Claudio Schwarz

Once you have realized the meaninglessness of things such as social status, money, material possessions, titles, societal norms, goals and etc, you won’t be able to fully dedicate yourself to any of such superficial goals anymore. It will feel utterly meaningless and nothing will ever be enough.

Instead, you have to find new directions to dedicate your life and existence to. And the one thing that will always feel meaningful to a human, is to help others. Helping others can come in many forms. It can be to:

  • Help your family, partner, and loved ones with whatever help they need in their daily life. Be there, give unconditional love always, provide support, inspire them in any way you can, encourage them to live a full life, and aid them where they need.
  • Help society, your fellow humans, and the entirety of mankind with problems and challenges they’re facing. What big issues can you help solve or improve? You could help not only your immediate circle but everyone that comes in contact with your work and creations.
  • Help nature and other living things. Apart from humans, there are many other animals, plants, and living things that we can help. The environment, trees, dogs, fishes, street animals, and so much more. What do you think is important to put effort into improving?
  • We can also dedicate our lives to objective higher values such as scientific research, discovering knowledge for the sake of it, and creating things just for the existence of such things in the universe. These are all valid in themselves.

The best part is, by having this outlook on your occupation, you will feel purpose and meaning. You will also receive superficial/objective rewards such as financial compensation, social status, titles, and respect from others because you are actively contributing to a better world. You are providing value to others than yourself, and the more value you provide, the more you will receive back.

Finally: Realize that you have a choice

It is your decision. You do not need to live in the constant pain of being stuck in your own mind and being a prisoner of your existential questions, where there is no escape apart from non-thought. 

You can instead get out of your head, into the external world, and live there with everything else. You can have a meaningful place in society and the world, by your own choice. You can affect other human beings, animals, and nature in positive ways, instead of sitting alone, stuck in your own thoughts, doing nothing good neither towards anyone else nor yourself.

My personal experience 

Overcoming existential thoughts

After having gone through a ton of life-altering experiences in 2019, I became depressed and fell into a serious existential crisis. Everything I thought about the world, reality, and what dreams and goals I should chase after, had flipped. I realized that I actually didn’t know anything. 

None of my previous dreams resonated with me anymore, I couldn’t see a place for me in society, and I felt like society’s norms and goals were not for me. So what did I have left? Well, for me the only tangible things I had left were existential questions about what to do now.

If I do not care about measuring my success with others, being able to brag, or show off, and don’t feel any need to compare myself to anyone, what should I do with my life? Why should I even work and chase a career title? Why should I have tons of money to buy things that I don’t care if other people are impressed by? And so on.

I was stuck in these existential thoughts for more than a year, not being able to think about anything else from morning to night, except occasional distractions. It was painful, I was very sad, and it hurt to wake up and be “forced” to live through another day of such questions. I truly could not see myself being alive for more than two additional years, because that’s how long I thought I’d tolerate such an existence.

How I stopped my existential crisis

Until one day, I decided that it was enough. Either I choose to die now, or I will find a way for me to live on without the daily torture of feeling utterly meaningless. So, I started reading proactive books instead of nihilistic texts, and discover that all those who have moved past an existential crisis in the way that I wanted to, shared the same advice: Find meaning in your life by helping others.

Stop existential crisis by helping others

(Quote from Mark Manson)

So, I decided that I would take their advice, and start dedicating my life to helping others, providing value, and solving problems. I would at least try it out for a few weeks, if it did not work, I’d try something else. But I’d at least give it a shot.

And guess what? It helped. Immediately. The same day as I decided that for myself, I started feeling meaning and purpose to my existence. I felt useful, I felt like I had a positive effect on those around me. I could see myself continuing to live like this for a long time, and I stopped thinking that I’d surely be dead in two years’ time.

I started by doing small things, like trying to help my family, partner, and friends with their daily problems and challenges. Then I decided to change the primary focus of my work (such as writings on this blog and freelance design/writing jobs). I went from the focus of working to earn money, to working to help others and provide value. Immediately, working became meaningful and fun to me.

End words

So from this, my biggest takeaway is that you have to decide for yourself to stop letting yourself get carried away by existential questions. And instead, start dedicating your life and time to helping others and improving the world around you in any way you can. I am sure that this will help you get past your existential crisis. 

Now, every day feels like a vacation to me. My existence feels meaningful, and I want to continue to live on for a long time. And while this may not be a rockstar-kinda story, at least it’s much better than not knowing if you want to exist or not.

This way of living, that feels meaningful and purposeful, is what I wish for you, and everyone else alive, or who will live. I truly believe that every human would be much happier living like this and that the world would be better for it.

Good luck on your own journey, and I hope this explained how to stop an existential crisis.

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