Existential dread affects many people as they begin to challenge the meaning of life. When there are no immediate answers to satisfy the vital questions of what's the purpose of life, what does it all mean, and how can one find a true path or calling, life can seem pointless and meaningless. These thoughts can lead to feelings of indifference to life in general and everything around them.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is Existential Dread?
- What’s an Example of Someone Dealing With Existential Dread?
- Tips for Dealing or Overcoming Existential Dread
Often feelings of boredom, irritation, and frustration grow out of feeling indifferent. These sensations emerge from a person's perception toward life and death and heavily depend on an individual's attitudes toward life in general. Boredom leading to irritation and frustration is often a result of being stuck in the present, resulting in feelings of emptiness and having no sense of purpose, meaning, or awareness of future possibilities.
What Is Existential Dread?
Existential dread is also known as an existential crisis and is a reaction to stress. A person who wonders about the meaning of life or their particular purpose in life may be suffering. They may be stuck in trying to find out what their individual meaning and purpose are here on earth.
Searching for the meaning of life is common for many people. But when they're experiencing a crisis with not knowing what's behind the purpose of their lives, it can lead to negative feelings and outcomes.
Some people will experience profound despair and confusion about their future, where they suddenly begin to see everything around them in a negative light. They might find it hard to believe that life has any purpose or meaning at all.
Existential dread seems to affect people who've experienced a recent significant loss or another life-altering event. Notable events that have the potential to lead to boredom and depression are often associated with this type of crisis. They can include:
- The death of a loved one
- A breakup or divorce
- Realizing their mortality
- Moving from one city to another
- Losing their job or career
- Losing their home to foreclosure
What’s an Example of Someone Dealing With Existential Dread?
For those dealing with existential dread, life can be very confusing and scary. Existential anxiety can lead to chronic or major depression in some people. Although everyone experiences anxiety over death differently, there are four major triggering events. They include the following:
- suffering a significant loss
- losing control
- fear of the unknown
- fear of the pain and suffering that may accompany death
An example of someone experiencing existential dread can be an older person withdrawing from loved ones as they come closer to death. They may find it easier to release these bonds than to face the pain and suffering of knowing that those relationships will end once they die.
An early withdrawal from life is called a psychological death. This is how people sometimes cope with the fear of the unknown as they’re nearing the end of life.
Tips for Dealing or Overcoming Existential Dread
The specific fear of death is different for everyone. There are many contributing factors to the development of this disorder. If you or someone you know is challenged with an existential crisis, the following tips may help overcome some of the fears attached to death and dying.
1. Change your perspective
Sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to start feeling better about life. When you dwell on the negative aspects of life and continue with that mindset, it isn't easy to see through the negativity. Seeing life in a more positive light becomes nearly impossible to do when you tell yourself that life has no meaning or that it's worthless.
Your thoughts lead to actions that eventually manifest into your reality. You can change your mindset by doing things that bring added value to your life and give you renewed purpose.
2. Find meaning in your life
How a person feels about themselves and how they view themselves is often linked to their profession, who they're married to, or the children they have. When you question your identity or feel like you have no identity, it can equate to experiencing psychological death. These feelings can come up soon after a divorce, a job loss, or when experiencing the death of a child, for example.
Sometimes, finding no meaning in life has nothing to do with suffering a significant loss but feeling overall bland, apathetic, and bored with life in general. Nothing seems to have meaning and value. Finding meaning in life takes purposeful action to discover who you are and what's important to you.
3. Reconnect with loved ones
Making an effort to reconnect with your loved ones whom you may have alienated yourself from will help you recover some of the feelings of belonging and self-worth. The stress of feeling alienated, worthless, and helpless can lead to the development of existential dread.
Feelings of emptiness and loneliness contribute to the overall disappointment in life. Maintaining solid and healthy relationships encourages a positive outlook on a life filled with meaning and purpose.
4. Live in the present
Living in the present removes some of the worry about not having fulfilled your potential or how it affects your future existence. Your beliefs, values, and attitudes all have a hand in how you perceive life. Letting go of your past and focusing on the present reduces stress and anxiety about what's to come.
You'll need to develop a balance and flow system that combines the way you see yourself, your potential, and how you express that fulfillment through the interactions you have with others. Overall you may experience a sense of inauthenticity as you consolidate and reduce your thoughts and ideas of how things were or how they'll be. Living in the present erases those existential concerns to a high degree.
5. Look to the future
Not having fulfilled your potential or a failure to discover your true meaning and purpose in life is debilitating for many people. The development of your beliefs, values, and attitudes from childhood all have a hand in how one perceives life in adulthood.
Not everyone who's experienced trauma in their past may carry it forward to their present or into the future. Some people, however, have a difficult time letting go of the past pain and hurt they've experienced. Unresolved issues from the past can also make it harder to figure out the meaning of life and its overall purpose.
6. Learn about death and dying
The threat of death leads to an examination of values in many people. Imminent death brings to the forefront one’s mortality and how fleeting life is. The death positivity movement helps address people’s fears and concerns about death and dying. This campaign aims at normalizing conversations about death.
Joining other like-minded individuals in open and honest discussions about one’s mortality can help alleviate some of your fear-based thoughts and ideas of what it means to die. Alongside this movement, you’ll also have the opportunity to discuss end-of-life issues, death planning, along with the meaning of leaving a legacy.
7. Go within to discover a new you
Taking your time to reflect on your life and looking inward to discover the person you are or who you want to become will help change your outlook on life. Meditation has the power to heal and transform your life.
Meditating is accessible to almost everyone, and it is free. It requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere and at any time. Sitting alone with your thoughts can be uncomfortable at first, but the more you practice meditation, the easier it becomes.
Contemplation requires you to become one with your inner self as you reflect on life's meaning as it applies to you. Everyone has their thoughts and experiences, which leads them to look at things from a different perspective. The more you go within, the more you'll find out about yourself. In time your outlook will change based on your evolving thoughts and ideas.
8. Read and learn about life
Books about life after death can help you sort through your thought process and what meaning life and death have for you. Your existential crisis may be linked to the fear of the unknown and what comes next after death. It happens to many people where they live with a constant fear of the unknown to the point that it affects their life in many negative ways.
Reading and learning about life and the experiences of other people can help you sort through your stress and anxiety. The more you learn and expand your mind to the other possibilities of what you already know and believe, will help you gain different theories and viewpoints.
9. Seek therapy
When you've tried everything you can think of, and it's failed to ease your stress and anxiety, it may be time to schedule a visit with a crisis counselor or grief therapist so that you could talk to them abou what you're experiencing. Visits with a counselor or therapist provide a safe place for you to talk through your existential crisis. They’ll give you the guidance that you're seeking.
Existential therapy seeks to clarify what you're experiencing by allowing you to explore your thoughts and fears. An existential therapist can help you put together a plan to map out your future so you can mold it into a more fulfilling life experience. Through counseling and therapy, you'll also be able to work through negative thoughts that potentially lead to depression.
Coping With Meaning of Life Anxiety
To get through the dread attached to dying, one must first accept mortality by directly targeting the meaning of life and death. Death anxiety is relieved by acknowledging that death is inevitable.
Some ways of accepting death are talking about it, understanding it, and learning about it. Although these conversations are sometimes uncomfortable to have, the more you have these discussions with others, the less fearful you'll be of your death.