In my two years of full-time coaching people through existential dread or anxiety, and after being recovered from my own existential crisis about three years now, I’ve come to know a lot on the best tricks to help you get through an existential crisis.
Maybe to start by defining what it means to struggle with an existential crisis/existential dread / a spiritual awakening (in my own words):
An existential crisis is a temporary phase of being faced with existential questions and insights one does not have an answer to. Thinking about death, the meaning of life, the realness of life, and a matrix-like feeling, characterize the existential crisis. It often comes with a deep feeling of meaninglessness or doom, anxiety, panic attacks, and/or depression.
Although it’s incredibly scary and it feels like there’s no way out, there definitely is. And for that, I’ve listed six tips that helped me as my clients immensly in getting through their existential crisis and feeling good again.
- Read books and listen to podcasts about mindfulness, spirituality and Buddhism.
The initial reaction we get towards spirituality, philosophy or religion when struggling with an existential crisis is to avoid it completely. We don’t want to feel the way we do, and we therefor avoid existential topics all together. ‘If I don’t think about it, it will go away’, we tell ourselves, but nothing is less true. The problem is that avoidance itself, and the fear we have created around life and existence. By looking that fear in the eye and reading books or listening to podcasts that write about life from a loving, peaceful place, you can start to change your perspective on it.
Some books and podcasts that really helped me through, and that started my healing journey, were:
Books: A new earth by Eckhart Tolle, A return to Love by Marianne Williamson, Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh
Podcasts: Oprah’s super soul conversations
2. Start a meditation practice
This step probably is the thing that helped me the most and that I would recommend doing to anyone. Starting to meditate helps with healing your existential crisis for many reasons:
- It makes you able to sit with yourself and your thoughts, and it forces you to overcome the fear of your emotions or thoughts as you stop running away from them, and in stead consciously sit with them. When you run from something, you give it the chance to chase you, and so when you sit with something, those thoughts stop being your enemy as you choose to confront them and treat them with care.
- It creates a space between you and your emotions and thoughts.
When you struggle with existential fears and thoughts, those thoughts can seem to take over completely and make us feel like we can’t focus on anything else. However, what meditation teaches us, is that we are not our thoughts. We are the conscious observer of them, and by meditating more and more, you can start to connect more with the awareness, who you really are, in stead of the thoughts themselves.
- It’s a moment to reflect and heal.
The moment you are on your mat with your eyes closed and focussing on nothing else but your inner self and the present moment, you give your mind and body a moment of time to process information and heal. You give your mind and body the rest it needs to start feeling connected and safe again, not being forced to run, fight, or do something, but in stead to just be without pressure.
3. Talk to people that are open minded
Don’t avoid the topic of philosophy, spirituality or existentialism, but also don’t over-share how awful you’re feeling to people that might not fully grasp what you’re going through.
One of the things that makes us feel the worst when going through the existential crisis, is feeling like we’re alone in it and that there’s something wrong with us for going through it.
Talk to people that are open-minded, that have understanding of philosophy and spirituality, but that are also confident and positive-focused. Dive into the spiritual, philosophical conversation without it being an obsession and with an open mind to see it from a different, more positive perspective than the fear you’re coming from now. Talk to a friend, a monk, a philosophy teacher, a spiritual teacher, an older person, a therapist, a life coach … Anyone that you feel is open to talking about it that will understand how you feel and might give you a new perspective on things.
4. Spend time in nature and with animals
The fear we get from the existential crisis has to do a lot with not feeling connected, feeling isolated and alone. We feel disconnected from other people and from life, which is why we feel dreadful, sad or afraid.
Connecting to nature and animals is one of the purest, beautiful ways to start building op a sense of connection to a bigger picture again. Spending conscious time in nature, looking at the trees, connecting to the energy and life within them, and recognizing that the same life that is in us is also in the trees and animals, makes you feel connected to life itself.
5. Selfless service
Same as in connecting with animals and nature by spending conscious time with it, we can feel connected again by providing selfless service to others.
Selfless service is a principle emphasized a lot on by Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Selfless service means serving other people with the sole intention of helping them and doing something for them, without wanting to get anything in return.
This can mean going to work, not focussing on the money you get from it, but on the service you provide for someone else, no matter how big or small it is. It can also mean messaging a friend to tell them you love them, or giving someone an honest smile when you cross them in the street. Not wanting anything from another person, but only wanting them to feel good, makes us feel connected to others and meaningful. It makes us realize that we’re not here for our own benefit, to gain something, but to give, share, and make others feel good.
6. Embrace the process as a part of life.
Having an existential crisis is okay, even good, to grow as a person and to discover more about life. Life isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to teach you and make you grow. By being in moments of doubt and struggle, we’re forced to get outside of our comfort zone and learn new things and tools that will serve us later in life to feel happy and peaceful. I always refer to the process of the existential crisis like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.
A caterpillar, before turning into a beautiful, free butterfly, needs to go into a dark, messy cocoon to transform. It needs a time to turn inwards, change, and grow, which is uncomfortable but worth it in the end. In the end, the butterfly flies out of the cocoon and knows that it was worth it, because it is much more happy being a butterfly than a caterpillar.
The existential crisis or spiritual awakening is like that dark cocoon. It’s messy, dark, and claustrophobic, and the only thing you have to compare the cocoon with is the caterpillar, which seems more preferable. However, you will get through it, feeling more free and happy then you did before, as you are now learning things that will make you transform and grow. In the end, you will be that butterfly, looking back and saying: I’m happy I went through that.
If you are in need of assistance or guidance through your existential crisis or fears, feel free to message me for a free intake session for coaching, to see how I might help you, OR have a look at my recovery course: