When you face a big question that doesn’t seem to have any answers, or at least any easy answers, how do you respond? Life presents us with many conundrums, and tangled situations that we can’t easily make sense of. We read the news and learn about events, accidents, natural disasters, and crises which can highlight just how fragile and vulnerable life is, and it can all be perplexing, overwhelming, and anxiety-inducing.

When we encounter these larger-than-life questions and situations, they can make us feel helpless, hopeless, challenged, and overwhelmed. They can make us question the foundations and purpose of our lives, and that can be deeply unsettling. Such deep questions about our existence and its meaning can be anxiety-inducing.

Understanding existential anxiety.

When you find yourself thinking about your life, mortality and vulnerability, and the meaning and purpose behind it all, you are thinking existential thoughts. What is termed “existential anxiety” is that feeling of panic or fear that arises when a person confronts the limits of their existence. This is often triggered by thoughts of death, the seeming meaninglessness of life, or feelings that one’s life is insignificant in view of larger realities.

This feeling of existential anxiety can result from several circumstances, including the loss of a loved one, reflection on one’s past decisions and regrets, a diagnosis of a serious illness, significant life transitions, as well as when one encounters a significant failure. For instance, if most of your life has been geared toward becoming a lawyer, failing your LSATs or your bar exam can lead to existential anxiety.

However, existential anxiety isn’t necessarily tied to specific events – you may just find yourself feeling a sense of dread or unease about life and its meaning without a precise source.

Signs of existential anxiety.

Anxiety manifests differently for people, but some of the ways existential anxiety is indicated include:

  • Depression
  • Feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty making decisions
  • Experiencing painful emotions such as despair, guilt, or regret
  • Feeling lonely and isolated from friends and loved ones
  • Withdrawing from social activities or loved ones
  • Feeling a lack of motivation and energy
  • Worrying obsessively
  • Feeling as though life is a struggle
  • Questioning your beliefs and deepest-held convictions
  • Experiencing panic attacks and symptoms of anxiety such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea, and sweating

Treatment options.

The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is interesting, not least because of the way it asserts that everything is “meaningless.” According to the Bible Project, the Hebrew word that is translated as “meaningless” is hevel, and what it communicates isn’t so much that life is without meaning; rather, it is that life is like smoke or a vapor.

It’s difficult to grasp, to pin down, and to understand fully; it is sometimes absurd. If we’re honest with ourselves, we often overestimate our ability to understand what life is about, and life circumstances can challenge that sense of confidence.

One of the main ways to address existential anxiety is to honestly explore those feelings of fear, dread, or panic. Questions about your identity, purpose, and whether your choices matter are some of the most profound questions a person can try to answer, and the answers one comes up with matter. Existential anxiety can be part of your journey toward a deeper authenticity, finding meaning in life, and facing the questions of your mortality.

Seeking help for existential anxiety is another helpful way to address it. Your counselor can help you gain a different life perspective that appreciates all that God has placed in your hands, while trusting Him amid the absurdities of life. Simply having a space to verbalize and talk through your anxieties can make a difference, as can medication to treat the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Speaking with a Christian counselor can provide you with a safe space to explore what you believe about life, meaning, and death. They can help you understand God’s promises and how they can apply to you in your current situation.

Practices such as gratitude can help you appreciate and identify significant moments that give your life meaning, and it can also help to identify the thoughts that triggered your existential anxiety. Sometimes those thoughts need to be disrupted and replaced by a healthier outlook.

In other instances, instead of trying to find one all-encompassing answer to address your angst, it may be helpful to take small steps and break those large questions into smaller ones that you take your time answering. Your counselor can be a huge help in the process, walking with you as you begin to appreciate the smaller things in life that tend to go unnoticed in the hubbub of a busy life.

“Olive Leaves and Olives”, Courtesy of Anita Austvika, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Flowers in the Bud”, Courtesy of Mourad Saadi, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Spores”, Courtesy of FRANCESCO TOMMASINI, Unsplash.com, CC0 License


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