For reference this is the question, I received:
“Hey Arnav, I tend to find myself getting into what I describe as “existential crises” like every 2 months or so. I’m curious, any advice on managing them or ways to prevent them?”
The first thing, obviously, I have to say, is there’s volumes and levels to existential crises.
There are what are called more mild cases and then much more severe cases where there’s a real freakout and real psychological problems that last longer than a one night small mild existential crises, where it’s like is my life worth it?
I’ll address the more mild cases. Obviously, more severe cases, a psychological professional should most likely be involved.
Now the person that asked me this didn’t define what existential crisis is for them, so I guess I’ll interepret the definition — I think existential crisis is a period of time of deep questioning of if you’re on the right path or you’re freaked about the state of some aspect of your life.
1) Understanding that healthy questioning is good
So, you know I wouldn’t characterize them as existential crises, but I think if you’re reflecting let’s say every 6 months on different aspects of your life — work, family, personal friends, personal fitness level, whatever you want to reflect on, I think that’s actually quite healthy.
Reflection of you know am I in the right job, am I being a good family member, do I have the right friends around me, stuff like that is good to reflect on?
Questioning is good because it should either make you double down and say, yes, I have the right friends around me or it should say, no, I mean, I could use changes in the people who I surround myself with for example.
2) Understand the triggers of existential crises
I would journal and over time, try to find patterns in what triggering you into getting into existential crises.
I’ve advised a couple people on this topic in the past and it was interesting. For example, one of them found, whenever they had a really stressful day of work or stressful week of work, they’d question whether they were in the right job or right field.
And they’d notice, after a good night’s sleep or rest, or once the weekend came and the relaxed and recovered, they were good.
So, in a sense, the stress of their job was really the problem. It wasn’t that they were questioning their job. They were just unable to manage the harder days of their job — and so that’s what we worked on — stress management on the tougher weeks.
Another case I advised someone on, they’d have existential crises whenever someone close to them shared news — like they got engaged or they bought a condo. And so what we had to work on there was more about — how do we not get into comparison traps?
And I think when identify the triggers, the next time a certain trigger happens, you’re better prepared to deal with it.
3) What are stress relievers for you?
These two are more about maybe the prevention/handling.
I think when you’re in a state of existential crises, I think understand your brain is sort of in a flight or fight mode, you’re in a stressed out mode, and you won’t necessarily be thinking rationally.
So, I think coming up with a couple of things that you know are stress relieving. That might be taking a walk outside, going to the grocery store, watching a movie, watching your favorite tv show, calling your best friend.
Figuring out how to get your brain out of this fight or flight state is the key in my opinion.