What Is an Existential Crisis?

What is an existential crisis? Is it when you wake up after that long nap, not knowing who you are?
While many people casually say they have an existential crisis, most of us don’t know what it means.
This article will walk you through all the information needed to understand and overcome an existential crisis.

What Is an Existential Crisis?

From its name, an existential crisis is the questioning of life and existence. When someone is going through an existential crisis, they have inner conflicts trying to find meaning in life and wondering about their purpose.
Such a lack of purpose takes a toll on the individual. They feel burned out and can’t carry out regular daily tasks. The negative consequences can differ individually, but they’ll usually target three aspects: an individual’s emotions, behavior, and cognition.
Having an existential crisis can be a roller coaster of negative emotions. People can feel depressed, anxious, guilty, and lonely. Their minds are uncontrollably occupied with the awareness of mortality, leading to constant worrying about death.
Social isolation is typical behavior of someone suffering from an existential crisis. The negative thoughts often linger for more than a few days.
For instance, experiencing stress can be temporary and often fades once the problem causing the stress is solved. Yet, someone having an existential crisis will stay stressed, even when the problem is no longer present.

What Age Does an Existential Crisis Occur?

An existential crisis can happen at any life stage because people can experience similar life situations at different ages.
Still, it’s important to categorize existential crises according to age groups to determine the appropriate approach to the problem.

Existential Crisis in Teenagers

Adolescence is a phase where a lot of changes—physical, emotional, and mental—occur. While some kids mature physically faster than others, they’ll still need to go through many life experiences to reach emotional maturity.
Some teenagers may feel like the transition to adulthood is happening too fast. They struggle to figure out their identity and what they want to do in life.
While developing independence is often a bumpy road and a normal part of growing up, it can be harder for some children.
If your child is starting to question their life, you should seek professional help. Otherwise, neglecting the issue can lead to depression.

Quarter-Life Crisis

Quarter-life or sophomore crisis occurs in the late teen years to mid-20s. Struggling with problems like choosing the right career path or not having a plan are common reasons to trigger an existential crisis.
Interestingly, individuals who are high achievers experience existential crisis the most—which makes sense because high achievers often worry about not reaching their highest potential.
Typical behavior of someone going through a sophomore crisis would be withdrawing from life activities and constantly missing and failing classes. It can also lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

Adult Existential Crisis

Similar reasons that trigger the sophomore crisis, like the wrong career path and self-identity, can also happen in the mid-20s to late 30s and lead to an adult existential crisis.
However, complex topics like one’s political and spiritual outlook are more noticeable in adult existential crises than in sophomore crises.
Adult crisis doesn’t have to be something negative. You can turn it into an opportunity to restart and be the best version of yourself. List down the reasons you’re feeling this way.
Then, rank them from the most to the least significant. Having a clear image of what triggered your adult crisis will help you take the right steps to fix it.
You can join group therapy with people suffering the same as you. Surrounding yourself with those who resonate with you will make your journey to overcome an adult crisis much easier.

Late-Life Existential Crisis

You might expect someone who figured out his/her self-identity, found the correct career path, and formed a successful relationship is existential-crisis-proof. However, that’s not true.
People in their later years may experience an existential crisis. Their struggles involve issues like illness and forthcoming death. Losing a loved one can also cause a lack of meaning in life.
Still, not all issues causing late-life existential crises are related to illness or death. Some individuals worry about their achievements and legacy. They want to leave the world knowing they had a positive impact and try to reach those goals before death.

How to Know if You Are Having an Existential Crisis?

While existential crisis symptoms may vary from one person to another, there are some common symptoms, including:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Unexplainable guilt issues
  • Stress and lack of energy

How Therapists Determine the Severity of an Existential Crisis

Therapists measure the degree of an existential crisis based on two domains: relationship and career. People committed to a broken relationship or working a job they hate often experience an existential crisis.
How dissatisfied someone is in their relationship or job determines the seriousness of the existential crisis. Therapists ask questions about communication, fighting, and abuse to determine to what degree a relationship contributes to the existential crisis.
A therapist may ask questions about your productivity, or whether you're thinking of retiring, so they understand whether job dissatisfaction is affecting your mental health.

How to Overcome an Existential Crisis?

While an existential crisis is regarded as negative, you can still use this as your message to grow and heal. Here are some steps you can start working on:
  • Practice Mindfulness
  • Be proactive
  • Surround yourself with people that love you.
  • Workout
  • Talk to a professional or join group therapy


Existential pain can prevent an individual from leading a regular life. Individuals having an existential crisis ask questions like: where am I going? Why are we here? But may not know they’re going through an existential crisis.
So, what is an existential crisis?
Generally, an existential crisis is when someone questions the meaning behind life. Symptoms of existential pain may differ individually.
While we often perceive an existential crisis as bad, it can be an opportunity for self-improvement and growth.