The Existential Crisis, Depression, Anxiety And Mortality

This is a comment that one of our readers recently posted in reaction to an article titled, "Loneliness, A Deadly Disease"

Both the article and the full comment can be viewed at this URL:

"The facts are these:
We live in a society that places utterly no value on human interaction. The overwhelming attitude of most people is rampant consumption and fostering an unquenchable thirst for more. The one avenue that most of us have in the pursuit of this is work. Lots and lots and lots of work. For good or for bad or for worse, that is the sole avenue of self-worth for many people; dare I even say most people?
And so that is to where I restrict my social outlet. I have long since given up on relationships because they have become the definition of filling other people's needs with no expectation of any kind that mine will be filled in turn..."

The person who posted this comment makes some valid observations about the pursuit of consumption and work. However, his premise that the root of the problem is that this society does not value human interaction is one with which I disagree.

From my perspective as a therapist and as a reader of fiction and philosophy, the root of the problem is human and universal. If you will permit me to become biblical for a moment, Adam and Eve's real punishment for biting the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, was not only becoming aware of sexuality, but of the fact that life is finite and limited. Unlike all other living creatures, we are aware of death.

What is an existential crisis? It is the realization that each of us will one day die. It is understanding that life is not endless and that our days on this planet are numbered. 

From the beginning of time, people have asked themselves the existential question, "If I am doomed to die, what is the point of my life?" It is a terrifying question and different people have attempted to answer it in different ways.

Those who are deeply religious deny there is an existential crisis because faith brings with it the achievement of an after-life. For these people, life is not limited but continues for all eternity. This is common to all the major world religions: Judaism, Catholicism, Christianity and Islam.

According to the author Ernest Becker, in his book The Denial of Death, most people put the notion of death out of their awareness and go about living their lives without thinking about their mortality. However, there are times when the fact of death breaks through to their conscious minds. When that happens they become temporarily terrified until the crisis passes and they achieve a new balance. What causes mortality to break through to consciouness? The death of friends, relatives and loved ones confronts even the greatest deniers of the fact that life is finite.

Depression and Anxiety

There are those who seem to have greater difficulty denying the fact of death. Among these are individuals who struggle with panic and anxiety disorders and various types of depression. Today, we are able to look at many of the causes of these disorders and find such factors as chemical imbalances in the brain, traumatizing childhoods and adulthoods, and such problems as neglect, abuse and addictions.

As a result of better understanding the causes of emotional disorders, we have greatly improved treatments with medications and more precise types of psychotherapies.

Yet, we tend to overlook the importance and even reality of each person's existential crisis. It is this crisis that I believe lies at the roots of depression and anxiety, in addition to those factors already mentioned. If this true, then what can we do about it in addition to medication and psychotherapy?

We each need to find meaning in our lives. Meaning is found through interpersonal relationships. This is also pointed out by the brilliant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom, MD. I highly recommend his many wonderful books, both fiction and non fiction.

As Yalom points out, it is the realization and knowledge that we influence others in ways that are positive that can provide a sense of meaning in our lives. That is why loneliness is so deadly. However, many people fail to realize that they have enormous influence on the lives of others. Whether they are friends or family, they are important to us and we are important to them. There are also the relationships with those at work and those we casually meet while walking in the street, riding the bus or train, and shopping in the supermarket and clothing store.

The pursuit of material items can be temporarily exciting but ends in a return to feelings of emptiness. The real "unquenchable thirst," the commentator mentioned, comes from meaninglessness.

In addition to acknowledging our importantance to others, it is also important to know that each of us is unique and individual. To put it another way, "No one else is quite like me. No one else had the specific events of childhood that happened to me and in the specific ways they happened." This is why you, me and each one of us is unique and special.

As John Donne said it centuries ago:

"No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Donne was meaning three things:

1. That none of us are isolated because we are all interconnected,

2. We are all aware of death,

3. One man's death diminishes all mankind.

If you feel depressed and anxious, it is important that you enter psychotherapy. The therapy could be Cognitive Behavioral, Psychoanaytic, Jungian, Dialectical or some other. However, the treatment should include a search for ways to define life and its personal meanings through interaction with others and the removal of blocks to successful and intimate interacting. By "intimate" I do not mean sex as much as closeness, warmth and honesty. Let's not leave out your uniqueness and specialness as a human being.

Your comments, questions and observations are strongly encouraged and welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

  • JR

    I believe that there is a great Divinity in the Universe, but am agnostic on the question of whether there is some sort of "intelligent design" behind it, at least to the extent that "intelligent" implies some sort of will, or "plan". As to an individual afterlife - let us say that I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

    I suppose that this should mean I am a candidate for a really nasty existential crisis. Indeed, perhaps I did have one, of sorts, some considerable time ago. These days, while I have moments of worrying whether it is worth being here, and whether it is worth going on, this has generally passed. The view that it is not worth proceeding in the face of inevitable death seems, not only rather egocentric, but human-centric, if I may put it that way. We humans - like all creatures, everywhere - are (it seems to me) natural expressions of the great Universal Divinity, whether that Divinity has will, or a plan, or not. It is natural for us to be here. True, we are aware of death, which is a bit of a drawback to humanity when compared to the state of other creatures. On the other hand, perhaps it is best to view as part of the price we pay for the huge blessings of being human - including the ability to apprehend, however dimly, the beauty of the great, if sometimes terrifying reality that gave us rise.

    Part of the price of our coming is our going. This is sad - but it seems a price worth paying, however brief our passage through "this transitory life" (in the words of an anonymous Old English poet put it) may prove. My penultimate word is from Marcus Aurelius -

    "Mortal man, you have lived as a citizen in this great city. What matter if that life is five or fifty years ? The laws of the city apply equally to all. So what is there to fear in your dismissal from the city ? This is no tyrant or corrupt judge who dismisses you, but the very same nature that brought you in. It is like the officer who engaged a comic actor dismissing him from the stage. 'But I have not played my five acts, only three.' 'True, but in life three acts can be the whole play.' Completion is determined by that being who caused first your composition and now your dissolution. You have no part in either causation. Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you". ("Meditations" 12.36, trans. Martin Hammond).

    If, as Shakespeare put it, "we are the stuff that dreams are made of, and our little lives are rounded with a sleep", well, so be it. The dream, while it lasts, can be beautiful.

    Hope I have not been writing nonsense - it would not be the first time, as I am sure you know ...

    Best regards and thanks,


  • Thomas Bond

    Mainly wanted to give a positive response to Allan Schwartz article on what I believe is an MHMR blog located in Peacan Valley. I wanted the 'impacted folks' to be aware more than anyone else. All Dr. Schwartz says concerning TMS is right on the mark. However, we are considerable past that stage now. As one may have noticed over the past week or so, a number of universities as well as private science enterprises have come out with a bit of fan fair relating to the 'fact' that they have discovered that certain power stratas of ultrasound can be utilized for the treatment of mental illness. AND. . .if you conjoin electromagnetism to the mix you have what is referred to as the 'magical duo'.

    The fact of the matter is. . .this is all true and good and the process is called 'electromagnetic brain animation'. An EBA generator was designed and [invented] by the Behavior Research Institute way back in 2003. To this date, following 22 successful clinical trials, a completely finished working model will be introduced to the mental health field in early 2010. Also, this may be a little dismaying to those making all these 'fan fair' announcements BRI along with its medical director, William Rogers, own all patent use rights and accessory allowances required by all governmental bodies overseeing such instrumentation. That fact needs to be known but it is secondary right now as far as importance is concerned. They will be made aware soon enough. However, the great thing is there is now coming to the fore an ability to help those with crushing mental difficulties that is truly seminal in scope. Help is on the way and it will be here shortly.

  • Dr Smith

    I have enjoyed reading the above posts, and have read many times that animals are not aware of their own mortality. How do we know this? Especially as in the instance of where an animal sees one of it's own kind killed by a predator? I mean, how do we really know for sure? And is this lack of awareness universal amongst ALL animals or just some species?


    Dr Smith.

  • amy

    ...for this article and JR's additional comments which have both given me great comfort and strength... I believe i am suffering some kind of an 'existential crisis' following the recent suicide of my partner's mother. And don't Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius put it so well... bless their souls x

    thank you again xx

  • PW

    Thank you for the engaging article. I wanted to make a comment quickly about my particular brand of occasional existential questions. I sometimes find myself falling into momentary crises, but they have nothing to do with death. My question's really this: how can death even bother you, when you don't know what it is that you're going to lose? Life is a terrifyingly mysterious thing, don't you think? At a very basic level, we don't know how consciousness, let alone self-consciousness, arises. To put it simply what is the *stuff* of consciousness, or is there any stuff at all?

    Sure, there is plenty of evidence that consciousness arises as a result of a particular arrangement of biological components (namely, I suppose, neurons). But this only compounds the problem. Consciousness may well be a property of matter, but why, and how? And why should any particular hunk of brain somehow "be" us?

    I would agree that religion provides some comfort, if one can find one to stomach. But I don't think religions really address this issue, anyway, other than to take a "soul" for granted and leave it at that. We're still left with the same problem, right? Is the soul a thing? A sense? A property? An illusion? A tangible thing, in some plane of the physical universe that we haven't discovered? None of the above?

    To add to the confusion, there's the nasty little problem of our relationship with time. Is the consciousness that exists in this instant, in the very present, or close to it, the only "me" that exists? Yes, I have memories, but could it be that those memories are just the rusting old etchings of a "me" that's no longer around? Or is there a permanance to consciousness through time? Similarly, ask yourself this: if time were to somehow stop completely, freezing every synapse still in its tracks, would/could anything still be conscious? I suspect not (although again, who can be sure?), which suggests that, unlike an apple, which would seem to be an apple whether or not time is moving forward, consciousness exists in a somewhat different plane than matter alone. But where does that leave us? Again, these questions are so utterly unanswerable, at least for now, that it almost seems absurd (maybe even obnoxious) to propose them.

    And yeah, apologies for sounding horribly stoned (I'm not) but I do find these questions deeply, deeply difficult and beguiling. And I realize too that this topic is almost impossible to talk about, because we don't really have words for things that we don't understand. So this conversation, to some extent, might always be dooomed to the imperfections of metaphor.

    But for whatever it's worth, those are my thoughts. I probably end up in a big stink about this stuff maybe once or twice a year. If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that our brains or consciousnesses or whatever it is that's "us," are beautifully designed to avoid these questions.

    And of course, although I'm sure I sound a bit despondent, it bears repeating that the absence of answers doesn't justify pessimism. The world certainly seems pretty amazing, and I fully intend to enjoy and cherish the crap out of it.

    And I'll leave it at that.


  • BIS

    Dear anyone suffering from an existential crisis,

    I suffered a debilitating existential crisis and even considered suicide at one point.

    It was a long and painful experience. Once in a while, I still have very brief moments of panic. However, I can control those fears while I can't control the realities of this world (our mortality, our inability to know everything, a lack of certain meaning in life), I can control how I react to them.

    I have realized that even though I am a very rational thinker (as an academic), I don't have all the answers and neither does anyone else. I was previously an atheist and now I would say I am agnostic. I don't know (and nobody knows for sure) what happens when you die or what the meaning of it all is.

    But none of that means I can't enjoy the life I have--the physical world and society in which I exist, if only for now.

    For me, sometimes it was better not to get caught up or upset by thinking too much about things for which there seems to be no answers and rather focus on the world around me--my family especially.

    Hope you all may find peace and happiness Hang in there,


  • Marian


    I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression. My problems with these two started this New Year's Eve (01.01.2010).

    I've smoked a joint (I am not a smoker, and that was my 3nd [I think] joint I`ve ever had, but the previous did not affect me), with a couple of friends, from some herbal stuff found in stores (some say they are nastier than marijuana) and it messed me up pretty bad for an hour or so. It caused me a big scary panic attack which lasted for one hour or so... I eventualy chilled and got to my senses and partied all night and dranked a lot! I was such an idiot... Next day I felt like a zombie. Scared, with no vitality, irational... I had all kind of feelings all over my body, all kind of ilogical thoughts. I felt like I was feeling crazy. It took around 2 weeks to get better.

    After a couple of months history repeated itself. Smoked a joint (didn't have panic attack this time) and drank more than I could take... But the anxiety started 3 days after, not imediately the next day.

    Thing is, besides the fact I smoked and drank too much that day, I also thought, after those 3 days, about some existantial questions. I thought something like this:

    In our knoledge, everything has a beginning, so all the universe must have came from somewhere.

    1) If it was created by God, where did he come from?

    2) If it all was created from the Big Bang, where that came from?

    And thought wow, it seems kinda impossible for us to be here, for me to exist, but still here I am, thinking, existing. And then had some flashes and fear took over me. So that's when it all began for me... I`m not well not even now, after a few months. I`m having all kind of weird thoughts, a constant fear, or unpleasant feeling, I feel disconnected from reality, I feel like I`m going crazy. I don`t know what sense to make about reality, about my past memories. What is reality anyway? I feel like I`m not me anymore and tho I recognize the things around me, they look so out of place.

    Can anyone help with some ideas, please?

  • Haush

    I had almost the exact same thing happen with the exact same substance (I think you’re talking about synthetic cannabis, and not Salvia). I was already going through an existential crisis when I smoked some, had been fairly depressed, and suffering from anxiety as well. I thought that maybe smoking some (the synthetic cannabis sold in stores) would lift my spirits a little (I had smoked it previously a few times with no ill effects).

    However, this time a few minutes after smoking it I began to get paranoid and anxious, which has happened to me after smoking some before but not too badly. But then a few minutes after that, it escalated into a full-blown panic attack - I was physically, uncontrollably trembling and on the verge of breaking down in a sobbing heap on the floor. The strange thing was that it wasn't a perceived physical threat (though I was having that too), the thing causing me the most anxiety - was what I saw as the pointlessness in the existence life and the meaninglessness of all of humankind's hopes, dreams and endeavors, both collectively and individually. I felt like an animal trapped by a predator in terms of my own mortality and that any hope of an afterlife or God were simply useless screams in a vacuum. I was quite simply terrified nearly to the point of paralysis, something I’ve never experienced, even when I’ve been faced with immediate physical threats. It took me about two hours to finally calm down enough to compose myself and eventually fall asleep. Needless to say, I've never touched that stuff again, but it seems to have thrown what I was already suffering from into overdrive, even weeks after smoking it.

  • WR

    So this year I developed panic attacks and if you don't really know what one is, its basically a sudden surge of anxiety and the belief you are going to die. This is worsened by the apparent symptoms of heart attacks or stroke or losing control and so on.

    On the whole, not very fun at all!

    Now everyone usually says their first one is the worst, because you basically feel you are staring death in the face.

    Throughout the year however, I've plodded on and these have cropped up every now and then, making things a lot worse. Gradually is developed into a sort of depression, more apathetic existence and I often catch myself (everyday) considering life and it's point. I used to, rather snobbishly look down on religious people, but now, I envy them. I really do. Regardless of whether their belief is true or not, they BELIEVE it, they really feel that this life is just the beginning and I wish I could believe that so much, but sadly I will never get to that part, just rot in agnosticism.

    However, after reading some of these articles, I've had my mind blown a bit because there are some things I simply haven't considered. So thank you for that. As ever, people have been through these feelings and thought processes thousands of time before and looking back in history is usually the best place to seek some form of comfort and peace of mind.

    Yep, some of you are absolutely spot on. Cheers x

  • Anonymous-1

    So any solutions? How do we get out of this?


  • Anonymous-2

    First, I'd like to say that I'm probably not the typical demographic for this type of problem. I'm a male, 24 years old. I remember the exact day my life changed- 6-17-10.

    I used to be a neurotic young man, who would do one of two things, either obsess over something, or put my metaphorical head in the sand. Just over the last two years I have obsessed with politics and being a millionaire/successful business man who is very smart. Now I didn't think it was entirely normal to be that obsessive, although I sort of liked that aspect of my personality.

    Things that I put my head in the sand for involved my health mostly. I didn't eat too well and didn't excercise too well. Another thing that was straight up head in the sand for me was my mortality. Now, that doesn't mean that I never thought of it. Oh, I've thought about it here and there and then I'd be like "what are doing thinking about it, it's depressing!" So I switched topics and went on with my life. The worst that I ever thought of, was once or twice on the train, I thought about how there will be a day 100 or 150 years from now, when everyone on this train will be dead. Then I went on with my business. Once (also on the train), I thought about myself actually dying. Then I thought "why am I thinking about this?". When I was a kid and was reading history books, I thought to myself, if I was born when these people were born, I'd be dead now. Then I calmed myself down that life doesn't move as fast as a book. Most of the time when the topic of mortality came up, it went into one ear and out the other. I never really got the "life's too short" statements, I was (and still am) young. When in my school (religious jewish), I kept hearing how unimportant this world is, because it's finite and the afterworld is infinite, I was like "what a bunch of crap". Not that I didn't know that this world is finite, but I was a kid and it seemed damned infinite to me! When people pondered the meaning of life, I thought that it was a bunch of crap. Meaning of life? Live it. I remember when I was in my politics obsession (I was obsessed with conservatism/libertarianism) and I asked a coworker what he thought about global warming. He answered "it won't affect the earth until long after I'm gone". Not only did that not bother me, I was happy with that answer, for now I had something that I can use against the pro-global warming crowd in debates!

    Now fast forward to recently and I was on a train in the middle of a short 5 day break between 2 jobs. I have no idea why I thought about this on the second day, but I thought to myself "this will end soon" but then another thought ocurred to me "everything (every fun thing) in life ends and then you die." So in the beginning of my 2.5 months of hell, I had the obsessive thought that nothing mattered because every little thing started ends. I would think back to every ending I had, with every fun thing I did. I would think, is there really such a thing as a present? Everything became meaningless and I felt absolutely dreadful. I'd go out with friends or coworkers and would think to myself how it will end, and all the while not enjoying it. That said, after like a month I got over it and how I long for THOSE days. Then I started thinking of time in a different way. A more dreadful way. I started thinking about old age. Everything that it entailed. I started thinking that death was preferable. I even had a positive thought about death. I thought of all the possible positives or "not negatives" about it. For example, 1) the only people that fear death, are people who are alive. 2) Death is not a bad thing, it's a nutral thing. My favorite quote ever 3) The anticipation of death is worse than death itself. Really, other than it stopping the agony I was feeling I couldn't think of one positive about death. But at least they were "not negatives". I haven't gotten over aging, but lately, after an upswing I started thinking about death. What matters in life if we die anyway? Everyone I see will die one day (the thing I thought of in the subway but for long periods of time). How will it feel (tried to keep THIS at a minimum). Poor bastards who don't think about death, don't know what's coming. At times I envy them, then I think a worse thought than envy, how can I envy mortals? Nothing matters. Life has stopped for me. I feel like I'm dead at 24. Possibly worse, because when I'll be dead I won't know that I'm dead. I don't know what to do. The only answer I get from my psychologist is put my head back in the sand. But now that I saw the real world, how can I put my head back in the sand? It will only delay the inevitable. I realize that I can't do anything about it and maybe this is the better alternative. Especially at such a young age. But what happens when I get older? That's if I get older. I'm so depressed, I worry if I'll see my 25th birthday. Speaking of age, I have stopped seeing people of different ages. They're all one big coffin. Back in the day, elderly people, were the poor bastards that have issues (and by the way were born that way), middle aged people were the poor bastards that started thinking about these things, and young people like me were the happy people. Now we're all the same portal to our graves. Some sooner, some later. I want my life back. But I also know about the horror that awaits and for this I want no part of children. I feel like god/nature made it so people have kids young, before they start thinking about these things. Then kids end up having to go through this. Why would I want to put someone else through this?

  • Linsalata

    I wish I had advice for everyone here experiencing major trouble in reaction to these seemingly unsolvable questions. Sometimes I feel so disconnected because it seems that the only thing we can truly prove to ourselves is that we exist.

    But I believe this sort of existential trouble is liberating, and is something to be embraced, even if it is initially very painful and confounding. I say this because if there is a contradiction between some fundamental truth we are perceiving and the grandiose values we've been trained to believe in and pursue since we were very young, such as an epic romance or an epic career, then it only makes sense that an anxiety would arise. And that anxiety is no reason to try and avoid these questions or feelings.

    Personally, when I started to embrace these questions and why they were causing so much anxiety, I found that indeed I was involving myself in pursuits that were vain and at bottom of no value to myself or others, and yet these things were hard to let go of because for so long society makes us believe that these are the things that bring life meaning. It's a wretched loop we're placed in, and we're trained to believe we're not normal if we indulge in such thoughts or questions, so we repress them.

    So in embracing them I was at least able to free myself from many of the illusions we have created for ourselves, which has relieved much pain and anxiety in itself, without having to ignore these essential questions.

    This is just sort of a launch point and the approach that I have tried to take in dealing with intense upheaval of this sort. Hope this helps somebody.

  • African tribes man

    shim shim shim shim shim shilim.

    Is any body there?.

    Is my awareness of others being there to be trusted?.

    If I am not will others be?.

    Existential carthasis only happens to those who are obsessional thinkers? smart people?.

    There are no absolutes. thus all your summation and conclussion could also be wrong. If an existential outlook is absolute every creature will be experiencing it. including my dog yokolo, and right now she just tilted her head looked at me, farted, and doozed back to sleep. I think she is a better teacher to me than camus or yalom.

  • Ryan Walker

    Marian, when I read your input on the subject I felt like I was reading my own thoughts on paper. I couldn't believe how similar our stories were! What kicked it off for me was it were mushrooms. I was out with my friends one night and I decided to experiment with those nasty things (never do themplease!). That night was followed with a severe anxiety attack and thoughts of insanity! The next day I just didn't feel quite right. Like you described towards the end of your segment, I was extremely analytical about everything. The best way I can decribe it is, it was like a battle between the 'irrational' and 'rational' parts of my brain. This ridiculous and terrifying mentality followed me around for about 3 months followed by severe depression and feelings of hoplessness. This episode eventually passed and I was able to live my life just as I had before, however it hit me again just recently and now I'm back in this horrible state of mind. Here's my tip to you and I like to think about this to help me feel better. If I was able to fight this off, SO CAN YOU! I fought it off without the assistance of medication and now that I look back on it, I dont know how I survived that period of mental anguish for so long without help. Also, I want you to realize how powerful the mind is and if we can "think" ourselves into these terrible mindsets of irrational and depressing thoughts, then we can also condition our minds to being a very "happy" place, filled with thoughts of joy. So keep this in mind while you seek help and I'll do the same.

    P.S.- These are the times when you realize that our existence as human beings is a beautiful thing and that we can always be there for one another and comfort eachother. :)

  • nina

    Hello, I am having an existential crisis - or finding my way out after the crisis reached critical and I think that the idea that it's the realization that we're going to die is far too simple.

    We all know we're going to die at some point - but everyone seems to find a way to continue - perhaps usually by the busywork of the workaday life - ignorance, as they say is bliss

    but really, what's the point of civilizations that also develop, peak and die - what's the point of running to stay in place when the system itself is crumbling around us?

    In the 7th grade, in the late 70s - so yes, I am in my early 40s and right on schedule since 40 is the new 30 - with my mid-life crisis and facing the poor health of my parents, loss of my pets and a workplace conflict so extreme that even soap operas would not accept a storyline based on it

    in 7th grade, when we learned about the early civilizations, how each one rose and fell, I asked my teacher - so is our civilization accending or descending - to which she responded niether - that this was it and how it was going to be for the rest of time.

    then she laughed at me and encouraged the class to laugh as well,

    Oddly, I found that I was not upset by this, but rather saddened that here was a teacher, resisting the very lession that she was teaching and then encouraging the mocking of me because I was able to understand the lession and apply it to our own civilization

    so now, I can't be bothered to have the last laugh, since, the world in 2011 is nothing like the world of 1978

    countries around the world have changed names and borders, the middle east is burning with revolution - with dictatorships and theocracies falling to a grassroots uprising of people who are made as hell and not going to take the lies from corrupt systems anymore

    and, will all our science knowledge and technology - we are still fighting the dark ages religion and failing to find a balance with nature for sustainability of our species - acrigicide, unable to predicate earthquakes, but not smart enought to build nuclear power plants away from earthquake vulnerable zones

    we can imagine a brigher future but the UN is a far far cry from the ideals of the united federation of planets

    earth wouldn't qualify as a member as logn as we continue to remain divided over ridiculous things like ethincity and national boundaries

    and we are so focussed on dividing between the haves and have nots - and defining ourselves into smaller and smaller groups - gender, ethnicity, sexuality, down to beleifs that don't matter because they are not based in reality

    so, that each of us is going to die at some point, a crisis? really? that's kind of a well, duh we all die invidiually

    seems like no matter of concern when we seem so collectively determined to go extinct.

  • nina

    SO, putting aside that rant - my question is what does it feel like?

    I have a constant sense of clockwork motions in my mind and I find that my body is acting them out in little dance steps, frequent twirls, finger snapping laughing and disassociating.

    Instead of just one point of view - I have a point of view with hundreds of levels - on each characteristic of what is it to be me - I can often not sort between related to an event, an information point, a situation

    without seeing it from the male vs female view, a warrior vs caretaker view, a hedonist vs good need, a orderly vs chaos view

    it's like experiencing everything as each character in an ensemble tv show from the POV of each character all at once

    seeing all POVS as equaly valuable and ini opposition, both at the same time

    when the POVS all come together into a single coherent event where all the POVS come together - is when I dissassociate - I loose awareness of the external sensory input and experience a mental orgasm - a fusion of everything and it is the most amazing feeling

    like bieng in a fun house and seeing every possible facet of myself at once - and having the sense of being able to exit the fun house and re-enter the sensory world at any juncture in my life - as if all possibilities are being played out and once I have sorted out and understood everything that there is to know from every angle possible, that my concious self can then go and revist any moment from every possiblt life - as if to enjoy a greatest possible hits

    instead of having to live in one time continuum that is linear and plodding forward

    as if being able to do the greatest hits medley is a self sustaining reward - aka, this to a spiritual person would likely be labeled heaven

    such is the euphoria

    whereas, someone unable to resolve the factets is doomed to the linear one timeline hell that is this existance

  • Allan N. Schwartz, Phd

    Hi Nina,

    Things are not as complicated as you seem to be making them. Simply, each one of us needs to do things in our lives to make us feel good. Among those things are making friends and keeping them, doing work that we like, etc. Those are the ways in which we find meaning in our lives. It's not that we are going to die. Its to realize that we are valuable to others that makes living worthwhile. Work and relationships are the key activities.

    Do you find meaning to your life? I hope so.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • Jamie

    Dear Dr Schwartz,

    In your response below, you say that work and relationships are the key activities. My question is, how does this relate to all the people in the world who suffer? All of those who experience famine, disease, starvation and so on?

    Or, closer to home, those who have been struck down with illness, such as MS, whereby their lives are effected drastically, to the point where work is impossible and relatonships are very strained. What hope for them?

    I say this because, a couple of years ago I started having strange health problems. The Doctors thought it might be MS. However, it transpires that it most likely isn't, and that my symptons are difficult to diagnose. At one point, I thought it definately was. I was told that it could be this a problem with the brain. I went through all sorts of dark emotions that I do not like to recall. I still have them from time to time because my problem has not been resolved, it just feels less desperate.

    The feeling I am left is: what hope for these people? For all those who suffer, whereby your resolutions are not applicable? Why should I be OK when many suffer? Why should I be able to get over these feelings of meaninglessness, and find a sense of worth using your methods, when others do not have the same means?

    It doesn't seem like an adequate solution to me if it is not universally applicable.

    That's not to say that some of the responses below were not uplifting and so on. It has been good for me to read them.



  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Hi Jamie,

    Thank you for your comment.

    What needs to be clarified that finding meaning in life has partly to do with relationships and understanding that you are important to others. However, this does not mean that it will solve the problems of disease and the anguish of having one, such as MS. Knowing that your life is meaningful will help cope with an illness. But, it will not prevent or cure an illness. In other words, its about not feeling alone, even in the most critical of times, including facing death. I hope this helps.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • James

    This statement may be true for 99% of the population but what about the 1% that struggle with developmental disorders such as Austism Spectrum Disorders where sometimes the cure to their problems is to be given space and left alone. I have Asperger's Syndrome and seem to to not find peace or calm until I am by myself. This is a double-edged sword of course because I do suffer from loneliness and crave relationships.

  • William Rogers

    An Existential Crisis is, in fact, slowly coming to the confusing conclusion that sooner or later you will cease to be. Oddly though, most people think only other people die. One will, of course, immediately receive a great deal of argument following such a statement most of them offshoots of, "What are you babbling about. of course I know I'm going to die." However, soon after decent 'critical thinking skills' begin to awaken, an understanding comes to the fore. Only in a squinty, blurry kind of way as if trying to look through the grime of a dirty car windshield can we begin to formulate within our consciousness that we are finite - and that just isn't enough. Therefore, we continue our headlong stumbling onto the record books as becoming the most unsuccessful organism ever to have inhabited the earth. What is generally referred to as "modern man" has been around for only about 100,000 years. This is by far the shortest period of time for anything, any living creature, to have evolved, developed, and lived on this planet. The possibility that we will hang around long enough to catch up to the longevity of any other thing that lived or lives is 'zero'. The point being, it is an astonishingly grandiose example of egomania run amok that we humans should worry about such things as 'being and non-being'. Within the total spectrum of things our life form is so [meaningless] as to defy description. It is so silly to think otherwise that in an actual, logical, pragmatic world, to do so would probably risk commitment to a mental facility. "Meaning" by the very nature of its construct can only be personal...and within that context, the 'meaning of life' is to love and be loved in return. Nothing more - nothing less.

  • Anonymous-3



  • Chris

    I'm 19 years old and have experimented with synthetic marijuana. This seems off topic but I have been dealing with existential thoughts and depression ever since I had a bad experience with it 3 months ago. Does anyone have any insight to why this happened and what i need to do to get better?

  • Tony

    The web of language as it evolves, while a beautiful thing allowing us to build upon ideas, pass on knowledge, and do just about everything else that we as humans seem to have exclusive access to, can cause delays in progress as a species when it sometimes takes a path for so long that creation of new concepts begins from a seed of words and ideas that are may have been fundamentally flawed to begin with.

    Words like happiness, good, love, satiety, and content have formed a very deep-rooted dichotomy with terms like sadness, depression, anxiety, hate, unquenchable, and bored. I believe that the separation of ideas into two distinct buckets, at opposite poles rather than points along the multi-dimensional spectrum of human existence may cause a lot of unnecessary issues when we set out to

  • A S

    I am going thorugh a phase of existential crisis (my first one), but this is nowhere related to thinking about death. The questions that are contniously bothering me are-

    1. What is the Purpose of my life?
    2. What is the greater meaning of my existence?
    3. I am 30 now. What should be my contribution towards humanity 20 years from now?

    My present life seems some sort of a vacumn, without a mission. Goals (career related) that I set doesn't excite me for long. I have a good family and am not suffering from isolation in that way. However, the case that I have a good job, good family, peaceful life does not necessarily satisfy me. I feel my life should have some higher purpose. Probably I should have some lofty ideals which would enable me to set respective short term goald and work towards that.However, inspite a lot of contemplation I am not able to figure out what my life is mission should be.

    I am seeking help in finding out my life's mission. YOur thoughts and comments would be greatly appreciated.
    P.S. I don't have any specific passion or hobby as such.


  • John

    If any one death diminishes all mankind and death is inneviable then mankind is here to be diminished.

  • HB

    I am 33. I had an existential crisis that lasted about 4 months when I was 24. For the last few weeks, it has recurred. I am interested to read that several of you had an experience with pot before your existential dread. I too tried it for the first time shortly before my first existential crisis.

    I cannot offer anyone any answers to the big questions -- What is death? Why are we here? I too am particularly bothered by the nature of time and conciousness.

    But, I can tell you this: no one knows the answers to these questions. Science and religion are just different ways of looking at the same set of questions, but none answer the ultimate issues. Some folks who are angry think they have answers and want to depress others with them: it is all meaningless (what is "it all?" and how do you know?) we are just bits of energy formulated in a pattern inside brains that will die shortly (okay, but why does that energy exist?).

    All I can tell you is that those who want to answer your questions negatively are just as foolish as those who want to answer your questions positively (just believe in Jesus/Allah and you'll be all set!). We just do not know. Perhaps we are not even capable of knowing. In the meanwhile, as we seem to exist (possibly) rather shakily between two eternities, here is what I have spent my time doing while undergoing these periods:

    Reading philosophy, physics and sciences. The radio show "On Being," is interesting as is the "Meaning of Life TV." Dr. Robert Lanza has some thoughts that might occupy you.

    I like to hug, and talk with, people that I love.

    Be out in nature. Look up at those fucking stars that will outlast us. Touch a tree that shares this weird confusing state called "life."

    Try some meditation. Why the fuck not? See a therapist for the same reason.

    I don't know that I exist, and yet I know I love. Isn't that a funny thing? I have empathy for all of you who the share the thoughts that have tortured me too.

  • Robin

    I'm a 36 year old woman, with 19 year old existential crisis.

    Relationships are profoundly confusing to me. I don't know all the little social rules other people seem to know. My friends are often frustrated, because I have no "common sense".

    Dating is very unplesant, and doubly confounding. Visiting numerous therapists yielded no results, despite cimmitments of time and effort. Therapists kept telling me to just "get out there", but nothing happened no matter what I did.

    There must be a meaning to life beyond relationships. Otherwise, prisoners in solitary confinement, people in prolonged medical quarantine, people with terrible disfigurements, and those with no physiologial ailments but unconsciously alienate everyone around us — none of these groups of people would have a reason to live. We cannot always depend on our connections to others, otherwise what happens when/if those people leave? Another person is not always available to pick up the slack. What if we have only one person in our life? That puts us in a desperate situation! No, i am more than my connections to others. Many people live for years in solitude, in pilgrammage, in spiritual retreat, yet they are not nothing.

    We are all islands, in a stream. Sometimes we will know people in our lives, sometimes not. Relationships are too fragile, tenuous, and impermenant to base the meaning of your life upon. And it puts far too much pressure on those rare relationships we do encounter.

  • Lexi

    I had an existential crisis when I was little - around the time I started to really understand what death meant, at least in the way we understand it - and I would go downstairs in the middle of the night crying and ask my dad about death. Of course, at that age, I was comforted easily. I thought my parents knew everything, or that they at least knew that it would be okay to die. So my dad would tell me things that made me feel better, and I'd go back to bed, and that was it. But it came back later in my life. I remember one night last year when I stayed up in my dorm room crying and texting my boyfriend, asking for comfort, for the entirety of it. My boyfriend told me that all we are is a collection of memories and that there's nothing after we die. That horrified me. And now, this crisis has come back. I've only been worrying about it for a couple of weeks or so. I don't know exactly how long. But I do know that it's driven me to the point of looking for scientific evidence of some sort of afterlife, as well as to tears and to, again, talking about it with people I'm close to (my boyfriend, a close friend, and soon my mother) in search of comfort. Last year, during that night I was up crying, I also resorted to looking for scientific evidence of an afterlife. I found Robert Lanza's theory of biocentrism I read about the double slit experiment, about how light and matter can exist in two states, and about how the observer can change what the light/matter does in the past and I read that Lanza concluded that space and time are simply things we've made up in our minds, with our consciousness, and that we must exist in another universe. So, he thinks that when we die, we simply move to another universe (i.e. another time and space), just like the light/matter behaves as either a wave or particle based on what the observer does. Lanza thinks we are both alive and dead at the same time, and that at the moment of death, our conscience travels to another universe to be alive in that universe, while we are still dead in this one. He also thinks multiverses are infinite...Anyway, the point is that after I read that the first time, it made me feel a whole lot better. I stopped thinking about it soon after, and I haven't really worried about it since, until now. Unfortunately, Lanza's theory doesnt seem as solid to me as it did the first time I read it. It still sounds like a plausible theory however, I understand that science relies on evidence that has been tested, usually often. And we can't test whether or not there are other universes. We can't test whether or not our conscience travels to another universe at death, or whether or not we exist in both states at once, alive and dead, as the light and matter in the slit experiment do. Although, I don't want to believe that life and death are simply black and white either they aren't. Life is full of wonder and beauty, and I can't be sure what death is or what it means. But something I know for sure is this: I do not want to spend my whole life worrying about death or my mortality. I have a very overactive brain, and it is always difficult for me to control my thoughts. I've always kind of been this way as I mentioned, I even worried about this when I was much younger...I think that what happened to me in high school, however, made it worse than I could have ever thought possible. I had a very traumatic experience with an ex, who did not care about me and who was extremely controlling. I was with him for 3 years off and on. Finally, though, it ended I am with someone who does care for me now. But the point is that because I experienced such trauma, I fear not having control over things I also think about things even more now, and I pick myself and my feelings apart until I can't bear it. I stare my mortality and oblivion in the face, and I break down or I instantly turn off my feelings. If you have any suggestions for how to cope with this, please help me. Sorry for such a long post...

  • Anonymous-4

    I've been dealing with an existential crisis since the 7th of January and it's been Hell for me. I also started searching online for some sort of proof of biological afterlife, or any theory that would permit consciousness to outlive our body ( I found Dr. Lanza as well), but they all seem too far fetched. But keep in mind that the only thing we know for sure is that we don't know nothing definitive yet. Something that helped me a lot was finding scientific predictions about life extending methods (reverse aging, digital immortality, conscience download, transhumanism and so on) that would eliminate aging and death. If science faces death and aging as any other problem and not some inevitability, humanity will eventually overcome It. And you know what? Most predictions aim at a point between 2030 and 2045 (in either case I'll be under 50). This brought me some sort of hope and meaning to my life. I just have to keep healthy until then and be wealthy enough so I can benefit from those ,eventual but likely to happen, discoveries. Of course that will bring a whole lot of different issues but dying will eventually stop being a certainty. Coping with living for hundreds of years will be cause for various existencial crisis for future generations ...