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Existential Anxiety

Existential Anxiety – when the bigger questions weigh heavy

Introduction:

It is common to ponder the meaning of life, to question why we’re here, our purpose, the point to this all. However, if these thoughts are becoming overly-intrusive, persistent, or are having a negative impact on your functioning or wellbeing, you may be experiencing some existential anxiety. Although this can feel frightening, you are not alone or abnormal.

Where does this come from?

There is no one reason you may be experiencing this, however, such anxiety can come from uncertainty, the unknown, and from the pressure of having to make choices. It can come and go throughout our lives, and may increase when we are facing other significant stresses.

You may be experiencing thoughts of:

  • What’s the point?
  • I am insignificant
  • There’s no meaning to anything
  • I’m wasting my life
  • It’s all pointless
  • Who am I supposed to be?
  • I have no purpose
  • How do I know any of this is real?
  • Why are we here?

You may also notice that you feel:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Stressed
  • A deep sense of angst
  • Confused
  • Low in mood
  • Hopeless
  • Empty
  • Numb
  • Panic
  • A lack of motivation
  • Low in energy

You may also experience sensations in your body, such as:

  • Feeling sick
  • Racing heart
  • Shaky or tingling hands
  • Headaches
  • Breathlessness
  • Pain in the chest

Moving out of existential anxiety

• Remember that, although we are all unique, what you are experiencing is very common
• Try to spend some time taking part in activities which make you feel calm, content or alive, depending on how you’re feeling
• Work towards accepting the uncertain nature of the future and taking responsibility for what you might do with it
• Try to consider what this anxiety can teach you about what matters to you, how you really want to live your life, and work to locate your own meaning
• Evaluate what is most important in your life (this could be family, personal morals, etc.)
• Work to accept that with choice comes rejection of other possibilities – no one can do everything, and this is ok
• Be aware of social pressures and expectations that don’t serve you – sometimes endeavours can feel meaningless if we are doing something that is important to somebody else, but not to us
• Work to find meaning and contentment in the smaller, everyday things while chasing any bigger dreams – if we only find meaning in something distant, we can find ourselves without it
• Try to focus more on the present than the future or the past – mindfulness and breathing techniques may help with this
• Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
• You may wish to try journaling, in which you connect with and reflect on your feelings
• It can be helpful to talk through how you’re feeling with somebody you trust, or a professional, such as a counsellor

Getting Support

The University Counselling Service is available to all staff and students at the University of Warwick. Whether it be face-to-face, email or group counselling, there are professionals available to support you. Find more information by following this link:

The UCS also offers a number of workshops, which can be found here

The National Health Service are also available for support, through the IAPT service. Their phone number for Coventry and Warwickshire is 024 76671090. You can also visit their website at:

www.covwarkpt.nhs.uk/iapt

If your thoughts ever become too much, or your mood very low, you can also call the following helplines:

Mental Health Help & Advice Line (24 hours): 0800 616 171
Saneline (6pm-9pm): 0845 767 8000
Samaritans (24 hours): 024 76678678
NHS Direct (24 hours): 111

You may wish to visit your GP, who will also be able to offer information about support

Other resources

https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/

http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Relaxation-Exercises.htm

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

Gordon Marino PhD, The Existentialist's Survival Guide (Audiobook)

https://www.philosophy-foundation.org/blog/existential-anxiety-is-contagious

Finding Meaning in Life information sheet

The Happiness Trap