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Existential Anxiety

Existential Anxiety – when the bigger questions weigh heavy


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 

Wellbeing Support Services offer a range of support to students at the University of Warwick 

The NHS are also available for support, through the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service. Details of the local IAPT team can be found here 

 The Chaplaincy is also a safe space for anyone who would appreciate a quieter space to sit and reflect, or if an ear to listen would be helpful, our Chaplains are there for you, whatever your own beliefs and faith. We are here for people of all faiths and none 

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 

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