If you are experiencing existential anxiety, you are not alone. Researchers have found that existential panic has grown at alarming rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts say that fostering existential maturity may be key to managing the anxiety that comes with fearing for our mortality.
Here are a few ways to develop the necessary skills to deal with these overwhelming life stressors:
Of course, this one isn’t quite so straightforward. For many of us, therapy is neither affordable nor accessible, particularly when many therapists will not accept insurance or offer sliding scale rates unless you want to work with an intern. Even online therapy options seem to be priced out of the average household’s budget. However, getting help can be an important part of navigating this added stress.
When we’re struggling with existential anxiety, having a safe place to talk this out can be helpful.
Friends will likely be well-meaning, but they lack the training for handling and even fully understanding the severity of this anxiety. They’ll likely offer platitudes when what we really need is space to be heard and to talk out what’s going on without freaking out everyone around us.
Mindfulness is, perhaps, the greatest weapon against an existential crisis.
Mindfulness helps us redirect our energy to the here and now. Rather than fearing time and the unknown, we center ourselves in our breath, in the present moment, and in the experience of life as we know it. We allow our senses to fully open to the world around us so that we live well while we’re actually living. There is incredible power in being present for the present.
Focus on gratitude.
Gratitude is another powerful help for existential anxiety.
This isn’t always an easy shift when we feel stressed. It helps when we’re able to focus on big picture thankfulness as well as the tiny things in life that fill us with a sense of gratitude. By looking for and counting both, we become more aware of everything have and, hopefully, become less focused on what we don’t.
Create meaning and purpose.
This step is significant. Life is short. Life is unfair. We know all this. The question is: what are we going to do about it?
Will we waste time going to war with strangers on the Internet? Will we spend our days living out someone else’s vision for the future? Will we stay in relationships where we keep feeling like we deserve more but will never, ever get it? How much time will we waste on meaningless things that suck out our time and energy?
Creating meaning and purpose doesn’t always look like quitting our jobs. It can look like finding meaning in whatever job we do. Creating purpose can be doing whatever we do well, even if no one else notices or cares. This is an intentional way of living that tells the Universe that we know time is short, but we get to choose how we will spend it.
When we make intentional choices, we create that meaning and purpose. For some of us, it’s breaking a toxic generational cycle so that future generations feel more love and peace than past ones. Sometimes, the meaning and purpose we find are in being kind to others, being a good friend, or being a gentle and loving parent.
Meaning and purpose can come in many forms. It can look like living our values or advocating for others. It can be knowing when to speak up and when to shut up and how to hold empathy for other human beings even when they hurt us. Sometimes, it’s loving another human being fully and making sure they feel it.
Our lives are infinitely powerful, but when we get stuck in an existential crisis, it doesn’t feel that way.
COVID-19 has taken this anxiety and elevated it to a whole new level. By practicing new coping skills, we can learn to develop strategies to deal with this sense of panic in healthier ways. Addressing the anxiety means taking back our power — not to extend our lives but to make the most of them.