Existential anxiety is a feeling of dread or panic that arises when a person confronts the limitations of their existence. Thoughts of death, the meaningless of life, or the insignificance of self, can all trigger existential anxiety.

Person looking at the stars, experiencing existential anxietyShare on Pinterest
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People may feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and helpless. However, while existential anxiety can make life more challenging, it can also be a catalyst for growth and change.

This article looks at existential anxiety and how an individual can cope with it and regain peace of mind.

Existential thoughts are those that focus on the meaning and purpose of life and mortality. They can be positive or negative. However, people may perceive them as negative because they highlight the vulnerability of life.

Many people have existential thoughts at some point in their lives. However, some dwell on them more than others. Some may even experience an existential crisis, a period of intense reflection and anxiety about life’s purpose.

Existential thoughts are a natural part of the human experience. While they can be distressing, they can also be a source of comfort.

For some, they may provide a sense of purpose or meaning in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable world. Others may find solace in the fact that everyone must face death someday.

Learn more about existential crises here.

Existential anxiety is a form of anxiety that arises from thinking about existence and the self. A person may have feelings of insecurity, dread, isolation, and loneliness. People may also experience a sense of emptiness or pointlessness.

A person may develop existential anxiety because of former acts or decisions, which trigger existential guilt or regret due to lost chances.

Some experts hypothesize that existential anxiety affects everyone and has three features:

  • anxiety about fate and death
  • anxiety of emptiness and meaningless
  • anxiety about guilt and not living up to moral standards

Doctors may also refer to existential anxiety as an existential crisis.

Anxiety is a natural stress response. It is a feeling of unease, worry, or fear about a future event. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. However, if someone experiences regular and disproportionate anxiety levels, they may have an anxiety disorder.

A person may experience anxiety because of specific events. Examples might include separation anxiety, social anxiety, or specific phobias of objects or situations.

In comparison, existential anxiety is more abstract and less tied to specific events or situations. Instead, it is a more general feeling of unease or dread about the entire human existence.

Learn more about different types of anxiety here.

People may experience existential anxiety very differently. The signs and symptoms may not be visible to others as the person internalizes them.

On the outside, an individual experiencing existential anxiety may appear completely calm. However, their mind may be in turmoil.

Some signs of existential anxiety may include:

  • having difficulty making decisions
  • feeling as though life is a struggle
  • having painful emotions, such as despair or regret
  • withdrawing from social activities or loved ones
  • questioning beliefs
  • experiencing panic attacks

There is no specific treatment for existential anxiety. The way to decrease symptoms is to examine and explore the feelings and accept that they are a normal part of life.

A therapist can help individuals work through their emotions and existential anxiety.

Working with a therapist helps people learn more about themselves and understand the full range of their thoughts and feelings. This can help lessen the grip of anxiety and improve a person’s well-being.

People may find existential therapy particularly useful. This form of therapy is about helping people identify and embrace their freedom and the challenges of the human condition.

Logotherapy is another option. This therapeutic approach helps people find meaning in life. The focus is on the future and a person’s ability to endure hardship as they search for purpose.

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl developed the therapy after surviving Nazi concentration camps. He believed that the main motivation for humans is the desire to find meaning in life.

People can find a therapist by asking their primary care professional for recommendations.

There is no specific test to diagnose existential anxiety. Instead, a doctor may base their diagnosis on a person’s symptoms, thoughts, and feelings. They may also ask about the individual’s family history and relevant mental health conditions.

A doctor or psychiatrist may also perform a physical exam and order various blood tests to rule out other potential conditions that could cause the symptoms. For example, an individual may have an anxiety disorder or depression.

Existential anxiety is part of life for most people. It results from humans’ awareness of their mortality and the realization that life is ultimately uncertain.

While an individual may find existential anxiety overwhelming at times, it does not have to control a person’s life. A therapist can help someone understand and manage their anxiety.

Through therapy, a person can learn how to find meaning in their lives and cope with the challenges of being human.

Existential anxiety is a feeling of unease, dread, or apprehension associated with thoughts of death or the nonexistence of self.

It is a normal part of the human condition, and most people experience existential anxiety at some point. It happens because humans are aware of their mortality and realize that life is ultimately uncertain.

People may experience existential anxiety very differently. Some signs of existential anxiety may be difficulty making decisions, feeling like life is a struggle, withdrawing from social activities, and questioning beliefs.

There is no specific treatment for existential anxiety. The way to decrease symptoms is to examine and explore the feelings and accept that they are a normal part of life. Working with a therapist may help.