There are some days when you question yourself: “What am I doing here? Is this worth it? Where is my life going?” Then you somehow pronounce that “P” word and you immediately find yourself in deep troubled waters. Because once you say “Purpose” and can’t find anything to put after it, you arrive at the existential dread threshold and it’s tough, we know it. Existential dread might hit each and every one of us at a certain point in our lives, to a certain degree. It’s human nature to question even your own existence and its purpose and even though it’s weird and difficult, these kinds of thoughts might hit hard and take their toll.
What is Existential Dread?
Existential Dread is the moment where you become fully aware of your own existence and question yourself about the ultimate purpose in life. You can’t find it and you get the sense that you live an empty life, playing a role on an empty stage. It’s that hyperawareness that we sometimes get and which can annihilate all our other activities because we just can’t find a reason to carry on with them.
Existential dread is both a curse and a blessing. Why a blessing because it feels like hell? Well, we humans have actually been blessed with the capability of thinking ourselves. We are not just pushed around by our impulses and instincts, we also have the ability to be intentional with our lives. Nevertheless, this cognition of ours is also a curse: the feeling of responsibility we have towards our own lives, the feelings of regret or loss that we might experience along the way, these make our lives complicated.
We are compelled to always dig deeper.
Our mind never ceases to think, imagine, create. Dissimilar to reptiles, plants, insects or other animals whose instincts are towards survival and nourishment, our cognition pushes us beyond the basic needs of food and safety and towards time. Yes, time, we are the beings of time. We can think of time as hours, days, months, years and that’s why we get little flashes, little signals that lead us to introspection which is really uncomfortable.
Don’t you always find yourself, at the end of a week, wondering where that week went and what you did in that time? One full month of 2020 has passed now and maybe you’re just wondering like me where that first month went and regret that I didn’t do much with it. I think that man cannot escape time. Time is something he’s invented and something that compels him to always dig deeper into his being.
How to deal with this existential dread?
Questioning your existence is a marker of intelligence. Nevertheless, it can also disrupt your day, your plans and render you unable to perform any urgent tasks at hand. That is why you need to get out of this state, leave it for later and only let it in at briefs moment in time. Existential dread is a great part of your human condition, but still, you need to know how to prevent it from making you feel unable to move a muscle. Here’s how:
1. Embrace yourself and the way you are
You are yourself and you do not need anyone’s validation. Do not try to fulfil expectations that do not belong to you! If you can’t decide which are yours and which are society’s, then sit down and make a list. Be completely, painfully honest with you. State your flaws, your qualities, what makes you happy and what you aspire to be.
Meditation, deep breathing, counting and the awareness of the present are just a few mindfulness techniques that you can practice in order to get more connected with your true self.
3. Discuss it with a close friend
Sometimes, the best way to get out of existential dread is to discuss it with a close friend. Existential dread is a very lonely feeling by definition, so by letting someone in, you can have another “opinion” and thoughts battling yours and your dread. I’m sure you have a few kindred spirits around who you can talk to about life, death, money, purpose, love, all the great themes of our lives.
Laughter is here to save us. If you can find the power to laugh at yourself once in a while, then you are saved. Not taking yourself too seriously at times can give you the drive to move forward in your activities with a little more enthusiasm.
As you can see, existential dread is a sign of intelligence; it’s the result of the complexity of our human nature. I like to believe it is the sign that there is something deeper in ourselves, deeper than we can begin to comprehend, deeper than our nature and that at times we get little flashes of it. They’re painful flashes and can leave you motionless for hours if you don’t try to fight back and regain your present. You are OK, do not forget that!