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Gaining independence will often lead to realizing the truth of our mortality, that we are only here on earth for a short period. This feeling is what philosophers call existential anxiety. Existentialism is a philosophical inquiry associated with the living person’s actions, beliefs, and attitudes. Existentialism holds the idea that individuals are independent, responsible, and conscious beings. Through their own consciousness, humans create values and determine a meaning for their existence.
Often this awareness turns into feelings of existential anxiety, wondering if life has any meaning, value, or purpose. Although you might feel alone in these realizations, understand you aren’t. In fact, many people who acquire an authentic feeling of independence may relish in feelings of existential anxiety at some point in their lives.
Existential anxiety (or dread, angst, or anguish) is a negative feeling arising from this experience of freedom and responsibility. Imagine standing on a cliff and realizing that, not only are you afraid of falling off, but you’re also scared of throwing yourself off. With this, you may recognize freedom in not being able to pre-determine when things can go wrong. Or, you’ll question the meaning of being alive, what life will be like after you’re gone, and anxiety of the world moving on without you may set in.
When people deeply contemplate their existence, it’s assumed they make decisions based on subjective meaning instead of rationality. Seeking to make sense of things is common when facing our freedom and awareness of death, we look at things in a meaningful manner rather than finding or searching for a reason. Stressing and becoming depressed about life leads to a lot of “who am I?” “I should have done this” and “I shouldn’t have said that.” We might then live in a world of future-seeking and what-ifs. Doing so brings us out of the present moment.
Authentic Versus Inauthentic Living Behaviors
The leading standard of existentialism is authenticity. Being true to one’s character, personality, or spirit, despite outside pressures, is authenticity. Perhaps you’ve had an experience in life where society, whether a family member or job, had tried to change your lifestyle. You felt that by taking up this role or remaining in this position was being wrong to your true self, and decided to let that job opportunity pass by or tell your family member that it doesn’t suit your well-being. By being true to yourself and living how you feel right, you are in essence, living an authentic lifestyle.
In regards to existentialism, according to Søren Kierkegaard, living “authentically” is to give meaning to life and live it with passion and sincerity.
However, In some cases, people will change their behavior by conforming to the norm of society, just to ease the anxiety felt by it. One may create a false self that is not whom they want to be (or are) to deal with the pressures of existential anxiety and depression. This other “self” is created to be content with a lifestyle that they would not follow if they were true to themselves. It is false because someone following existentialism wouldn’t do what doesn’t feel right to them, or be anyone who isn’t themselves. This false persona is called inauthentic living, portraying a personality that isn’t really “you,” for example. It may feel like you are playing the role of an actor in your own life. In a sense, you are putting on a mask to appease people around you.
When we try to make life meaningful, existential anxiety may nag us in our journey to finding meaning in life. Finding meaning-in-life is nearly a human condition, and yet it fills us with angst. We worry, panic, experience stress and anxiety your because we are living a life but cannot be in complete control of our aliveness. Fear puts a damper on the wonders of life, but maybe you can practice meaning-making out of life without letting anxiety win and without living inauthentically.
To understand our journeys of existence, become aware that the unsettling and uncomfortable feelings may arise to shy us away, but don’t let it win. You can project your feelings into your own hands, to take control back. Try and practice these three tips each and every day:
Keep a journal
Journaling has, at this point, been around for all of your existences. Journaling allows you to put your honest, most profound, and even secretive thoughts, fears, wishes, and life events. Whenever your experience anxiety, stress, or depression over your existence, scribble down even a few words to express how you feel.
When you can see what it is that you’re so afraid of, you may be able to take it down a notch. When you fear death, know it’ll come when it does, but that doesn’t mean you should stop living today. Writing these thoughts down will help you overcome these fears and actualize your life a little more.
Another tip for journaling, make a list of things for which you are grateful. You can make a separate sheet or add it to each journal entry you enter. Whether you list 1 or 5 things, you’ll start to feel better immediately. Try always to record something new to be grateful about.
Often your anxiety and stress will make you feel tired yet wired, give you racing thoughts about ‘nothing,’ and fear ‘nothing’ at the same time.
Find A Flow To Follow
Find something you have a passion for that you can “lose yourself.” Whether it be a job, art, or a new physical hobby, get lost in doing it each day. You’ll forget about your anxiety when you have a flow to follow. If anxiety creeps in, find your flow again.
While wondering about life’s big questions is in its way frightening and nerve-wracking, the worrying we have can also lead to the liberation of our existential anxiety. As humans, we have the power to find and make meaning-making lives. With the ability to have anxiety, we also can live a life of purpose.
And so, if Existential Anxiety indeed becomes a problem, then it can be treated as an anxiety disorder if you seek help. Existentialism is our search for self-consciousness, above and beyond. Realizing existentialism can be a beautiful thing. See life as fulfilling, and understand that you are capable of following your life’s purpose if you let yourself. Never be afraid that life is “meaningless,” as you are capable of creating an experience that is meaningful to you.