Everyone has heard the term angst…a feeling of both anxiety AND frustration or negativity. You can feel angst about anything: your family, career, relationship or society.
Existential angst happens when you become aware of the possibility that life lacks meaning, purpose or value. In addition to anxiety and frustration, this experience can produce more extreme feelings of despair or hopelessness.
Individuals in the first half of adulthood today (yep…millennials) want a life full of meaning and purpose but sometimes struggle to imagine this life as the world around them seems to be falling apart. Sometimes it produces feelings of guilt, such as “I have no right to feel this way when there are other people in the world truly suffering?” A lot of young adults feel scared about the future and angry about the past. These issues are truly not that different from previous generations but the world itself has totally changed.
Do you struggle with these types of feelings? You know, the ones that hit you when you are hanging out with friends or family and are slapped in the face with the idea that life is meaningless? Or you can no longer tolerate thinking about the continued struggle and suffering of being human? Or you feel uncertain, bored or alone?
Yeah, me too. Not as much anymore but during my late teens and early twenties this was me. I “grew out” of the experience but likely could have decreased my level of suffering if I had more guidance and support from someone who understood. I still have these kinds of thoughts from time to time but now understand the situation and have tools to cope.
If you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, get it and read it now. In his book, he writes about surviving a Nazi concentration camp and credits his survival to the idea that life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering. There is so much amazing insight in this short book and the book itself can be used as a coping tool! Frankl emphasizes finding meaning, value in suffering and responsibility to something greater than yourself. One of the most famous lines in the book and the premise of his entire philosophy is a quote from Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction. Some concerns commonly addressed in therapy with twenty-somethings are: feeling lost, wondering who you are, fear of making the wrong life choices, messy relationships, dealing with alcohol and drugs, family drama, stress management, and other “adulting” issues. Counseling can help you restore a sense of purpose and begin to construct a future for yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie Longtain, MS, LCSW is a therapist and co-founder of Human State of Mind Counseling in Houston, Texas. She works with adolescents and adults who struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, life transitions and existential issues. If you are interested in working with Stephanie, visit her site here.