Advice for Teens Experiencing Existential Crises: An Excerpt from The Gifted Teen Survival Guide

The Gifted Teen Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle, Ph.D., is the ultimate teen guide to thriving in a world that doesn’t always support or understand high ability. On today’s blog post, we’re sharing an excerpt from the chapter on being gifted and a teenager: Existential Crises 101.

Advice for Teens Experiencing Existential Crises: An Excerpt from The Gifted Teen Survival Guide

While you may have a knack for contemplating the great questions of life, you may also be more likely, as a gifted teen, to experience what is called an existential crisis, existential dread, or existential depression. An existential crisis occurs when your mind gets overwhelmed attempting to wrap itself around the infinite and unknowable. You may become fixated on the essential futility and meaninglessness of existence. Perhaps you’ve experienced a crisis like this already, or are in the middle of one now. These crises can be very pain­ful and troubling and can last for some time. They can be paired with clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, or they may be triggered by a major loss or change in your life, but they don’t have to be. In fact, exis­tential crises more often occur spontaneously in gifted people—for instance, on a random Tuesday afternoon during a rain shower.

Why might you be more prone to existential crises? Because as a gifted person you’re able to see possibilities where some people do not—possibilities of how the world might be—which can tend to make you an idealist. When you’re an idealist, you may be more likely to encounter major disappointment when you spot inconsistencies, arbitrariness, unfairness, absurdities, hypocrisy, indifference, injustice, and dishonesty in society . . . in other words, when the world does not match up to your ideals.

In addition, with your multipotentialities, you may grow frustrated with the existential limitations of space and time, and wonder: How can I possibly find enough hours in the day—or in my entire life—to pursue all of my talents, interests, and passions? Where do I begin narrowing down my goals and interests, and why should I have to? This disappointment and frustration can lead to strong feelings of sadness, fear, worry, apathy, and possibly anger, especially if you find that other teens (and even many adults) do not share your concerns or spend more time focusing on things that seem trivial to you.

But the truth is, it’s totally healthy and normal to experience existential crises. In fact, many middle-aged adults can relate to what you’re experienc­ing; only in their world it’s called a midlife crisis. You just happen to be expe­riencing an early-life crisis, as do some other gifted young people. See the following tips on how to deal with these crises.

Avoid spending a lot of time alone. Connect with a person you trust, whether it’s an adult or a peer, and share your concerns. You might start by saying, “I’ve been feeling really sad about all the trouble around the world and how powerless I am to stop it. Do you ever feel this way?”

Learn more about the existential issues that you think about or that worry you. Know that these issues may need to be considered fre­quently. They rarely “just go away.”

Just as babies need to be held and touched so they feel secure, people experiencing existential dread do too. Asking for (and giving) hugs can help defuse feelings of aloneness and insignificance.

Avoid being overly active in causes. Throwing yourself into environ­mental, political, academic, or social issues may overwhelm you. While some activism can give you a sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose, stretching yourself too thin may make things worse. Moderation is key to taking care of yourself.

Read about people who have chosen specific paths to make real differences in their worlds. Try not to compare yourself with them— simply observe their choices. If you need book suggestions, talk to your school or community librarian, or search online. Ask adults and friends what books they may have read that they’d recommend.

Get out in nature. Spending time outdoors can be very healing and life-affirming.

Practice mindfulness, meditation, or other methods of relaxation. Quieting your mind can be difficult, but learning about and practicing mindfulness will go a long way toward keeping existential worries and emotional challenges at bay. Look into classes or meditation centers in your area to learn about how to get started if you don’t already practice. It’ll be worth the effort. You are worth the effort.

Get immediate help if you are depressed. If you grow frustrated and isolated enough with your own powerlessness to change or comprehend existence, it can lead to a very serious depression and even thoughts of suicide. If this happens, tell an adult you trust immediately.

Do your best to stay hopeful and optimistic. This doesn’t just happen—it takes effort. Seek out music, poetry, books, and people that will uplift you.

Adapted from The Gifted Teen Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith, M.A., and Jim Delisle, Ph.D., copyright © 2022. Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.

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