Existential Crises: Triggers

Existential Crises: Triggers

Some disclosures and trigger warnings: Discussing existential questions at times can trigger any number of negative emotions. Please only read through my words if you are in a favorable emotional space. And if it ends up becoming too much for you, it’s okay. There are people to talk to. Seek out a professional counselor, or call a friend. If you’re feeling particularly low, there is a national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255. These people are available to talk to you 24/7 and they can help you get out of that funk. Alternatively, if you just want to have your voice heard or share your experiences surrounding this topic, please feel free to comment.

This entry is part 4 of a series. Take a look at my 1st, 2nd, or 3rd posts in this existential series.

What is a trigger, anyway?

existential trigger emotions

According to the Psychology Today article “The Triggering Effect, “triggers are signals in the form of situations, behaviors, and thoughts that bring one closer to a lapse in an addiction recovery process.”

The term has made its way into more popular psychology talk lately. However, triggers don’t just relate to addictions recovery anymore. Some examples include triggering trauma, identity concerns, and sociopolitical issues. In other words, the broadness of the word trigger realistically extends to the realm of any emotional reaction to a stimuli. So, the term has lost some of its power.

However, when talking about triggers in this blog, let’s use this: an emotional reaction to stimuli that specifically brings up feelings of existential dread.


I asked my interviewees what triggers set off an existential crisis for them. This is what they said:

“When I’m moving, or dealing with a breakup, or going to a funeral.”

“If I spend too much time focusing on what other people I know are doing/accomplishing, I’ll try to compare myself to them in an unhealthy way.”

“I think relational endings/beginnings are the most common cause of my existential crises.”

“In high school when I was struggling with being attracted to women as a woman.”

“Strangely enough, the completion of a project will usually trigger an existential crisis in the vein of what to do next.”

“Mostly it comes from current events. I feel like whatever event is taking place, be it war, human rights, the environment, I always get to this point when I realize this has all happened before in some capacity.”


Life events and Transitions

As you can see, life events can be the catalyst for existential dread. Personal life events, transitions, and developmental stages are times ripe with reflection. For instance, how did I get here in this next phase of life? Why did that relationship end? What was it all for?

In addition, world events such as an important election, protest, human rights change, or global pandemic can bring this up. Again, these events can bring up larger questions of purpose and meaning in humanity.


Identity Concerns

Sometimes it is an identity concern. For example, the culture we come from is different than other cultures. Realizing or embracing this can feel big. Additionally, our sexual or romantic identities can trigger themes of faith, morality, love and hatred, and procreation.



As I discussed in the Introduction entry to this series, a lot of media can bring up existential dread.

Alternatively, Frankl in his book Will to Meaning said that “people live in an existential vacuum and this existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.” So, feelings themselves like boredom and depression can lead to dread.

Lastly, some folks believe that existential pondering doesn’t show up unless you have your basic needs met. Hey! That’s good news, right? Siting with success, accomplishment, and that feeling of what’s next? Or what was that all for? These are breeding grounds for existential questions.


broccoli comic existential triggers


Existential dread is like the water running underground in an aquifer. Any well you tap into (surface stressors) will be supplied by this water. Still, it seems that we are caught by surprise when we taste the water. Perhaps our bodies aren’t really made to digest it properly.


What’s next? Catch “The Lost Finale” here written 3 years later! Yikes!

Full series list:

1. Existential Crises: Introduction

2. Existential Crises: The Language of Existence

3. Existential Crises: What is the Existential Vacuum?

4. Existential Crises: Triggers

5. Existential Crises: The Lost Finale


Julia Stamman, LPC

existential triggers Julia Stamman

Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.

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