I lived Through a Life-Enhancing Anxiety Moment.

It was my first time sharing about existential therapy to a large audience in Singapore at the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference 2023.

I have shared my study on [authenticity and silence in the Asian society] multiple times before—in groups, one-on-one sessions, virtually, and in writing—but never in such a large setting, addressing an audience of over 300 people.

Truth be told, in the days leading up to the conference as I prepared for my talk, I was consumed by anxiety and self-doubt.
- What are my audience expecting to hear?
- Can I do justice to the research in the way I deliver the findings?
- Will the audience understand and resonate?
- How will they react?

And then it was over. In fact, I had a great time! The audience loved it. I received much feedback and many questions. I am pleased to see people becoming curious about existential therapy. Goal—checked!

Looking back at myself and how I navigated anxiety leading up to conference, I am reminded of a book by Psychotherapist Kirk Schneider: Life Enhancing Anxiety: Key to a Sane World.

What I experienced was none other than “life-enhancing anxiety”.

The kind that helps us “live on the edge of wonder and discovery”, as opposed to the type [life-denying anxiety] that is “linked to destructiveness and emotional impoverishment”.

This is my takeaway from my anxious experience—that anxiety can be life-enhancing, and it is a part of being human. I am grateful I did not try to avoid or work to get rid of my anxiety. But instead embrace it and use it to connect with my audience.

What Is Existential Anxiety?

You may have been directed to this page from the previous article on ' What Do We Already Know About Anxiety? or you have chanced upon this article and wondered: What is existential anxiety?

Existentialists have been contemplating and discussing existential anxiety for years, and it can get quite messy and confusing to understand.

At a crossroads

I have always found metaphors to be a good way to understand a difficult concept. They allow us to understand it with both our head and heart. So I would highly recommend that you allow yourself to embody the experience of the metaphor.

Imagine you are standing at a crossroads. You have two paths in front of you. Or even more. All paths seem exciting. You want to follow but you can only choose one. You look to the left and think of all the good that can come out of it, but then you think, “ If I go to the left, I’m going to miss out on all the fun on the right.” Or you start wondering if whatever you  choose would be the right choice for yourself. So many what ifs. You can’t decide. You wish someone could tell you what to do rather than making a decision yourself.

In a gist, this is existential anxiety. It is generally defined as the expression of ultimate concerns about life itself, including things such as meaninglessness, death, fundamental loneliness, and lack of certainty. [1] This could be familiar to some of us when we have to make tough decisions in our lives. Marry or not marry. Choose this career or another. It can happen to anyone at any age. And some have even asked why they would get anxious over something as trivial as what to buy for dinner. It seems so stupid to even be anxious about it.

In these situations, you may experience thoughts of: 

  • What’s the point?
  • I am insignificant
  • There’s no meaning to anything
  • I’m wasting my life
  • It’s all pointless
  • Who am I supposed to be?
  • I have no purpose
  • How do I know if any of this is real?
  • Why are we here?

Along with these thoughts, you may experience other symptoms in your body, thoughts and feelings [Read more on symptoms of anxiety].

What we need to know about existential anxiety

  • It is normal for humans to experience existential anxiety. Yalom (1980) argues that individuals, whether they are conscious of the fact or not, still experience the impact of existential anxieties. After all, we are the only animals on Earth to experience it because we have the capacity for freedom and choice.
  • Existential anxiety tells us we are not living life authentically. Emotions play a crucial role in our lives. They are useful and functional. Existential anxiety signals to us that we may be living other people’s lives and not ours. It is asking us to live more purposefully and authentically.
  • Existential anxiety is not a medical condition. We often think that anxiety is bad and needs to be fixed. Another attitude is to see it as unavoidable rather than pathological. Existential anxiety can be a creative energy that spurs us to becoming better versions of ourselves. Because of this, we should find ways to live more harmoniously with our anxiety rather than eliminate it.

How can psychotherapy help me with my existential anxiety?

Studies have shown that in normal circumstances, most of us can manage these concerns. However, there are times (e.g., hardship, adversity, trauma, loss), when we struggle to cope and hence, are thrown into an existential crisis [2].  We find ourselves seeking professional help.

To cope with our existential anxiety, it is worthwhile asking ourselves our goals in therapy. For some of us, it is enough to cope with the symptoms and unhealthy behaviour arising from our anxiety. In these cases, Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) have been proven to be effective by teaching practical techniques to help reframe our negative thinking, desensitise us to what we feel anxious about, and change our behaviors.

For some others, they hope to have an improved relationship with their anxiety. Here, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has shown to be effective as it involves identifying our values in life and then acting in ways that match our values. There are many other forms of therapy that are useful in treating anxiety that you can read about here.

However, very often, coping with the symptoms and unhealthy behaviour of our anxiety is like playing the whack-a-mole game. Each time we successfully deal with an anxiety symptom, another pops up. No matter what we do, it feels futile.

This is because we are not dealing with the root of the issue: What does it mean to lead a meaningful life for ourselves?

In my own experience as a client and therapist, I found being advised with techniques and skills to living a happier life can be counterproductive, especially if we are experiencing existential anxiety. Rather, the answers to our questions should be found within ourselves.

Existential therapy does just that – to help clients live an authentic life through the engagement of life concerns, such as meaning, death, responsibility, freedom, and uncertainty. 

What can you expect from going through existential therapy?

Unstructured talk sessions. Not having a structure in therapy means you can talk about anything in the room. To some, this may sound unproductive without a direction. For others, this may increase anxiety, raising questions of whether therapy is useful.

However, life is uncertain and can be scary. We do not know what will happen next but we have to continue to make choices for ourselves. This is the fact of life. And existential therapy attempts to bring this uncertainty into the room so that we can start to:

  • Get comfortable with not knowing. Often, big questions to our lives do not come with immediate answers. Through dialoguing with your therapist in a safe space, you learn to better stay with not knowing through this experience; you can also engage with uncertainty in more meaningful ways rather than avoid them. 
  • Experience and learn to cope with anxiety in the here-and-now. How should I present myself at work/home/outside?’ ‘What can/should I say or not say to people I just meet? ‘What will others think of me?’ These are some common questions we ask of life and they are often the questions clients ask of therapy too. How should I present myself in therapy?’ ‘What can/should I say or not say to my therapist? ‘What will my therapist think of me?’ Existential anxiety happens anywhere, anytime, and therapy starts when we can start engaging with these questions right there and then. Through that, we start to see that how we cope with our anxiety in the room is often reflective of how we cope outside in our lives.The new ways we learn to cope with anxiety in the room can then be transferred to how we cope with them outside.
  • Make right decisions. It is important to pick up skills in how to make right choices for ourselves. In fact, most therapy modalities encourage it. However, the question is: Who decides what is the right decision? Client or therapist? Many of us come into therapy thinking that the therapist has all the answers on how to live a meaningful life. Afterall, they are the ones who are the experts in the mental health field. Aren’t they? Within Existential Therapy, the therapist believes that giving the power to the therapist to decide what is right or wrong is one of the many ways we push responsibility away from ourselves to make the right decisions. Just as we may push our responsibilities to authority figures (i.e. government, teachers, parents, bosses) or to others. Instead, existential therapy is grounded firmly in the belief that the clients are the experts of their own life. The therapist could empower clients with certain resources and skills but ultimately, the clients are the ones who are in the best position to make the right choices for themselves. Through therapy, not only will clients learn to decide what makes a decision right or wrong for themselves, they also relearn how to become agents of their own life in the midst of having a fuller appreciation of the human condition: uncertainty, anxiety, and the freedom that comes along with the beauty of life.


  1. //www.researchgate.net/profile/Gerrit-Glas/publication/270670853_Systematic_Review_of_Existential_Anxiety_Instruments/links/55d1bf9a08ae95c3504d5b58/Systematic-Review-of-Existential-Anxiety-Instruments.pdf
  2. Fuchs, T. (2013). Existential vulnerability: Toward a psychopathology of limit situations. Psychopathology, 46, 301-308.

Coping With Anxiety

Living with anxiety can be very tiring.

At this time, it is important to look after your physical health, practice good sleep hygiene and form strong and healthy support networks. Keeping up with a meditation practice or even just practicing breathing exercises has shown help some of us cope and feel more in control. Apps like Headspace or Insight Timer have many simple and easy-to-follow guided practices that are especially useful for beginners.

One may say that I have tried all these ways of coping with my anxiety but nothing seems to be working. This place feels helpless and vulnerable to some of us while it may feel bleak for others.

Yet sometimes, it is not so much what we are doing that is not helping. It is the attitude we go into doing these activities that needs some adjustment.

1. Having a different relationship with anxiety

In the article on existential anxiety, we mentioned that anxiety is part of being human. Whether we are conscious of it or not, anxiety is present in all of us. There is a purpose to all emotions, anxiety included. Anxiety is those up swinging emotions that makes us want to do something about our lives. It gears our body up for the things we aspire to achieve. It can be seen as a creative energy that challenges us to be more inventive with how we want to go about life.

Seen in this perspective, anxiety is not something to be eliminated but merely managed. We have to reconsider if anxiety deserves to be thrown away since it can be good for us. Rather, it is more about sitting more comfortably with anxiety, letting it to teach us what life is asking of us while not allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by it.

Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, we feel like it is all we can think about. Our anxiety becomes us and we become anxiety.

The Buddhist teaching of bearing witness can aid in our awareness that we are more than just our anxiety. It allows us to say

‘I feel anxious. I have anxiety. I am being anxious. But I am not anxiety. I am more than my anxiety. ’

Some of you may be wondering, ‘how does this work?’

Try to imagine this: you are looking at a cloud in the sky. You who notices the cloud is not the cloud but the observer. Next, move your attention to another object around you. The fact that you can identify it means that you are not the object. This is the same with our anxiety. When we watch anxiety come and go within us, we become witnesses of the emotion. We are not the emotion.

This is a healthy way to look at anxiety or even other difficult emotions as it allows us to honour its presence. Yet, we do not need to identify ourselves as anxiety. Our lives are more than just our feelings. We are also formed by our values.

2. Write it down

Can you allow your anxiety to motivate and guide you to a more authentic and purposeful life? What can your anxiety teach you about your relationship with yourself, others and your world around you? Jotting all your thoughts and feelings about these questions in your journal can be a helpful way to find out how to cope with your anxiety in your own unique way.

3. Talk to a therapist

When you have exhausted all the options and none is not helping, you can consider seeing a therapist or counsellor. There are many forms of therapy out there and each therapist works differently with their own style and specialization.

For a very general idea of how different therapy works, you can read the previous article on 'Do all therapists work in the same way? How do I choose my therapist?'

             There are a few types of talk therapy that we recommend for anxiety issues:

  • Existential Therapy- specializes in helping clients to reconnect with their meanings in the face of anxiety.  See our article on 'There is no one way to live' for more information about this kind of therapy.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)- specializes in helping you understand how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feeling and behavior. It teaches you coping skills to cope with specific issues.
  • Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) - In simple terms, ACT is a form of therapy that helps individuals to focus on two key concepts -acceptance and commitment. It aims to help individuals accept what is out of their control (e.g. the presence of anxiety), and commit to actions that are in line with their values (e.g. going to a family dinner). Thus, the focus of ACT is not to change or reduce the frequency of anxious thoughts and feelings and bodily sensations, but to reduce the struggle with these experiences. The practice of ACT is also very much based on mindfulness, so ACT interventions could include the practice of mindfulness exercises.
  • Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy using the creative process in a safe therapeutic space to improve psychological and emotional health. It is open to all - art experience or skills are not required. It may be a transformative intervention for people with anxiety, especially if they have difficulties verbalising their struggles, or if they tend to be overwhelmed by emotions or ruminations.
  • EMDR Therapy is the therapeutic intervention recommended when anxiety and panic attacks stem from traumatic experiences and memories. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing: it is an evidence-based modality used to address adverse life experiences that contribute to disruptive symptoms in present living. 
Who Can Help?
Encompassing's Services

Specialising in providing individual and group therapy services to those who are going through major transitions in life.

Schedule a First Therapy Session with us

The start of your journey to healing. In this Introduction session, you will meet and get to know your therapist, and allow them to get to know you too. This is a good time to get a feel of what working together will be like and if you feel comfortable in the presence of the therapist. The therapist will tell you more about Existential Therapy and what a session is like, as well as field answer any questions you may have about therapy.

You will also get to chance to voice what problems you are facing and the therapist will be able to give you some guidance about how therapy can help.

This session is 50 minutes long and must be booked in advance.

Available in clinic or online.

$220 per 50 minutes

Book now

Other Useful Contacts
Counselling Helplines

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)

24-hour suicide prevention hotline- 1800-221 4444

10 Cantonment Close #01-01

24-hour emotional support to those in crisis.

Institute of Mental Health (IMH)

24-hour hotline- +65 6389 2000


Offers a range of counselling and rehabilitative services to people of all ages

Tinkle Friend helpline (by Singapore Children’s Society)

1800-274 4788

chat online at www.tinklefriend.com (for primary school children)

Affordable Counselling

Clarity Singapore


(65) 6757 7990, ask@clarity-singapore.org

Helps people to cope with mental health conditions arising from anxiety and depression

Care Corner counselling Centre

Hotline 1800-353 5800 (for Mandarin speaking clients)


A non-profit, charitable organisation offering counselling services for lower-income families across Singapore.

Sage Counselling Centre


+65 6354 1191

Specialising in counselling services for the elderly (aged above 50) and their caregivers

Private Practices in Singapore

Colourfully Pte. Ltd.



Colourfully offers art psychotherapy and EMDR therapy for adults.

Lotus Therapy



Founder of Lotus Therapy, Anita Barot is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her expertise involves working with couples, parenting, and women's issues. 

Insight Therapy Services    www.insight-therapy.com.sg   +65 8115 5362 | Alex@insight-therapy.com.sg   Provides adult ADHD, Behavioural addictions (gaming & Sex) & EMDR therapy.  

Sofia Wellness Clinic


+65 83683591 | hello@sofia.com.sg

Sofia Wellness Clinic offers counselling and psychotherapy services based on positive psychology to teenagers and adults to help them overcome life challenges and flourish as individuals.



+65 8798 4519 | office@soulmosaic-therapy.com

A practice offering multilingual therapists and a safe, compassionate space to recover strength, resilience and joy

The Psychotherapy Clinic


+65 8828 4006 | simonneo@thepsychotherapyclinic.com.sg 

A private practice with a desire to BRIDGE TRUST and BUILD HOPE into the lives of those that are challenged in their current life station.


What Do We Already Know About Anxiety?

Let us do a stock take on what we know about anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling we have when we get worried, tense and afraid about something that is related to our future. It is a human condition that happens when we sense that we are unsafe, exposed, vulnerable, unprotected or under threat.

What does anxiety feel like?

Everyone experiences anxiety in their own unique way. This experience could present itself through our thoughts, feelings or bodily symptoms. Some of the common experiences include:

Bodily symptoms

  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Indigestion and/or feeling full even though you have not eaten much
  • Pins and needles
  • Aches and pains
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness and nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeats

Effects on thoughts and feelings

  • Sense of dread or fearing the worst
  • Catastrophizing
  • Uncontrolled replaying of worst possible scenarios that could happen
  • Worrying about having another panic attack
  • Worrying a lot about the future
  • Avoiding daily activities that trigger anxiety
  • Feeling that people are judging you because of your anxiety
  • Feeling that your body and mind are no longer yours
  • Feeling that the world is unreal
  • Contemplating death to end the pain

When does anxiety become a serious mental health issue?

Sometimes, it feels like these anxiety symptoms have a life of their own. Anxiety comes and goes when we least expect it. At other times, it stays and does not seem to go away. It becomes a mental health issue when it starts impacting on your day-to-day functioning. Some of the signs that prevent you from living your life to the fullest include:

  • Your worries about what could happen interferes with your daily activities (sleep, school, work and social life)
  • An overwhelming sense of worry that becomes hard for you to focus
  • Experiencing feelings of depression that nothing is working, and turning to alcohol and drugs to cope
  • Finding it hard to do things you enjoy and slowly, you are participating in fewer activities.

What causes anxiety?

Multiple factors can explain the cause of anxiety. They include:   

  • past traumatic experiences
  • life transitions
  • underlying physical and mental health issues
  • medications
  • genetics

This is what we may know so far about anxiety. All true and real. However, there is another form of anxiety that I would like to bring our attention to.

There is a thing called existential anxiety

Existential anxiety is the feeling of restlessness about ourselves and our position to this world when we:

  • question our purpose in life (e.g. who am I? what is my purpose in life? why are we here?)
  • realise that nobody can tell us how to live our life except for ourselves
  • realise that our freedom to make choices comes with a responsibility for ourselves and others
  • are reminded of how our time on earth is finite

Existential anxiety is probably the deepest form of anxiety. It can get triggered in us when we find ourselves at crossroads where we realise that our choice for one path means we have to give up others. We experience an overwhelming sense of uncertainty and fear that we are making the wrong choices.

‘My mind is just full of “what ifs”' and I can’t stop thinking ' what if I chose this and I regret it?’

You can read more about existential anxiety and how it comes about in this article.