Spiritual Crisis: Finding Light in the Midlife Darkness

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Last Updated on November 2, 2023 by Erin

Have you found yourself in the thick of a spiritual crisis? You are not alone! I’m learning that a spiritual journey can be part of midlife. It’s tough but hopefully some of the strategies I’m working through will be helpful to you as well.

spiritual crisis- image of a road through dark woods
Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

I’m going into the depths with this post but it’s a major theme in my life right now and I want to share it for anyone who might find themselves in a similar boat.

If this is your first time here, welcome! This blog is all about my experiences as I navigate an early midlife crisis and midlife career change. I have definitely found myself in a better place since reframing my perspective on this somewhat awkward time in my life. After overcoming a big career transition, focusing more on my family, prioritizing self-care, and simplifying my lifestyle, things started to feel pretty great. Lately, though, my challenges have felt more spiritual in nature.

I don’t think this is super surprising, since midlife crises tend to summon forth questions about our life’s purpose and the meaning of it all. I’m more surprised about how intense it has been for me. It’s been a heck of a roller coaster ride emotionally.

How I Got to This Point

Growing up, my family was very involved in our Baptist church. As a teenager, it became a key part of my identity. I participated in youth group, youth choir, and summer mission trips. My freshman year of college, I was a paid intern for our music minister. While I enjoyed the sense of community and belonging, I constantly struggled with the anxiety of doing what was “right.”

The more I learned and grew as an adult, the more I questioned if my personal beliefs aligned with familiar religious institutions. My husband and I agreed to take our children to church on Sundays, to at least let them experience what we had growing up, and then they would be able to make their own decisions down the road. That worked well…for a while.

I won’t get into the details, but once the pandemic hit, I discovered that church no longer felt like the right community for me. Even though I had been feeling increasingly distant from the religion I grew up with, it was a very difficult decision to completely break away. It was a huge part of my life, and I felt a little lost.

(We still give our children the option to attend church with my parents. Sometimes they want to go, and sometimes they don’t and we do something else as a family instead. The freedom for them to make those choices is important to me.)

What Is a Spiritual Crisis?

For me personally, leaving the church sent my flying towards a total existential crisis. What the heck is the meaning of life? Why am I here? I’m getting older, so what happens when I die? I’m not ready to die!!!! I mean, we’re talking total spiral.

A spiritual crisis is a profound and distressing situation where you start to question your beliefs, your purpose, and life’s meaning. Major life events, or maybe just the aging process, can trigger this type of crisis.

Much like a midlife crisis, healthy coping strategies are the key. Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling empty and extremely confused.

When I had an anxiety attack in the car rider line over my mortality, I knew it was time to take action.

Please note I am not writing this post as an expert in spiritual or existential crises. I am just someone in the thick of it like you while writing this post. The suggestions outlined below are things I am trying personally. Take what you need and make sure to save this post for later.

Recognizing the Signs of a Spiritual Crisis

Fortunately, as I’ve been progressing on this midlife journey, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying times when I’m headed towards despair and I need to make a change. I have zero desire to live a life of constant worry.

Step one was to admit I was going through a crisis. Your crisis might look different from my crisis but see if any of these spiritual crisis “symptoms” resonate with you:

  • you’re questioning your long-held beliefs, values, or convictions
  • you feel a loss of purpose or struggle to find meaning in your life
  • you find yourself thinking a lot about the nature of life, death, and the afterlife and it leaves you unsettled
  • you have been searching for books, articles, or podcasts related to alternative belief systems or philosophies
  • there is a loss of faith in religious institutions or leaders
  • you frequently wrestle with moral and ethical dillemas

These are some deep, deep topics to be wading through. It’s been a rough couple of months for me! And truthfully, it’s led to some disagreements with family members as I try to work through my feeling and beliefs.

Practice Self-Acceptance

If you are like me and you recognize you are going through a spiritual crisis, the next step is self-acceptance. None of those “signs” are bad. There is nothing wrong with questioning or trying to work things out within yourself.

Acknowledge the feelings you are having. They are valid.

Seek Guidance

If you are feeling despair and your spiritual crisis is evolving into a mental health matter, please seek professional guidance from a licensed professional. There is no shame in that. I already receive medical support in that area and continue to discuss my needs with my doctor.

You should also confide in a trusted friend or a therapist who specializes in spiritual or existential topics.

Educate Yourself and Explore

Check out books from the library! Explore different topics and see what resonates with you.

This is the route I’m currently taking (in addition to trying to engage my husband in deep philosophical conversations before bed…poor guy). I would recommend a few but our spiritual journeys might look totally different, and I wouldn’t want to sway you in any particular direction. Just search for “spiritual” books and see what catches your eye.

Start a Journal and Reflect on Your Spiritual Crisis

Keep a journal to record your thoughts, emotions, and the questions you have during this period. Writing can help clarify your feelings and provide a record of your progress.

At a minimum, write down or reflect on the things you are grateful for each day. It has been so helpful to keep me grounded and in the present. Each day is a beautiful gift. You can read more in my post on the importance of gratitude during midlife.

Give Mindfulness a Try

Mindfulness and meditation can help you re-connect with yourself and find some clarity. For me personally, meditation has helped shut down my ruminating thoughts.

If you feel like you need some guidance, the Headspace app is one I have used for over 5 years now. You will find guided meditations with varying lengths of time and a wide range of topics. If you tend to overthink while you’re trying to sleep, there are beautiful soundscapes to listen to or color noises (who knew there was anything beyond “white” noise?!) to quiet the mind.

These types of practices have been studied extensively and there are a wide range of documented benefits, such as reducing cortisol production, lowering blood pressure, and improving the quality of your sleep.

Perhaps you will meet your spirit guide while you meditate. Wouldn’t that be great?

Try a Holistic Approach

Everything is tied together- your mind, body, and spirit. We all know that exercise and a healthy diet is good for the body but I definitely notice a change in my mood, energy, and concentration when I focus on taking better care of myself. When I’m in a slump, nothing feels right and my thoughts can start to take a darker turn.

I am not a super fit individual and I don’t particularly enjoy working out. What seems to work for me is going on a long walk on a local nature trail. It gets the blood pumping and I always find a sense of wonder in the woods. It gets me out of a funk very quickly.

Final Thoughts

So, where am I currently at in my spiritual crisis. Right now, I am focusing on living in the present moment and appreciating the wonder and beauty of each day. The books I am reading encourage me to live every day to the fullest and to look for signs from the universe. It’s a little “woo” and my logical brain wants to protest, but I do find it personally encouraging.

Whenever I think I’m feeling despair about the state of the world or lack of answers, I remind myself it’s okay to be frustrated. That’s part of being human. There is still much to love and enjoy and look forward to but sometimes I have to make the effort to seek it out.

Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you know you are not alone. If you have found any particular resources to be helpful, make sure to share them in the comments below!


how to handle a spiritual crisis in midlife

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