The Existential Vacuum

As we continue living our lives during this strange reality that is COVID-19, our personal experience depends greatly on our occupation and where we live. While those working in hot zone hospitals find themselves working tirelessly in a war-zone like setting, others find themselves in a strange phenomenon of being bored and stressed (often at the same time).

This week, we’ll explore those of us that are mostly staying at home, trying to process how we feel. I want to address what can be described as an anxious boredom (somewhere between busy and boredom). In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes a state called existential vacuum “which manifests itself mostly in the state of boredom.” He goes on to describe Sunday neurosis as “that kind of depression that afflict people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”  It’s that empty feeling on a weekend for someone who lacks meaning in his/her life. We fill the void with “masks” like working, sleeping, shopping, or finding simple pleasures.  In quarantine (especially if unemployed), we are extending that two-day weekend into many weeks, so that feeling which manifests as an anxious boredom can feel overwhelming.

While masks help us relax and pass the time, the only way to truly face an existential vacuum is finding meaning. I believe that discovering meaning is an individual journey, but it expands beyond the individual and includes love, service, connection, and charity.

For example, I personally find meaning in my faith as a foundation. I also find meaning in loving my family and helping my clients manage emotional pain and reconcile relationships.  I also recognize that being outdoors and listening to music bring me comfort. I don’t know how the outdoors or music fit into my definition of meaning but I value both.

Know that you can find meaning in your life even in the face of suffering and hopelessness. In fact, sometimes meaning becomes clear during times of suffering. If you feel stuck between helpless and unmotivated (anxious boredom) during this social distancing, start by thinking about what matters to you. Consider this a wake-up call.  It’s not time to get down on yourself for what you haven’t done. Perhaps it’s a clean slate. Start something you never had time for, make that change you’ve been thinking about for years.  For example, maybe it’s time to sign up for an online class, or even to change careers.  Maybe it’s picking up an instrument, starting an exercise routine, drawing again, or reconnecting with friends. Be who you want to be!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC




1 thought on “The Existential Vacuum”

  1. A wonderful view on where we are and concrete ideas to sustain ourselves during isolation. As always, thanks for sharing your wisdom.


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