Severe Death Phobia, Hallucinations and Panic Attacks: Am I Going to Die Soon?

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Reader’s Question

I’m only 19, but I think I have a severe death phobia.

It all started at the age of 13 when I had something really bad happen to me that caused death to be my major fear in life. Two years after the incident, I went through a depression. I healed from that but not totally.

This phobia — or whatever it is — has been interfering with my life enormously. Three weeks ago, I had a panic attack caused by what I’ll call death hallucinations. I was thinking that day: “I’ll die now, I’ll die now” and then started to feel as though I were really dying. I felt numbness all over my body. I was dizzy, and I was barely able to calm myself down.

After that I started to experience very weird feelings, feelings like: Am I really living all this? Is this real life? Am I dreaming?

I sometimes feel so detached from reality; other times I feel like I’m in a movie or a dream. Other times I feel so aware. I don’t know what these strange feelings are all about. I’m starting to lose hope as I no longer even remember how I felt before.

The thought that I’m dying soon just doesn’t seem to want to go away, and I’m scared.

What’s going with me?

Psychologist’s Reply

Of course it’s neither appropriate nor possible to assess your situation accurately from such a distance, and it would be in your best interest to seek professional help. But there are some things you report that are not all that uncommon for individuals who have experienced a significant trauma and are struggling with anxiety. And it’s not uncommon for depression and obsessive thinking to co-occur in such cases, either. One fairly common symptom of heightened anxiety is the feeling of unreality.

Even before you visit with someone, you can take some comfort in the notion that although the symptoms of intense anxiety can seem very weird and be quite frightening, they are relatively harmless manifestations of an anxious state. And attaching the notion of danger or other negative emotions to the symptoms only has the potential to intensify them. So, one of the ways clinicians trained in cognitive-behavioral methods to ameliorate anxiety advise their clients to rid themselves of symptoms is to quickly attach no thoughts of danger to them and to dismiss them as distressing but harmless manifestations of an anxious state. Once they start thinking more secure thoughts, most clients report that anxiety levels drop, and the symptoms decrease in intensity and frequency.

There are many effective ways to treat anxiety and depression as well as the lingering effects of significant trauma. So don’t delay in securing the help you need.

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