Recurring Thoughts That I’m Going to Die Soon

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Reader’s Question

I am 18 years old and have been having thoughts of death or that my death will come soon. I had these thoughts before in high school, but now that I’ve entered college they’ve seemed to increase exponentially. My thoughts always turn to my death whenever my roommate is gone. During the night, I start thinking about how my family would react. I’ve even looked up my grandmother’s obituary online a few times and cried violently over it, although she died when I was only eight years old. Last night I typed up a letter to my big sister for her to read just in case I happened to die soon.

I’ve had types of depression before and even attempted suicide earlier this year. Since then, I’ve thought that I was getting better and not taking life for granted any more. But this recurring belief that I will die soon has really got me worried about my mental health, since I cry over it many times and pray to have my life spared; I don’t want to die so young.

Am I just doing this to myself, or is this really something to worry about? Is there any way to rid myself of the strong belief that I will die very soon?

Psychologist’s Reply

What you are describing, the fear of death or dying, sounds different from the kinds of thoughts that people have when they want to attempt suicide. Typically, before attempting suicide, people have thoughts that include themes of hopelessness and worthlessness; they often feel as if life is not worth living; and they want to die. I am reading something very different from you — almost the opposite! You are so afraid of dying that you are worrying about it, praying about it, and feeling scared of dying young. So, the good news is, it sounds as if you in a very different place than earlier this year when you attempted suicide.

However, it sounds like these thoughts of death are really bothering you. There are a few things you mentioned that bring the idea of anxiety to my mind, including the fact that these thoughts typically arise before sleep, when you are alone, or when your mind is not otherwise occupied. It is also common for anxiety to increase during times of change or transition. Entering college is a big change! So, although I would have to know more about other symptoms such as muscle tension, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and whether worry often gets in your way, I would say that it might be useful to treat these thoughts of dying as if they are related to your overall level of anxiety. With anxiety, a feared object or situation or future outcome becomes the focus, and avoiding that object or situation or outcome becomes the goal.

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You asked if you were “doing this to yourself.” The answer to that is probably both yes and no. No, you did not ask to be someone who is predisposed to anxiety. The tendency toward anxiety is something that can be passed down through families biologically and can be modeled by a parent who has anxiety. So if your mother, father, or other blood relatives have anxiety, you would be at a higher risk for having it yourself. This is not something you could control, obviously! However, yes, there are ways that people can improve or worsen their own experience of anxiety. A mental healthcare provider can offer some great ideas about ways to block anxiety both by changing your thoughts and by working to relax your body.

You also asked if your thoughts of dying young meant that you actually would die at a young age. Now, I have no information about your actual physical condition. You did not mention any specific concerns or illnesses, but only a medical healthcare provider can give you a clean bill of health. However, if we were to think about your fear of dying young as a part of anxiety, we would give it little credit as a predictor of the future. Anxiety often brings the worst case or worst-feared scenario to mind, including the fear that you are losing your mind. Your job in fighting anxiety would be to use self-talk reminders such as, “I am healthy and there is a low probability that someone my age will die” or something similar. Again, a mental healthcare provider can help you explore feelings about stressful events and changes in your life and work to find effective ways to cope.

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