Having a fixation on death is not unusual. In fact it can be common for the many people who wrestle with constant ideas on how they’ll die. For others, it has more to do with worrying about how and when their parents or children will die. Having intrusive thoughts about death and dying is an obsessive-compulsive disorder that creates an overwhelming fascination with death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s Considered an Intrusive Thought About Death?
- Where Do Intrusive Thoughts About Death Come From?
- Should You Be Concerned About Intrusive Thoughts About Death?
- Tips for Dealing With Intrusive Thoughts About Death
- Tips for Helping a Loved One Deal With Intrusive Thoughts About Death
People struggle to control these repetitive, unwanted, and obsessive thoughts about death, especially when managing the recent loss of someone they loved and cared deeply about.
Death anxiety often contributes to unwanted thoughts about death in bereaved individuals and those who’ve suffered significant trauma in their lives. Intrusive thoughts often lead to complications in the grieving process, making it more challenging to get through a loss.
What’s Considered an Intrusive Thought About Death?
Having intrusive thoughts about death means having ideas of death and dying occupy your thoughts at any given moment while obsessively fixating on them. These thoughts can seem to come up out of nowhere and at random moments. However, they can form a more significant part of the bereavement process, especially when dealing with past loss and trauma.
Some examples of these types of thoughts might include constantly going over in your head about all the possible ways you can die and when. Your mind thinks up many different scenarios that spell out your death until you have satisfied the obsession by thinking of everything possible.
Another example is becoming obsessed with researching ways other people have died and at what age. These thoughts are often constant, unwanted, and paralyzing.
Where Do Intrusive Thoughts About Death Come From?
These thoughts usually come from the fear and anxiety of death and dying. The brain triggers intrusive thoughts as a chemical response to the mind’s fear of the unknown, making up different scenarios to compensate for not knowing how a person will die and when. Trauma and fear both contribute to death anxiety.
Should You Be Concerned About Intrusive Thoughts About Death?
Unsettling thoughts can result from intrusive thoughts about death. Additionally, these thoughts can cause abnormal or harmful behaviors, leading to concern. These thoughts aren’t dangerous by themselves, as they are just thoughts in someone’s head.
The moment a person acts or feels the urge to act upon compulsive thoughts, their behavior becomes a danger to the individual. When this happens, these people may want to consider treatment right away.
Tips for Dealing With Intrusive Thoughts About Death
Preoccupation with death or the idea of dying is typical for many people. There are so many possible triggers for having these types of thoughts. Everything from what you see in the media to what’s currently happening in your life and the things you’ve lived through can negatively affect your thought process.
Sometimes, all of these things and past experiences work together to give you a false sense of doom. With so much negative news circulating in the media, it’s unsurprising that many individuals preoccupy themselves with death. In the following tips below, you’ll learn to deal with intrusive thoughts and what you can do about them.
1. Accept each thought
Learning to manage your intrusive thoughts about death begins with identifying each one as it comes in. Recognize that you can't always control these thoughts, and they frequently appear at random times without any triggers or warnings. Many people have these types of ideas circulating in their heads, and there's nothing wrong with you for having them.
Different stressors or past traumatic experiences cause them, and trying to suppress them only leads to increased stress and anxiety levels. To deal with intrusive thoughts in a healthier manner, you may want to follow this process:
- recognize each idea as it comes in
- label it as an intrusive thought
- accept it as such, and
- release it.
2. Learn the difference between thoughts and reality
Intrusive thoughts aren't dangerous by themselves. Mostly they're made up of negative self-talk, preoccupation with death and dying, or wondering what happens as a result of death. However, suppose your thoughts and ideas are beginning to interfere with your normal daily activities or are causing you to act in harmful ways towards yourself or others.
In that case, you may benefit from seeking outside professional help from a therapist. Know that having a negative thought isn't the same as doing something to advance the ideas in your head. Things in your head aren't harmful in and of themselves. Don't be afraid to speak out about what's troubling you.
3. Isolate triggering events
You can learn to identify and manage the thoughts created in your mind that cause anxiety when thinking about mortality. Pay close attention to your daily interactions to help pinpoint what's going on in your life right now that may be causing you to overthink death and dying.
Are you scared of death in general, or do you perhaps fear your parents dying and abandoning you? There are so many reasons why intrusive thoughts creep up. You can learn to understand triggering patterns to manage your reactions before they lead to long-term effects.
4. Develop healthy habits
When learning to control intrusive thoughts, you might find it challenging to temper your stress and anxiety. Some people don’t respond well to added stress, especially when they’re already dealing with a significant loss or life-changing event.
Taking the time to meditate, do yoga, or participate in physical movement can help you accept death as a natural part of life and release some anxiety or fear of the unknown. Forming healthy habits begins by making small changes in your everyday life. Start with adding a new way of thinking or seeing things. In a few weeks, you may even notice a positive difference in your overall outlook.
5. Seek therapy
You may not be able to identify your triggers on your own or know what to do to change your thinking patterns and behaviors. A trained professional can help you better understand what’s causing you to have these intrusive thoughts and what to do about them.
Grief counselors and therapists use different methods of exploring, pinpointing, and identifying the root cause of your stress and anxiety leading to these thoughts. They may rely on journaling, griefwork, and talk therapy to help you get a hold of your worries and fears.
Tips for Helping a Loved One Deal With Intrusive Thoughts About Death
Whenever a loved one’s dealing with constant thoughts about death, you want to help them but may not understand how. Everyone processes their experiences uniquely, even when suffering the same catastrophic event or the loss of a person you were both close to and loved.
Grief reactions are very personal, and no two people will ever experience setbacks in the same way. You can help your loved ones manage any intrusive thoughts about death they may have by trying some of the following tips and ideas.
6. Offer support and encouragement
When dealing with an obsession with death, be aware that the fear may be genuine to the person experiencing these thoughts. Offer your support whenever they may need to talk and encourage them to be open about what they're thinking and how it makes them feel.
You may not fully understand where these thoughts are coming from, but it helps if you keep an open mind and listen attentively. Sometimes all your loved one may need to get through an episode of unwanted thoughts is knowing that they can count on you to be there.
7. Look for signs of depression
Often individuals who experience intrusive thoughts find themselves dealing with depression. A person who’s recently lost a loved one or beloved pet may start to obsess over their mortality creating the perfect environment for obsessive thoughts about death to creep in. Depression and grief look very much the same, and it may not be easy to tell them apart.
A bereaved person may feel sad and lonely as they cope with the death of a loved one or after facing another significant loss. However, they maintain an overall sense of worth and self-esteem. In contrast, a person who’s depressed may lose hope and faith in their situation and themselves.
8. Put your death fears aside
Talking about death is a somewhat taboo subject still. Many individuals fear that if they speak of death and dying, somehow they invite it into their lives. The reality is that we will all someday die, and death is a part of life.
Having open conversations about death helps to dispel some of the fear and anxiety that comes from what we don’t know or understand. When your loved one has obsessive thoughts about death, there’s usually a reason behind it. Find the right time and place to have a chat about what’s going on in their life so that maybe you can figure out what’s triggering these ideas.
9. Give them useful tools
Learning to control intrusive thoughts isn’t easy for many people dealing with death anxiety. When someone you love is struggling with obsessing over when and how they or someone they know will die, it can leave them feeling completely out of control and desperate for a solution.
Many free online resources can help them regain control of their thoughts and reactions. You can start by researching meditation channels on YouTube or websites dedicated to calming the mind. Plan when the two of you can explore some available options and try a couple of them together to get a feel for what to expect.
10. Be mindful of your words
Choosing the right words to say to someone dealing with a death obsession is essential not to feel ashamed of their thoughts and withdraw. Many people dealing with intrusive thoughts may feel confused, guilty, and distressed by what they're thinking in their heads.
Admitting to others that they're having these thoughts is already a difficult thing for them to do. When you respond with less than kind or understanding words, you can expect them to shut down and withdraw from ever sharing these thoughts with anyone. Choose your words with careful intent and purpose, so you don't cause unexpected harm.
When Thoughts About Death Become An Obsession
Obsessive thoughts about death usually appear after suffering a traumatic event or other life-changing loss. A suffering individual may become obsessed with these thoughts due to their experiences and any subsequent losses in life.
Thinking about death all the time is also a result of anxiety and depression and can result from grief. If you or someone you know has difficulty dealing with intrusive thoughts, you may benefit from journaling, talking to someone you trust, or seeking professional help.