Anyone can experience obsessive thoughts about death or dying and unfortunately they can surge when a triggering situation arises or even feel like they come on out of nowhere. While there are many strategies that you can try on your own, if you continue to experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts about death without any relief, it's best to reach out to a mental health professional who can help you.
Understanding Intrusive Thoughts
A large aspect of intrusive thoughts is the concept that not wanting to think about something or avoiding it actually makes the neural connections stronger as you think more and more about it. This can lead to an obsession as the brain loops around these thoughts without resolution. Many mental health disorders may involve the symptom of intrusive death or dying related thoughts. These may include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Death related phobia
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Depressive disorders
Some individuals may also be more prone to obsessive thinking based on their genetics.
Ways to Stop Excessive Thoughts About Death or Dying
There are several exercises you can try that can help you better understand your core triggers, connect to yourself, and ultimately reduce the intrusive thoughts you may be experiencing about your own death or the death of a loved one. If you feel like your thoughts are too overwhelming or feel as if you are at risk of immediately harming yourself or others, reach out for help right away.
Understanding the Theme of Your Thoughts
When individuals experience excessive death or dying related thoughts, often times, they have a general underlying theme. Better understanding what theme seems to frequent your intrusive thoughts can help you better connect to the core of what is triggering you. Some common themes include:
- Dying in your sleep
- A loved one dying in their sleep
- Thoughts of harming yourself or others
- Violent deaths of loved ones
- Accidentally causing a death to a loved one
- What happens to the ones who rely on you after you've died
Connecting to Yourself
One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with unwanted thoughts is deeply connecting to yourself and understanding what may be triggering the initial thought that sparks the obsessive spiral. When you begin to think about death or dying, try to take a moment to journal. Write down:
- What you were doing right before the thought popped up
- How you were feeling emotionally
- Where you feel your emotions in your body
- How intense your feeling was on a scale of zero to 10
Note how long in minutes or hours the intrusive thoughts last. One of the most powerful behaviors you can begin to do is acknowledge and get to know these thoughts. For some, beginning to deeply examine these thoughts, although scary or at times even terrifying, can help you understand that for most these are just thoughts, and that in many circumstances they are not based in truth or logic, and are mostly driven by emotions. This may decrease their overall power.
Externalizing Your Thoughts
Externalizing your thoughts can help you view your notions about death in a more objective way. This too, can help decrease their power and allow you to feel back in control. Whether you are experiencing thoughts about your own death, a loved one's death, or more specific thoughts like dying in your sleep, these notions can be externalized. To externalize your thoughts about death or dying:
- Imagine that these thoughts could take on another form outside of yourself. If so, what would they look like? Be specific in describing their appearance and write it down, draw it, and describe it in detail.
- Name the outside form you've created.
- When intrusive thoughts pop up, begin to speak about them or journal about them in a more objective and observing way. Use the name you've given your thoughts to describe them as you write or speak. This will allow you to be an active participant in this experience that may normally make you feel out of control. By doing so, you choose to be a part of your healing journey, instead of feeling subject to these intrusions.
Breath Work and Visualization
Breathing exercises are simple, but powerful tools in helping you feel grounded during these intense moments. Place your hand on your stomach and heart and begin to focus inward. Allow the thoughts to come and imagine them floating by in an air bubble or text bubble. Consciously focus on your breathing and continue to non-judgementally observe these thoughts moving by. Letting them pass by decreases their overall power and helps you form a new, healthier routine that may reduce the anxiety that accompanies these unpleasant thoughts.
Finding a Creative Outlet
Creative outlets like writing, drawing, painting, dancing, and playing music can help you process what emotions and thoughts are occurring in the moment. People have a tendency to want to avoid instead of face thoughts that feel scary. This is totally normal, but also feeds into their power cycle. Using a creative outlet can help you move through these scary moments, while processing your emotions in a healthy way. It also helps you form a healthier habit, if you have the tendency to avoid.
Increasing Your Daily Self-Care
Stress tends to increase obsessive thoughts, so prioritizing your self-care may significantly help in reducing these unpleasant thoughts, as well as any anxiety about having these thoughts in the future. Worrying about these thoughts coming up at a later time can also trigger them to come up, and again strengthens their neural pathways. Self-care includes:
- Checking in with yourself daily
- Being kind to yourself
- Being patient with yourself
- Asking for what you need in terms of mental health
- Exploring creative outlets
- Doing healthy activities or hobbies that spark joy
- Speaking to a therapist or counselor when you want additional resources
Working Through Intrusive Death-Related Thoughts
It can feel incredibly challenging to begin the process of working through unwanted thoughts about death and dying. Understanding your core triggers and learning how to manage your stress in healthy ways may help you decrease or resolve excessive thoughts about death and dying. If you feel overwhelmed, are having imminent thoughts of harming yourself or others, or feel like the exercises you've tried are not helping enough, reach out to a counselor or therapist who can guide you through your process.