I keep thinking about death

over the past few days, I have been anxious about death and everything. this suddenly occurred a few weeks ago. I try to keep myself occupied but it doesn’t seem to help. whenever I try to rest or sleep, my chest feels tight and I have an uneasy feeling in me. I tried talking to my parents but it only helped a little. I know death is inevitable and that we have no way of knowing what will happen to us after it. it’s part of life but some part of me just feels anxious.

it would be nice to have some ways to cope with it as it is taking over my mind right now.


Hi @zn06, I’d like to thank you for your courage in sharing this with me. I hear that you’ve been struggling with anxiety lately. I imagine that having your mind plagued with thoughts surrounding death can truly be a scary place to be at. I’m glad that you had taken the initiative to share these thoughts with your parents and that it alleviated these feelings at least a little. Death is one of the few things that we all have in common, yet ironically, our fears surrounding it can make us feel terribly alone. I’d like for you to know that we’ve all probably been confronted by some level of anxiety surrounding our mortality at one point or another. You’re right, despite knowing that death is something that will inevitably touch all of us, it is surrounded by a lot of ambiguity that can be very anxiety-inducing.

To some extent, not wanting to die is a rational fear. In fact, this fear could even be constructive – it prompts us to ponder upon the question of whether we’re living a life that we value and enjoy in the present. However, it is when this fear becomes so invasive that it paralyses us and adversely affects our day-to-day that it has probably become irrational. The latter sounds like what you’ve been experiencing recently. I’d like to share some things that could be helpful in coping with this sense of death anxiety that you’ve been struggling with. Afterall, at the end of the day, we don’t want the anxiety surrounding death to become debilitating and to keep us from being able to live fully in the present.

1. Acknowledge the reality of death
Generally, coping with the sense of anxiety surrounding death by avoiding reminders or suppressing related thoughts may not be the most effective in the long-term, although it may seem to work in the short-term. What you could do instead is to consider occasionally approaching the idea, instead of completely avoiding it. Whenever reminders or thoughts related to death come up, try to allow yourself to remain in the situation and allow whatever thoughts and emotions that may arise come to pass. We know that thoughts pop into our heads all the time, but we don’t usually pay any special attention to all of them – and we realise that they then come to leave our minds all on their own. Certain thoughts, however, may be a little more intrusive – they have a strong emotional pull to them that may make it difficult for us to disengage and let them pass. For example, if we’re feeling anxious, we may find ourselves becoming more fixated on worrying thoughts, which then creates a feedback loop. Thus, if we can learn to just watch these thoughts and allow them to pass by rather than engaging with them, then we would be able to let them go as freely as any other thought that we don’t typically pay too much attention to.

Whenever a thought enters your mind, imagine placing it on a cloud :fog: that’s floating by. Try not to judge the thoughts nor label them – try to simply observe them as they drift away. This may require a lot of practice, but over time, you will be able to trust that you can handle these thoughts and feelings without having to suppress or escape them. You can read more on this here (1). You could also try out this guided relaxation exercise to help you relax your muscles progressively whenever your chest starts to feel tight or when you find yourself having trouble falling asleep (2).

2. Reflect on the value of the present
There are many ways in which we can interpret the awareness of the reality of life. Knowledge of the fact that life is finite and there being no certainty with regards to what happens after can be terrifying, but it can also serve as a reminder of the preciousness of the present. You might have noticed that people often tend to make dramatic changes to aspects of their life when they are confronted with news of impending death – they tend to realign their priorities in life, make the effort to communicate more with their loved ones, and approach life in general with renewed energy. However, we do not necessarily have to be confronted with news of a terminal illness or of impending death in order to start thinking about the values that are important to us. Generally, possessing the sense that one’s life is meaningful allows us to live with the awareness of death without perpetually fearing it. Ask yourself: what are the values that matter to you? You could use this worksheet (3) to help you with this. As you shift your focus from anticipating what’s to come to the present and start to devote your energy towards living a life that’s of value to you, you should start to notice the sense of death anxiety diminishing over time.

If you notice the physical manifestations of the anxiety (such as the chest tightness you’ve mentioned) getting worse or more frequent over time, and it starts to affect your ability to carry out your daily activities, I would urge you to approach your school counsellor or a mental health professional of your choice to work through the anxiety with you. If you’re not sure where to go, you could refer to this page for a list of services you may wish to reach out to (4).

The resources I’ve mentioned in this reply are linked below. Hopefully some of these will be able to help you through this difficult time. Please feel free to follow up with questions if you need any clarifications. Take care, and I hope you feel better soon.

  1. Watching Thoughts and Letting Them Go
  2. https://mindline.sg/youth?wysa_tool_id=sleep_deeply
  3. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c344f39d274cb21b5cd41ca/t/5d3925d06a0a8100013c95cf/1564026321017/Values+Worksheet+and+Next+Steps.pdf
  4. Get Help Now Page - let's talk
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