Fear of Death

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Recently I have started to obsess over death. My own and others as well. I am afraid and worried to the point that I am casuing myself to have diarrhea and I am eating differently. This all started five days ago when I was at orientation for a new job at a hospice agency. I have worked at nusing homes all my life and have been arounf death forever and it has never bothered me like this. She did an exercise to help us empathize with a dying patient .. like what our lives would be like if we were just told we were dying…. but i cant help this overwhelming feeling that I am dying.. I think I have cancer or aids or anything.. but i strongly am convinced i am dying… I keep hearing songs about death and tv shows where people are craking jokes about aids. Im trying to convince myself that these are all just a coincidence but I cant shake the feeling that tey are signs … I dont know whats wrong with me.. I have never felt like this and I know i dont like it. the only time i am ok is when I sleep which I want to do more often since it makes me feel better. Also my boyfriend who im often away from during the day.. I cant stand to be away from him.. I want to follow him all over because I feel like each moment could be our last…. please help me I dont know what do… I hate to think that I ave such little control over my own mind but I cant shake these feelings. PS my mother suffers from depression and panic disorder…PLEASE HELP ME!!!

A: This has really taken you by surprise, hasn’t it. My guess is that you are scolding yourself for not being able to handle thoughts of death and dying when it has been so much a part of your professional life. Please don’t. You don’t need to punish yourself. It’s hard enough to deal with the feelings without putting shame on top of it.

Sometimes our inner selves know better than we do that we need a break. My guess is that you are on emotional overload. There really is such a thing as “compassion fatigue.” Crisis workers and people who do highly emotional work sometimes get absolutely drained. Caring people go into this kind of work. Often they give and give and give and don’t take sufficient care of themselves. It’s like when a battery gets used and used without being recharged.

Before you panic about having your mother’s disorders, please take a break from work and see a mental health counselor to help you metabolize your experiences with the dying. Your counselor will help you talk out your feelings and will give you some new ways to cope. Meanwhile, please take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Go for walks. Eat right. If you have a spiritual life, draw on your faith. If you don’t, consider something like meditation to help you get in touch with larger meanings.

Once you are back in balance, you can consider whether you want to go back to this particular aspect of human services or whether you might want to use your gifts of caring in a different way for a while.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Mar 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Fear of Death. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/02/fear-of-death/

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