Do you have a fear of death or dying? Do you fear you’ll lose a loved one, and can’t seem to stop thinking about it?
Some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) obsess about death. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone.
OCD is split into two main symptoms:
- Compulsions, which are repetitive mental or physical acts. They often stem from feeling as though something terrible may happen if you don’t perform these acts.
- Obsessions, which refer to thoughts, images, or urges. Obsessions are repetitive and intrusive. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that interfere with your daily life.
Death obsessions can stem from many factors. These obsessions can be exhausting and overwhelming. Over time, they can take a toll on your mental health.
Death obsessions are a fear that you or someone close to you will die. You can also have obsessions about the process of dying.
If you’re having obsessions about death, these are often unwanted, intrusive thoughts that interfere with your daily functioning. For example, death obsessions may cause you to spend large chunks of your day thinking about death or worrying that someone may die.
There are also stressors that can contribute to having death obsessions, like if you or someone close to you is very sick, it can be difficult to stop thinking about death.
Thanatophobia is the fear of death or the process of dying. If you have thanatophobia, you might experience high anxiety and distress when thinking about death or dying. You may also have extreme emotions such as anxiety, anger, guilt, or agitation.
A 2020 study found a strong link between death anxiety and the occurrence of OCD symptoms.
Death obsessions are common in people with OCD. However, some factors may make you more susceptible to having obsessions surrounding death.
- have low self-esteem
- lack religious beliefs
- are in poor health
- lack a sense of fulfillment in life
- have less intimacy with family and friends
Fears of death also occur frequently in individuals with depression, anxiety, and those who have strong beliefs about what will happen after death.
While you can’t entirely control your thoughts, you can learn better ways of managing them.
Therapy and medication are both ways to manage obsessive thoughts. There are also some things you can do on your own.
Exposure response prevention
In ERP therapy, a mental health professional will help you examine the relationship between your triggers, obsessions, and compulsions, and then expose you to those triggers.
They will then teach you how to choose not to engage in behaviors that lead to obsessions or compulsive behaviors.
By choosing not to engage in the behaviors, you’ll experience a decrease in anxiety over time.
The body cannot, physiologically, remain in an elevated anxious state. The purpose of ERP is to retrain the faulty alarm system of the brain that says that one must engage in the compulsion in order to relieve anxiety.
ERP is known as the gold standard for treating OCD symptoms.
Antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help with managing OCD symptoms. They’re usually prescribed for depression. However, some have been FDA-approved to treat OCD symptoms.
Frequently, these medications are prescribed at higher doses than they would be in depression treatment.
Common FDA-approved SSRIs for OCD include:
If you’re having obsessive thoughts about death, you may consider talking with your doctor about medication. However, meds may or may not be suitable for you when dealing with OCD.
There are strategies you can use at home to help you deal with obsessive thoughts.
Learning to reduce stress and find a way to cope effectively can help with obsessive thoughts. Doing this while working with a mental health professional gives you the greatest benefit.
Mind UK suggests several strategies for managing OCD at home, such as:
- using a self-help resource, such as OCD UK
- building up a support network
- trying out peer support
- following a healthy diet
- getting plenty of sleep
If you’re having intrusive thoughts related to death, support is available.
The International OCD Foundation offers some helpful apps to help manage OCD. This foundation focuses on education, support, and symptom management of obsessions and compulsions.
You can also check out their peace of mind community which has a way to connect online.
Other resources for managing OCD symptoms include:
If you’re having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm due to obsessive thoughts about death, help is available now.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- The Trevor Project provides crisis support for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Call their hotline at 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678.
- OCD action has a helpline available for those in the UK.
- Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.