Updated: Dec 28, 2021
You feel something bad or unusual will happen today---a feeling of being in danger, or that you may die today. It could be while you are laying in bed waiting to get up for the day, driving in the car, or walking into school or work. Something feels wrong and you can’t put your finger on it. Suddenly you feel terrified and in survival mode. You can’t calm down, even though you want to.
You know it is probably an irrational fear or nothing is truly wrong with the world, but your body can’t seem to comprehend that you are safe. Your thoughts take off in another direction, spinning around into “what if’s” and making plans just in case. Your heartbeat speeds up, and you feel sick to your stomach. It's hard to get your body to move. Everything feels off.
Good news. There are ways to ease this feeling of impending doom plus skills you can use in those moments to feel better, go back to work or get back into your groove knowing you are completely
1: Ground Yourself
When those fears start spinning, the best thing to do is to get out of your mind for a minute and ground yourself--connecting to where you are and your five senses.
Practice 5-4-3-2-1 as you do this check-in.
Look around you for 5 things you see, and really notice those things. Is the clock light blue or dark blue? Are the flowers fresh or going bad?
Then touch 4 things and really feel them. Are they soft or hard? Cold or hot?
Check-in with your hearing and 3 things you hear around you. Do you hear a fan, someone talking, a clock, etc.?
Ask yourself to identify 2 things you taste in your mouth. Do you taste your toothpaste, breath, or spit?
Finally, 1 thing you smell.
Connecting back into your environment can pull you out of your impending doom thoughts and remind you that you are safe.
2: Deep Breaths
When you feel scared or anxious, your heartbeat and breathing both pick up. Why? Your body is preparing for fight, flight, freeze. With your breathing going in and out fast, your body is picking up that it is in danger and it can’t calm down. That is why deep breaths are so important in those moments to remind the body that it is safe, it is okay, and it can calm down. Deep breaths will help your body to come back to baseline and begin to feel calm again.
3: Connect To Someone Supportive
Connect to someone you can talk to about this fear who will listen and allow you to express your fear. Please don’t call someone who won’t validate the fear or will trivialize it by saying “don’t worry, why would you worry about this, don’t think that way.” Instead, try to connect to someone who can say “hey, I’ve worried about that too,” or “it’s okay to be afraid.” Connecting to a loved person could help you to realize that you are safe, you are loved, and it will all be okay. If you are that loved one and you are reading this, click here to learn how to support someone with social anxiety without becoming a caregiver or codependent.
4: Have A Mantra
Mantras are little phrases you can repeat to yourself when you need them the most, such as “I am brave, I can do this,” “this too shall pass,” or “I am completely safe.” Mantras can help focus on positive thoughts and move away from negative ones. If possible, the person you connected to in the last step could remind you of your mantra and say it with you.
5: Explore The What-Ifs And Their Likelihood Of Happening
“Just don’t think about it, don’t think about it” could be what you tell yourself during those moments. The problem with that approach is if I tell you don’t think about a pink elephant, what do you think you will think about? Or if I tell adults don’t touch the wet paint, how many do?
Sometimes you may find peace in allowing yourself to explore the what-ifs and the likelihood of those occurring (such as what are the chances today would be the day someone broke into my house or how many days have I lived in this house and been safe). Also what you have done to prevent that fear, like installing locks or knowing you locked all the doors before you went to sleep. Sometimes changing our thoughts from avoiding thinking about something to facing it and realizing that it is unlikely can lower our levels of fear.
6: Recognize Your Fears (Gradual Exposure)
Sometimes impending doom can be tied to a particular fear which makes it important to take baby steps to overcome that fear. If the fear was being afraid of storms some baby steps would be listening to storms online, experiencing a storm by sitting in a safe car with a friend, sitting out on a covered (and safe) porch during a storm, and eventually being able to handle storms without being afraid at all. The goal would be baby steps until you felt safe and had lower anxiety levels around the fear.
7: Map Out Your Day And See Where Your Anxiety Is
Anxiety doesn’t always start directly at the moment of fear. Sometimes it has built up over the course of the day, like a volcano threatening to erupt. However, so often we ignore those first few warning points or don’t take the time to calm our bodies down. It can be important to draw a chain map of your day, starting at what you did first, second, and more. From this chain map, you can rate your anxiety at each point in the day and see how different parts of the day affected you and where to begin to intervene earlier.
Impending Doom Doesn’t Have to Threaten You Forever
There you have it. That sense of impending doom doesn’t have to overwhelm you and threaten your very day. It can be a moment of clarity on the stressful parts of your day you may be ignoring and letting pile up, a chance to practice coping skills, or a moment to reach out to friends or loved ones and be reminded that you matter. Impending doom happens, and you have the skills to keep going. Check out our blog If you are wondering when is the right time to get therapy, or how to tell someone they need therapy.
If you are looking for counseling to help with anxiety and the feeling of impending doom, Mary Willoughby Romm is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families through providing communication strategies, coping skills that work, allowing a safe space to be heard, and actively working towards helping you with your challenges. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counsels substance abuse in teens and adults, and practices Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.
Please send an email to email@example.com to explore working together.