The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Fear of Dying

For two years I have had many thoughts about dying.














































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      I want to go to the phones now and welcome Alexandria.


Alexandria:      Hello.


Dr. Kenner:      Hi. You have a question about dying?


Alexandria:      Yes. Well, the thing is, I’ve been having this kind of weird phobia for about two years and it sometimes hits me during my birthday.


Dr. Kenner:      How old are you?


Alexandria:      Today I’m 24.


Dr. Kenner:      Happy birthday!


Alexandria:      Thank you.


Dr. Kenner:      I guess it’s not a happy one if you’re afraid of dying, right? We’ll try to put a dent in that and see if you can get some pleasure from it.


Alexandria:      Usually I can get away these thoughts pretty fast if I think about something else, but I keep picturing my funeral and my death and me dying young and it’s so awful. Right now I’m engaged and my fiancé is going into the Army and next year seems kind of uncertain of where we’ll be. So I think is that the reason I’m not sure? I didn’t have these phobias before he decided to join the Army.


Dr. Kenner:      So you’re doing something wonderful for yourself. Whenever you have intrusive thoughts – thoughts that you don’t want to be there, sometimes they’re even called pop-up thoughts, just pop into your mind and you don’t want them there – how do you pop them back out of your mind, and how do you do it in a way where they don’t get a foothold in there again?


Alexandria:      Before, now I’m thinking about it constantly for about a week or two, but before I would think about stupid things. I would think about Star Wars or I would think about something that would change my mind.


Dr. Kenner:      So you use distraction. The good thing you’re doing is you’re focusing on it to get rid of it. It’s a problem to solve, and when any of us have a psychological problem, if we don’t focus on the problem to solve it, Alexandria, then we’re never going to fix it. So you’re focusing on it and you’re identifying some very important facts. One is that it started two years ago. Two, that you’ve had some limited success with using distraction, thinking about stupid things you called it, right? Three, that you know that there’s a component that may be related to the fact that your fiancé is going into the Army and that is scary. He doesn’t know where he will be stationed and that is a potential life-threatening situation, isn’t it?


Alexandria:      Yes. The thing is, recently I’ve started to see – I feel like I’m foretelling my own death because I keep seeing things on television – someone mentions a funeral or death or something. Even though I know it’s no big deal.


Dr. Kenner:      Imagination is wonderful, if you’re creating playful Disney movies. Imagination is horrible if you’re playing with your own mind and envisioning, inviting in and rehearsing scary horror movie scenarios. This is right out of horror movie stuff, right?


Alexandria:      Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      So you can just change the channel. You can use a method of saying, “I am not going to rehearse this stinking thought anymore.” This is called stinkin’ thinkin’. In Rhode Island we wouldn’t put the “g” on the end and we would just call it stinkin’ thinkin’. That is a cognitive therapy term that’s used, “stinking thinking.” When you have stinking thinking, Alexandria, I want to figure out is there any merit to this. For example, if I’m 24 – I meaning Ellen – if I am 24 years old and I think I am fearing my own death, well, do I have cancer? If the answer is no, then I’d say, well, what else? Is there anything in reality that would tell me that I am facing imminent death? If I lived in a concentration camp I’d say, “well, yeah,” but I don’t. So if you don’t have any facts that support your dying, that should help.


Alexandria:      The problem is is that I have to go to the doctor, and since I had a small problem – nothing big, just something with my birth control – and it happens a lot when I’m on a period. Also, I found out from my grandmother recently that we have cystic fibrosis of the uterus that runs in the family. Even though I know it’s not deadly, it still kind of scares me a bit.


Dr. Kenner:      Okay, you need a way to manage that. First of all, you need to give yourself alternative thoughts. If your subconscious, if your mind, only has a menu of stinky thoughts, the stinking thinking thoughts, then it’s going to choose something stinking to think about, right? Let’s just say for me, I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what if I die? What if I die from cystic fibrosis?” What’s another possibility? What if I don’t die? What if I never get it?


Alexandria:      I know it’s not cystic fibrosis because if that was the case, my grandparents would be dead. If they died young.


Dr. Kenner:      This is the good thinking you’re doing – you’re using facts. Facts first and reasoning from those facts to make a lie of your scary horror movie thoughts. You’re saying, “I never had to think about it,” and you want to get to the point where you can just laugh at those thoughts. They come up and you say, “I’m not playing that game anymore. I’m not going to indulge this thinking. I’m not going to envision my funeral. I’m so young.” You are so young. I refuse to play that game. I am going to enjoy my life and think about having some fun. And think about good things with my fiancé and enjoy what I have.


Alexandria:      I mean, the thing with my fiancé is we’ve been together almost every day for six years and he’s going to be gone for five months.


Dr. Kenner:      You need a way to handle that. There are support groups, Army support groups. Are you aware of them? I’m assuming you are.


Alexandria:      Yeah.


Dr. Kenner:      And you may not like the particular group. You may want to find another. You may not like groups. And that way, you need to go out and find some friends. You do need to build a parallel life with things you love doing. Things that are hobbies, interests. You could go to a bookstore, Barnes and Noble, and look at their magazines to pick up a new hobby if you don’t have one. I do have one question, if it’s okay with you? And that is, what happened two years ago that you got this phobia?


Alexandria:      I have no idea. I mean, it just came out of nowhere. I thought that it could have been a kind of link with my period and thoughts of dying, and also, I was in the middle of writing a story where the main character dies.


Dr. Kenner:      Okay. You are magnificent. Did you notice, you went from “I don’t know” to two really good possibilities that could have caused it, in one sentence? I mean, if you’re a writer, that was pretty darn good. If you’re a mystery writer, you just solved your own mystery, or at least you’re on the way to it. So if you mentally associated your period with dying, and if you had a character in a plot in your story that was dying and then you kind of took that upon yourself, I’m not surprised and you’re not surprised. Listen, I think you’re doing some really good thinking work and I would recommend cognitive therapy. You could go to my website,, and I have a link to cognitive therapy website and there are also good cognitive therapy books on my website. One of them is Mind Over Mood. Thank you so much for the call Alexandria.


Alexandria:      Thank you very much.


Dr. Kenner:      You’re welcome.