How to stop overthinking, randomly thinking about how I will cope when one of my parents passed away?

I find myself constantly overthinking and lately I've been thinking what if tomorrow I get a call that one parent passed away or something bad happened to them.
Asked by Dee

Thank you for submitting your question and I am sorry that you are experience this challenge.

It is a normal thing to encounter fear, sadness, and worry when we have thoughts about our parents someday passing away. We love them and we cannot bring ourselves to imagine life without them in it. It is never something anyone wants to dwell on.

There can be many aspects to the fear. You might worry about them suffering. When they pass, it means the loss of a part of the history of your family. It is the end of a bond that cannot be replaced or matched. If you have children, it is the loss you will witness for them. And it is truly does bring us personally one step closer to our own death.

In your case, you are feeling like it has become too much to manage and too frequent. It can certainly be the case for some individuals to have ever increasing anxiety over these sorts of thoughts. The more they think about it, the worse they begin to feel. The symptoms experienced can include panic attacks, disruptions in sleeping and/or eating, muscles aches and tension, headaches, rapid heartbeat, and an increase in disruptive, negative, and illogical thoughts.

The fact that you have the self-knowledge and insight to clearly articulate and understand your struggle is already a tremendous, positive step forward. Many people feel doubt and fear without ever really being able to speak about what the problem actually is. The fear of losing parents, the separation, is real and hard. That you recognize what is happening for you is a great foundational point – for we are better able to address an issue if we understand it more.

Sometimes, the fear of losing a loved one such as a parent is accompanied by others fears. We may not be conscious to them. And the fear of losing the parent can even mask the underlying hidden worry. For example, there might be a fear of being alone and/or of suddenly having to do all things by yourself. If this happens to be the case, then recognizing and admitting these fears can help us deal with them. We can seek and gain support to develop a new way of being in the world on our own. We can come to a place where we feel more confident about being solely responsible for managing our own lives.

You wonder about how you can put an end to all this excess worry. To begin, it is helpful to accept that we cannot entirely put an end to worry and anxiety. In fact, when we push strongly against these emotions, we sometimes find that they simply get bigger and stronger. So, to some degree we want to come to a place wherein we accept that feeling these feelings is normal and we will be okay.

But what to do otherwise, especially when the feelings are simply too much?

Get very clear about what your specific concerns are. What, for example, will be the worst thing which could happen if you lost your parents? Would it be that you would need a new place to live? Would it be that you would not have them to talk to anymore?  Think about what some possible solutions might be. In the case of the latter, are there other relatives you could lean in to? You might fear being alone – but you will be able to develop new relationships with other people. It won’t be the same, surely. But there will be some ways that will help you address each scenario.

Recognize that you are resilient. Probably more than you might realize. The thing about life which is true for us all is that there always come loss. You maybe have already had some losses in life. And you have managed to come through okay. This does not negate the pain and grief from losing loved ones such as our parents. But you know that you will come through it. Life will look different. It will take time to heal and move forward. But move forward you will – and that might require some support and patience, which is okay. 

Try you best to bring yourself back into the present. We cannot change the past. And we can never control or know the future. We do know death is inevitable. But even then, we don’t know when it will come or what it might look like – or how it will leave us feeling. There is just one thing we can be sure of and only one thing we have some semblance of control over – the current moment. That said, cherish every single moment you still may have with your parents. Talk to them when you can. And visit when possible. Hold their hand and really focus on the moment at hand. Keep the time together positive and enjoyable. Walk down memory lane – perhaps create a scrapbook or memory journal together. Tell them you love them. Offer to help. Let them know how much you care for them and how important they are to you. Leverage your worry and fears to be more present than ever with them.

Death is simply part of life. And it can rob of us enjoying and embracing the precious gift we have of our own lives in this moment. The death of parents is not easy. But there are ways to cope. When the time does come, you might want and need to seek out added support. That is normal and can be of great benefit.

If you find these thoughts continue to distress you and are continuing to be disruptive to your daily life, then consider reaching out to work with a therapist in the near future. A therapist can work with you individually to talk through your thoughts and to help you develop strategies to better manage them.