Understanding the feeling of impending doom
Feeling like something very bad is about to happen might seem like it falls under “intuition.” Or, given the fact that you’re living in the middle of a pandemic, it may be a result of constant stress. But a feeling of impending doom can also precede life-threatening medical events like a heart attack. It may be a symptom of psychological conditions like anxiety or depression.
Here’s what you need to know about the conditions that may trigger a feeling of impending doom.
What is a feeling of impending doom?
Describing a feeling is often tough, but “impending doom is an overwhelming sensation that something terrible or life-threatening is about to happen to you or others,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist. “Someone might feel like they are dying, their house is about to burn down, or their plane is about to crash even if there is no apparent danger.”
Impending doom can be a tough-to-parse symptom. You feel as if something is very wrong – but what exactly is it? “To determine whether this sensation results from anxiety or a medical emergency, there are a few factors to weigh,” says Hafeez. “If someone is in no imminent danger, no physiological symptoms accompany the sensation, and if the anxiety is present, it is likely the result of a mental health issue or trauma.” In fact, it would be very unlikely for someone experiencing a feeling of impending doom not to have accompanying physiological symptoms. These are some of the potential psychological candidates.
When you have depression, you look at the world in a different way. “Depressive thoughts are like putting on dark glasses: Things look gloomy and unpredictable,” says psychologist Susan Albers-Bowling. Symptoms of a depressive episode may also include feeling hopeless or pessimistic, thoughts of death or self harm, and decreased energy and fatigue.
There are several types of anxiety disorders that can lead to a feeling of impending doom, says Hafeez:
- Panic disorder and panic attacks
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Why? Consider panic disorder, for instance, which is a type of anxiety disorder. People having a panic attack may feel an overwhelming sense that anxiety and fear is bubbling up and ready to spill over. That can go hand-in-hand with a feeling of impending doom. You may also feel physical symptoms as well, like a racing heart, sweat, chills, dizziness and nausea. Many of these can overlap with symptoms of a heart attack.
Impending doom may also be a feature of bipolar disorder, says Hafeez. People who have bipolar disorder experience often extreme changes in mood, energy and activity levels. This is marked by manic highs and depressive lows. During a depressive episode, you may feel convinced catastrophe is imminent. You may also feel slow, worthless, hopeless, have trouble sleeping, and have little interest in doing much of anything.