Feeling Of Impending Doom

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 31, 2021

feeling of impending doom anxiety symptom

Feeling of impending doom is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and anxiety and panic attack disorder.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and a sudden sense of impending disaster.

Feeling Of Impending Doom Common Symptom Descriptions:

The anxiety symptom “feeling of impending doom” is often described as:

  • You feel like something awful is about to happen.
  • You have a strong sense that you are suddenly in grave danger.
  • You suddenly get an overwhelming feeling that you are about to die.
  • You get a strong feeling that something terrible is about to happen, and it feels like there isn’t anything you can do about it, but you aren’t sure what the threat is or where it’s coming from.
  • You suddenly have a sense of terrible fate.
  • You get a powerful feeling of death and destruction that suddenly comes over you.
  • You suddenly get an overwhelming feeling of impending doom, destruction, and despair.
  • A horrible feeling of doom that suddenly and out of nowhere washes over you.
  • You get a strong feeling of impending doom that begins or accompanies a panic or anxiety attack.
  • The feeling of impending doom can feel so strong that you believe you must escape immediately or something terrible will happen.
  • This feeling can be so strong that you conclude you are on the verge of a complete physical and mental collapse.

This strong feeling of ruination can occur suddenly and wash over you at any time and anywhere.

This symptom can come and go every once in a while, occur frequently, or persist for days at a time where it feels like a black could of doom follows you everywhere.

This strong feeling of imminent destruction can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms or occur by itself.

It can also precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress, and a panic or anxiety attack, or occur “out of the blue” and for apparent reason.

This symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

This symptom can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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Causes:

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms be discussed with your doctor as there are medical conditions and medications that can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

If you've done that and your doctor has attributed your symptoms solely to anxiety or stress, you can be confident there isn't a medical condition or medication causing your symptoms.

There are many causes of the strong feeling of impending doom anxiety symptom. The most common include:

1. The stress response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, causing many body-wide changes that give the body an emergency “boost” of energy and resources when we believe we could be in danger.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about the stress response and the many changes it causes.

Some of these changes include:

  • Increases blood sugar so that we have more energy to fight or flee.
  • Stimulates the nervous system so that we are more sensitive and reactive to danger.
  • Heightens most of the body’s senses.
  • Increases activity in the fear center of the brain (the amygdala and others) so that we are more aware of and reactive to danger.
  • Shunts blood away from parts of the body not vital for immediate survival, such as the digestive system, and to parts vital to survival, such as the brain and muscles.

The stress response changes are supposed to create a sense of urgency to take immediate action.

Consequently, having a sudden sense of impending doom is a normal part of an active stress response. The higher the degree of stress response, the more pronounced the feeling of impending doom.

Most people get a feeling of impending doom with high to very high degree stress responses.

2. Stress

Since stress also activates the stress response, high degree stress can also cause a sudden feeling of impending doom and destruction.

If this symptom appears “out of the blue” and for no reason, that usually means your stress is elevated.

3. Chronic stress (hyperstimulation)

Being that anxiety and stress can cause a feeling of imminent disaster, so can chronic stress, which we call hyperstimulation since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many changes caused by hyperstimulation.

Moreover, hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.

As such, hyperstimulation can cause a persistent feeling of impending doom, often characterized as a “black cloud of imminent disaster that follows you everywhere.”

As long as the body is hyperstimulated, even slightly, it can present anxiety symptoms, including this one.

4. Voluntary and involuntary panic and anxiety attacks

Panic and anxiety attacks often cause a strong feeling of impending destruction because of the high degree anxiety and stress associated with panic and anxiety attacks.

This symptom is often more disturbing during involuntary panic attacks because the cause of the attack and feeling of impending doom can seem unknown.

In fact, many people trigger a panic and anxiety attack due to the strong feeling of impending doom that very often precedes the attack.

Episodes of a feeling of impending doom can persist for as long as the body is hyperstimulated.

This anxiety symptom is a common indication of hyperstimulation.

5. Behavior

Anxious behavior, such as catastrophizing (imagining worst-case scenarios) and worrying about those worst-case scenarios, is a common trigger for high and very high degree stress responses that then create feelings of impending doom.

Therefore, anxious behavior is also a common cause of this anxiety symptom.

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6. Other factors

Other factors can cause and contribute to this anxiety symptom, such as:

Medication

Side effects of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you are unsure if your medication is playing a role in your symptoms, including a feeling of impending doom.

Visit our Medication article for more information.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Many recreational drugs can also profoundly affect the nervous system, which can aggravate existing anxiety symptoms since anxiety also affects the nervous system.

Visit our Recreational Drugs article for more information.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by causing the secretion of stress hormones and other chemicals into the bloodstream, which stimulate the body.

Increasing stress hormone secretion can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms since stress hormones fuel anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Stimulants article for more information.

Sleep Deprivation

Going without adequate sleep can affect the body in many ways, such as:

  • It prevents the body from sufficiently refreshing itself
  • Stresses the nervous system
  • Impairs brain function
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar
  • Increases moodiness
  • Increases cortisol secretion to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)

These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Sleep Deprivation article for more information.

Fatigue

Fatigue can cause many anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as difficulty thinking, foggy head, lightheadedness, dizziness, body pain, heart palpitations, trembling, memory loss, muscle weakness, and shortness of breath, to name a few.

Visit our Fatigue article for more information

Hyper and Hypoventilation

Over breathing (hyperventilation) and under breathing (hypoventilation) can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hyper And Hypoventilation article for more information.

Low Blood Sugar

Even if low within the normal range, low blood sugar can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Low Blood Sugar article for more information.

Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin B and D, to name two, can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Nutritional Deficiencies article for more information.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as concentration problems, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, headache, involuntary panic attacks, muscle twitching, and heart palpitations.

Visit our Dehydration article for more information.

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways. A change in hormones can cause many anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hormone Changes article for more information.

Any one or combination of the above causes can trigger the feeling of impending doom anxiety symptom.

Most anxious people experience this symptom.

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Treatment:

When this anxiety symptom is caused or aggravated by other factors, addressing those factors can reduce and eliminate episodes of feeling a strong sense of impending doom.

When this symptom is caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down will end the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this anxiety symptom should subside.

Keep in mind it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this symptom is caused by stress, reducing your stress and giving your body time to destress can also eliminate episodes of a strong feeling of imminent destruction.

When this symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress) and the involuntary panic and anxiety attacks it can trigger, reducing and eliminating hyperstimulation will reduce and eliminate hyperstimulation-caused symptoms, including episodes of a strong sense of impending doom.

As your body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops exhibiting involuntary stress-caused symptoms, including this symptom.

Eventually, symptoms of chronic stress completely disappear as the body regains its normal, non-hyperstimulated health.

However, eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think. It’s common for symptoms of hyperstimulation to linger as long as the body is hyperstimulated.

But as with all symptoms of hyperstimulation, this symptom will subside when the body’s stress is returned to a normal level and the body has sufficient time to recover and stabilize.

Because this symptom is just a symptom of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), it’s harmless and needn’t be a cause for concern.

Lingering stress-caused sensations and symptoms are simply an indication that:

  1. You are continuing to trigger stress responses (from stressful circumstances or from anxious behavior motivated by unidentified and unresolved underlying factors).
  2. The body’s stress level hasn’t been sufficiently reduced.
  3. The body hasn’t completed its recovery work.

Lingering stress-caused sensations and symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN’T an indication of a more serious medical problem.

Anxiety symptoms will subside when hyperstimulation has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover and stabilize.

Since worrying, fretting, and becoming emotionally upset about stress-caused sensations and symptoms stress the body, these behaviors aren’t helpful to recovery and symptom elimination.

Passively accepting your symptoms in the short-term — allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them — while faithfully practicing your recovery strategies will bring about their cessation in time. Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

We also have to keep in mind that it can take a long time for the body to recover from hyperstimulation's adverse effects. We have to persevere with our recovery strategies despite the lack of apparent progress and remain patient as the body recovers.

We also have to do our recovery work FIRST before the body can recover. It’s the cumulative effects of our recovery work that produces results down the road. And, the body’s stimulation has to diminish FIRST before symptoms can subside.

Nevertheless, faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, passively accepting your symptoms, containing your anxious behavior, and being patient will bring results.

When we do the right work, the body HAS TO recover.

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Short-term strategies:

Even though eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate this anxiety symptom in time, some people have found the following strategies helpful in the meantime.

However, keep in mind that each person can have a unique symptom experience since each person is somewhat physically, chemically, psychologically, and emotionally unique. What might work for one person might not for another.

Reduce stress – Since stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of the feeling of impending destruction, reducing stress can reduce episodes of this symptom.

Any stress reduction strategy can help improve this symptom. Visit our article “60 Ways To Reduce Stress And Anxiety” for natural stress reduction strategies.

Recovery Support members can read chapters 4 and 14 for many natural ways to reduce stress and anxiety.

Regular good sleep – Regular good sleep can reduce stress, cortisol, and the body’s overall level of stimulation. Their reduction can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms, including this one.

Regular deep relaxation – Deep relaxation can also reduce the body’s overall level of stimulation and stress hormone production, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms, including feelings of impending doom and gloom.

Contain your anxiousness – Containing anxious behavior is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress. As anxiety and stress diminish, so do the prevalence of anxiety and stress symptoms, including this one.

If you’d like help learning and applying containment – a skill vital to overcoming issues with anxiety – connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome issues with anxiety.

Passively-accept this feeling and let it pass – In most cases, the feeling of impending doom will pass if you don’t react to it. Reacting to it with concern and fear is one of the main reasons it persists.

Yes, the feelings can be strong at times. But if you let it be and let the feeling pass, you’ll see that it does relatively quickly.

Most often, this symptom will fade within minutes if we don’t react to it.

As you become familiar with this feeling and practiced at letting it pass, it will become a nonissue in time.

Again, most anxious people get a feeling of impending doom from time to time.

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Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety are the number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist.

If this symptom is caused by anxious behavior, dealing with your underlying factors, which we call Level Two recovery, is the most important work overall if you want to eliminate this symptom and gain lasting success over anxiety disorder.

If you are having difficulty containing, eliminating your symptoms, overcoming your anxiety issues, overcoming a fear of anxiety and its strong feelings, or have what seems like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

All of our recommended anxiety therapists have personally had anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Master's Degree level and above professional training makes them a good choice when wanting to achieve lasting success over anxious behavior, anxiety disorder, its symptoms, and what can seem like out-of-control worry.

Working with a therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder.[5][6][7]

Prevalence:

How common is this symptom? In an online poll we conducted, 85 percent of respondents said they experienced a feeling of impending doom because of their struggle with anxiety. As you can see, this is a common stress- and anxiety-caused symptom.

Prognosis:

This anxiety symptom is highly treatable with the right information, help, and support. Therefore, there is no need to struggle with this symptom long-term.

FAQ

Does having feelings of impending doom mean that something bad is really about to happen?

Generally, no. These types of feelings are often caused by stress, anxiety, hyperstimulation (chronic stress), or apprehensive behavior, such as worry.

However, if you have detected true danger, the feelings of impending doom can be an indication of your awareness of the threat and that a stress response has been activated.

Does having feelings of impending doom mean I’m losing my mind?

No. These types of feelings are often caused by stress, anxiety, hyperstimulation (chronic stress), or apprehensive behavior, such as worry.

While it can surely feel like you are losing your mind, these feelings are normally caused by elevated stress, anxiety, hyperstimulation, and apprehensive behavior.

Are having feelings of impending doom a sign of something bad?

Generally, no. These types of feelings are often caused by stress, anxiety, hyperstimulation (chronic stress), or apprehensive behavior, such as worry.

However, there are instances where they could be if you have determined you are in grave danger. But these instances are rare unless you are in a circumstance or environment that is truly dangerous.

In this case, these feelings are a normal part of the body’s survival mechanism.

Should I be worried about having feelings of impending doom?

Generally, no. These types of feelings are often caused by stress, anxiety, hyperstimulation (chronic stress), or apprehensive behavior, such as worry.

However, they should motivate you to address their cause so that they stop occurring.

Should I talk with my doctor about having feelings of impending doom?

Because there are many medical conditions and medications that can cause anxiety-like symptoms, such as feelings of impending doom, it’s best to discuss them with your doctor to ensure they are solely caused by anxiety or stress.

If your doctor attributes them to anxiety or stress, they aren’t worth worrying about. They will fade away when you address their cause.

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Final Comments:

Even though this anxiety symptom can feel powerful and seem like an ominous premonition, it’s just an indication of anxious behavior, stress, or chronic stress.

Consequently, it needn’t be a cause for concern. It will fade in time.

However, it should serve as an indication that some work is required, such as reducing your stress and addressing your anxious behavior.

Keep in mind that this feeling could be warranted in some instances, such as when in real danger. But these instances are rare.

Dealing with the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety and its symptoms is the best way to address episodes of feelings of impending doom.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety issues and anxiety symptoms.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Feeling Of Impending Doom anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response" - "Acute Stress Response", 2017. https://www.home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~berczii/hans-selye/walter-cannon-fight-or-flight-response.html.

2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health, 6 July 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887899418302716

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4373764/.

5. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.

6. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.

7. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.