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A Feeling of Impending Doom: What Does It Mean?

Amber Murphy

You’re at the movies or watching late-night television when you hear music that serves as an immediate warning that something dreadful is about to take place. When you hear the movie score, you get a strange feeling in your stomach. It has been over a century since cinema musicians and sound designers began using the same type of sound to build anxiety in films. A prolonged tone (or cluster of tones) is creepy and continuous, known informally as “the drone of dread” or “feeling of impending doom.”

Even though we do not hear the music, there are instances in real life when we get the impression that something terrible is about to happen – the feeling of approaching doom.

It is possible to overcome an overwhelming sense of impending doom and feel the desire to run to avoid something horrible happening to you or your loved ones. This sensation of impending doom can come on suddenly and without apparent cause. It can strike at any time and from any place. When you feel impending doom, it may happen regularly or occasionally.

What exactly is a feeling of approaching doom?

When a person experiences a persistent sensation of impending doom, they may suffer from impending doom anxiety, a medical disorder. It is common for those suffering from this illness to fear that something terrible will happen or that the world is about to end.

Chronic feelings of impending doom are frequently associated with anxiety. Other typical signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Is your body making you feel restless, uneasy, or tense?
  • Having a higher than average heart rate
  • fear or panic caused by a perception of impending peril
  • Hyperventilating
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Uncontrolled Trembling
  • Feeling exhausted and weak.
  • Unable to concentrate on anything else except the fear
  • Sleeping problems are a common occurrence.
  • Problems with the gastrointestinal tract
  • Strong emotion and the desire to avoid things (such as places or people) that cause anxiety.
  • Controlling one’s concerns is difficult.

People dealing with an underlying anxiety illness are more likely to experience panic attacks. For example, the duration of an attack might range from a few minutes to many hours. Anxiety episodes can cause palpitations, chest discomfort, and the sensation of being about to pass out. It can also result in dyspnea (labored breathing), the fear of dying, and a sense of impending doom. In addition, people who have panic disorder are impacted regularly. This frequently leads to feelings of depression and anxiety and concern about when the next panic attack may occur.

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In some instances, when someone has a heart attack, they may have sensations of impending doom or death. Additional signs and symptoms of a heart attack include feeling unwell and pale, sweating heavily, having trouble breathing, vomiting, and feeling ill. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack might appear differently in various persons, and the traditional signs and symptoms of a heart attack are typically more pertinent to males. As a result, heart attacks in women are frequently underestimated and undertreated. In addition, women with a heart attack are more likely than males to experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, vomiting, and nausea.

What does the sense of impending doom feel like?

When you have a feeling of impending doom, you are filled with dread, terror, and worry that something terrible will happen, for example, that the world is going to end or that you will die.

People frequently experience potent sensations of dread and impending doom when dealing with fear and anxiety. It is challenging to deal with these emotions when they come for no apparent cause. Because these sensations appear to be based on no rational explanation or threat, some individuals react to them with panic, which only exacerbates the anxiety. The fear of approaching doom is frequently articulated in phrases such as the ones listed below:

  • A sense that something potentially harmful is about to happen
  • Some sort of sensation that something terrible is about to happen
  • Some people experience overwhelming confidence that you’re about to die.
  • There is a strong sense that something terrible will happen and that you will not prevent it.
  • A powerful sensation is a profound sense of death and devastation that suddenly rushes over you.
  • Fear of impending catastrophe, sorrow, devastation, and darkness that is exceptionally intense
  • It is characterized by an overpowering sense of impending doom that begins or happens during the panic episode.
  • A dreadful sense of impending doom and gloom that suddenly descends upon you
  • The feeling of imminent doom is so strong that you need to flee quickly to avoid anything dreadful.
  • This sense of impending doom can strike quickly and without apparent cause, and it can strike at any time and from any location.
  • This sense of approaching catastrophe might occur regularly or infrequently. It might appear and disappear only once in a while, occur frequently, or be a recurring event regularly.

All of these manifestations of the sense of approaching doom are relatively widespread. The reaction can be very intense when the emotion occurs during a calm, undistracted period. For example, when a person is trying to sleep, when the feeling wakes them, or when they first get up in the morning.

Explanations based on physiological principles

There has been little research on this occurrence, and much of the extant material is decades old. When a symptom is consistent across numerous disorders, it can be challenging to determine the common thread between them. However, there are some hints to look for.

According to a new study from 2019, the mind-body link under stress is one possible cause. Experiencing such extreme dread may indicate that something isn’t right with your body. This dread may be because of a perceived threat in your mind (such as anxiety) or a genuine threat in your body (like a seizure).

We’re physiologically programmed to maintain homeostasis or a feeling of internal equilibrium between systems. When anything deviates from the ordinary, it causes a wire in your brain to trip and send a signal.

Following an alarm from your brain (also known as the limbic system), your body shifts into either fighting mode or freezing mode. This prepares you to deal with a threat that has been detected. During this time, your adrenal glands release a surge of chemicals known as catecholamines throughout your body, including adrenaline, resulting in unpleasant side effects such as shaking and shallow breathing.

Recent research suggests that people who suffer from anxiety-related mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may have an elevated stress response. According to the findings, this high level means that their brain generates a feeling of impending doom even when their circumstances are not dire and are only mildly or moderately stressful.

It’s difficult to say why dread occurs on a biological level until experts look more into the issue, but it’s undoubtedly a wake-up call.

Impending Doom Triggers

Recognizing the feeling of impending doom

Feeling of impending doom may appear to be intuition. Or, considering that you’re amid a pandemic, it may result from persistent stress. However, a sense of impending doom can also precede potentially fatal medical occurrences such as a heart attack. For example, it might signify a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or sadness.

Here’s what you should know about the factors that might cause a sense of approaching doom.

Psychological factors

Impending doom might be a problematic symptom to identify. You have the impression that something is seriously wrong, but what precisely is it? There are a few elements to consider while determining if this sensation is caused by worry or a medical problem. For example, suppose there is no immediate threat. In that case, no physiological symptoms accompany the experience, and the concern is there, it is most likely the outcome of a mental health problem or trauma. So it is quite improbable that someone experiencing a sense of approaching doom would not also be suffering bodily symptoms. These are a few examples of probable psychological possibilities.


When you’re depressed, you see the world in a different light.

Depressive thoughts are like wearing dark glasses: everything appears bleak and uncertain. Feeling gloomy or pessimistic, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and decreased energy and exhaustion are symptoms of a depressed episode.


Several sorts of anxiety disorders might cause a sense of approaching doom.

  • Panic attacks and panic disorder
  • Anxiety disorder in general (GAD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Why? Take, for example, panic disorder, which is a sort of anxiety condition. People experiencing a panic attack may experience an overpowering impression that tension and terror are building up and ready to burst. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, this can be associated with a sense of approaching doom. Physical symptoms may include a beating heart, sweating, chills, disorientation, and nausea. Many of these symptoms might be confused with those of a heart attack.

Manic-depressive illness

Impending doom may also be a hallmark of bipolar disease. People with bipolar illness frequently suffer dramatic variations in mood, energy, and activity levels. Manic highs and depressing lows characterize this. During a depressed episode, you may believe that disaster is near. You may also feel sluggish, useless, and hopeless, have difficulty sleeping, and have little desire to accomplish anything.

Physical Conditions That Can Cause the Feeling of Impending Doom

Impending doom feelings may be a psychological indication of an impending emergency. For example, physical signs, such as a dramatic decrease in blood pressure, may alert the brain that things are not right. During times of stress, it may also be the deposit of hormones released from adrenal glands into the bloodstream. It might be a neurological system response.

A medical incident will most likely be accompanied by additional symptoms such as hot flashes, feeling of nausea, perspiration, difficulty with breathing, tremors, or palpitations of the heart.

Impending doom may be a sign of one or more of the following emergency medical conditions:

  • A heart attack
  • Aneurysm
  • Stroke
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Certain species of Stinging jellyfish
  • Embolism of the lung
  • Anesthesia awareness (coming to while undergoing surgery)

Treatment Strategies for Dealing with Feeling of impending doom

More than just treating the symptom, medical professionals will look for and address the underlying cause of the problem. For example, if the patient suffers from anxiety, panic disorder, or depression, it may be feasible to treat them with psychotherapy or medicine to alleviate their symptoms. Call 911 immediately if the cause is physical, such as a heart attack, followed by other symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, or breaking out in a cold sweat.


While a feeling of impending doom may be paralyzing and painful, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Given enough time, or actively pushing back against this feeling by seeking treatment or help, we can overcome feeling anxious and start to live a more peaceful, optimistic life.

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