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Anticipating and Preventing Death

coffinPeople with all sorts of anxiety disorders worry a lot. Frequently, they spend inordinate amounts of time trying to anticipate and prevent negative outcomes. They fret for hours about possible risks like MRSA, heart attacks, traffic accidents, and airplane crashes. Sometimes they also spend lots of time trying to minimize these risks by excessive cleaning, avoiding traffic at all costs, taking a train instead of a plane, exercising to excess or dieting beyond all reason.

It’s as though they think that their worries and/or compulsive actions will truly help keep catastrophes at bay. In other words, spend enough time and effort and you’ll be safe from harm. Oh, it only it were so.

The problem is that the list of risks infused throughout life is infinite. Rarely can you successfully anticipate which specific perils will strike or have any idea about when they will show up. When we wrote Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Edition), we included a list of a few famous people who died from random events. Here’s an excerpt:

Felix Faure: The president of France died in 1899 from a stroke while having sex.

Isadora Duncan: A dancer, Isadora was strangled to death when her silk scarf was entangled in the wheel of a car in which she was a passenger.

Sherwood Anderson: This famous author died after he accidentally swallowed a toothpick at a party.

Tennessee Williams: A playwright, Williams accidentally choked to death on the bottle cap of his nose spray.

Vic Morrow: An actor, Morrow was decapitated while making a movie when a helicopter went out of control and crashed.

Have I now just given you even more to worry about? I hope not. The point is that people rarely anticipate the vast majority of negative (or even deadly) events that actually happen to them. As you can see from the preceding list, dangers such as these are rather unpredictable. Even events that are relatively more common (car accidents, lung cancer from smoking, death from old age) remain elusive in terms of knowing exactly when they will occur.

My message is not to stop taking reasonable precautions in your life. Of course you should drive safely, eat a fairly healthy diet, exercise, and avoid unhealthy lifestyles. But it’s also important to live your life. Accept that you cannot anticipate all harms and don’t ruin your present moments with worries that you can’t control.

Photo by Orin Zebest, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Anticipating and Preventing Death

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2011). Anticipating and Preventing Death. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Aug 2011
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