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How to Deal with Anxiety About Death: 13 Tips to Overcome Death Anxiety

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Death anxiety is a normal part of life. The fear of death is one of the most common fears that people have. In fact, it’s so common that it has its own name: Thanatophobia.

We all have an innate desire to live, but death is inevitable. Many people find the idea of death to be a terrifying prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. To help you move past this fear, we explore some practical advice on how to deal with anxiety about death.

There are simple things you can do to stop worrying about death and start living! Read on to see how you can let go of your fear of death and finally appreciate life for all its worth!

What Is Thanatophobia?

Thanatophobia is the official term for a morbid fear of death. It is also known as thanatophobia or thantophobia, and is characterized by irrational feelings of terror toward a specific object or situation that trigger thoughts of death. It is not a recognized diagnosis by itself, but is part of generalized anxiety disorder.

The word thanatophobia comes from Thanatos, the Greek word for “death,” and Phobos, the Greek word for “fear.” Some people who fear death are also afraid of dying or dead things. This can be as simple as being afraid of seeing a dead body or hearing about how someone died. Many people who fear death also fear the pain associated with it. They may be worried that they will be in excruciating pain when they die and that their fears will amplify this pain.

When you have a phobia of any kind, your natural instinct is to avoid it altogether. For someone with thanatophobia (fear of death), avoiding death is nearly impossible because it’s inevitable! But learning ways to cope with the fear can help you feel less anxious and better able to handle your anxiety if you encounter something related to your thanatophobia in the future.

This youtube video by Dr. Grande also gives a good overview of death anxiety:

Symptoms of Thanatophobia

It’s not unusual to feel some anxiety about death, but people with thanatophobia experience extreme anxiety about dying. This is a very common phobia and can be difficult to overcome on your own. Some organizations that provide support for people with phobias are listed below.

The most common symptoms of thanatophobia include:

  • panic attacks
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • anger
  • sadness
  • agitation
  • guilt
  • persistent worry
  • Fear of death or dying
  • Fear of becoming terminally ill or suffering a life-threatening illness
  • Fear of learning someone close to you has died
  • Fear of funerals and cemeteries
  • Fear of things associated with death, such as coffins, gravestones, and/or skeletons

If any of these symptoms sound like you, it’s important to get help before the fear gets out of control. Talk to someone you trust about your fears so that he or she can help you find a way to cope. You may want to seek counseling from a mental health professional who specializes in phobias and anxiety disorders, too. While these fears are common, they are treatable with time and patience!

The fear of death and dying can lead to panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Tips for How to get rid of Death Anxiety

  1. Give yourself permission to feel anxious about death – The first step in overcoming your anxiety is recognizing that it exists! You may not have given yourself permission to feel anxious about death before now because you didn’t want to acknowledge it or because you didn’t even know what it was called. Now that you know what it is called (death anxiety) start permitting yourself to feel anxious when you do feel anxious. This will help you move through your feelings instead of suppressing them or avoiding them altogether! It will also help you get some perspective on why you are feeling anxious so that you can address the real problem instead of dealing with symptoms alone.
  2. Practice radical acceptance – Each moment passes whether we accept it or not. A lot of us try hard not to think about certain things like death because we think we can control everything around us if we just try hard enough. But, this isn’t true at all! Life comes and goes whether we like it or not! So why waste time trying not to think about something that is inevitable? Instead, embrace reality as it comes and enjoy each moment as though your life depends on it (because truly, it does!).
  3. Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness practice allows us to get out of our heads for a little while each day so that we can reflect more objectively on our beliefs and behavior patterns without getting caught up in them so much. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you can radically increase your ability to accept whatever comes your way without getting caught up too much in the details (like losing friends when they die). 
  4. Disqualify your worries. Research has shown that it’s often just our imagination telling us we’re in danger when we’re not. So, if there’s no way you can die from something you’re worrying about, then you have to stop worrying about it.
  5. Examine your fears and why they bother you so much. This will give you a better idea of what to do about them. Focus on what is likely to happen — not what could happen. For example, it’s possible that a plane can crash, but that is incredibly unlikely. Its more likely that the flight will be completely safe and you’ll arrive at your destination.
  6. Seeking help from a mental health professional
  7. Having more support and positive influences around you
  8. Keeping yourself occupied or distracted so you don’t have time to dwell on negative thoughts
  9. Make a list of everything you’re grateful for. This helps to give your life more meaning and focus on the positive things that surround you [1]
  10. You can also try to learn as much as possible about what happens after death and what happens when people die today. This provides peace of mind about your death so that you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
  11. Avoiding drugs or alcohol when stressed out
  12. Engaging in activities that promote better moods and feelings like getting exercise or spending time with loved ones
  13. Creating a list of reasons why you want to live (and accomplish), then reviewing it often

Finally, although there are absolutely things we can do to increase our chances of living longer (exercise regularly and don’t smoke), ultimately there isn’t anything any of us can do to stop time and live forever. So instead of getting caught up in how much time we have left on earth, try enjoying every day as if it was your last!

What Causes Death Anxiety?

Research suggests that death anxiety is a universal human experience, but some people experience much more than others. For example, people who have been exposed to war, violence, or terrorist attacks may experience more severe and long-lasting death anxiety than others who have not experienced such events. It’s also possible that people who grew up in an abusive home or were traumatized by a serious accident may also have a higher level of death anxiety.

A study showed that people who had experienced trauma were more likely to be afraid of dying even years later when compared to people who had not experienced any trauma [2]. This suggests that prolonged exposure to traumatic events can result in permanent changes in how you see your mortality. It can also make it harder for you to come up with strategies to cope with your fear of death because your thoughts are already full of negative images related to traumatic memories. In this situation, dealing with the trauma itself could also resolve or lessen death anxiety.

Thanatophobia is often one of the first phobias that people develop. The average age for developing this fear is 6–7 years old, and it can be triggered by witnessing someone die or by a traumatic event. The intensity peaks around 20 years old, and declines with age [3]

There are 2 subtypes of thanatophobia:

  1. Fear of one’s own death (also called ego-death)
  2. Fear of death of others (also called necrotic anxiety)

Psychologists believe that people who experience higher levels of death anxiety tend to mentally review their lives more often. These types of thoughts can create a feeling of dread that makes it hard for them to enjoy life as much as they would if they were less preoccupied with thoughts about dying.

Why am I so scared of dying?

Fear of death is a fundamental human emotion. It is present in all people and has been observed in infants. But why are we afraid of dying? 

The short answer is that we’re afraid of not existing anymore. We fear this because our only experience of existence is the one we currently have. We can’t imagine what it would be like to not exist, even though we know logically that it’s possible for everything to end at any time. 

What makes things worse is that many people are afraid to talk about death, so they don’t get the opportunity to process and understand their fears. The good news is that you can learn to live with your fears if you have enough information and support from others. 

Reading up on the many ways life after death has been imagined by different cultures might be helpful. Also, knowing that others feel similarly can make you feel less alone in your fears. Reaching out to others by talking about your thoughts and feelings about death can also be a big help.

Is it normal to be afraid of death?

It’s a natural reaction to the fear of leaving everything you care about behind. Even if you don’t have any strong religious beliefs, dying can be a scary thought. 

When thinking about death, our brains envision being dead and we feel a physical response in the form of fear. Do you think your brain is hardwired to do this? If you think about it, it seems like it should be. 

Fear is an evolutionary advantage that helps us survive by making us avoid dangerous situations. And when we’re faced with the ultimate danger, death, our brains will react in the same way as it would to all other dangers—it’ll alert us to the possibility of death so that we can avoid it. Our brains are not hardwired to think “oh no, I might die!” when we imagine death. That’s just how it feels because our brains are wired to treat all dangers the same way and try to motivate us to avoid them. 

Does leaving a legacy quell fears of death?

A study showed that thinking about a legacy (or even writing your own obituary) can help reduce the fear of death. This is a surprising finding considering that most people find this exercise pretty depressing.

But the authors of this study found that thinking about a legacy can actually make you feel more connected to others, which helps you feel less isolated and afraid of death. This research shows that it’s possible to use your imagination to create an illusion of immortality through your work and relationships.

Imagine yourself at your funeral, where everyone talks about what a great person you were. Imagine watching videos or hearing stories about yourself after your death. How would you want people to remember you? What kinds of things would you want them to say? Write down everything you think about until the topic seems done to you. Share your legacy with someone else if you like! Reading over this will also help because it will keep the conversation going in your head.

We’ll end with a thought-provoking quote from Yalom in Staring at the Sun:

By grasping, really grasping, our human condition – our finiteness, our brief time in the light – we will come not only to savor the preciousness of each moment and the pleasure of sheer being, but to increase our compassion for ourselves and all other human beings.

Marc Kraft

Marc is the creator of Mindful Searching, a content site dedicated to providing actionable, unbiased tips to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve cognitive performance. He's struggled with social anxiety for many years. Over the last 5 years, Marc has been researching and testing lifestyle changes, products, and techniques to build a happier, healthier, anxiety-free life.

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