Everyone thinks about death from time to time. That’s normal.
But death anxiety is very different.
Death anxiety is such intense anxiety about death that it starts to interfere with your ability to live your life.
Most people just contemplate their existence, life, and the end. But then they go back to living their life.
People experiencing death anxiety, on the other hand, may find that they shrink themselves to avoid life and the prospect of death. They may take fewer risks and opt for what they perceive to be the safer path. And that isn’t an entirely wrong thing to do—not everyone is built for pursuing the furthest reaches of life.
Don’t want to go skydiving? Cool. Do you think climbing a mountain that can easily kill you is bad? For many people, it is. Not wearing a seatbelt? Trying hard drugs? Extreme sports not appealing to you? All activities that can lead to death and perfectly normal to avoid.
What isn’t normal is to be stuck in bed churning over thoughts of death late into the night. Likewise, it isn’t normal to avoid going outside because you’re afraid of an errant mishap ending your life. Avoiding the things that interest you—things that you think you’ll love—because you’re afraid of death isn’t a good way to live. Eventually, you’ll look back on all of your past opportunities and regret what you can no longer do.
Do understand that there is a difference between death anxiety and thanatophobia—the clinical fear of death that is crippling. Anxiety and phobia are different in their intensity. If you find that your fear is overwhelming and making your life difficult, it would be a great idea to seek help from a certified mental health professional.
That being said, before we can understand how to combat this anxiety, we should look at what may cause you death anxiety.
Terminal illness. Terminal illness is, of course, leading up to one’s death. You may have received a terminal illness diagnosis or watched a loved one go through an illness to their death. Either can leave lasting impressions on how you think about life and death.
Severe illness. An illness doesn’t need to be terminal to affect how you perceive life and death. However, a severe illness that causes you to fear for your life, future, and death can shake you to your core.
Traumatic experiences. A common cause of death anxiety is a traumatic experience. The experience of losing control over one’s fate can be deeply shocking enough to completely alter how you perceive life. Some common causes include car accidents, assault, and being robbed.
The death of a loved one. Few things cause a reflection of life and death like losing someone you love. The truth is that anyone who loses a loved one will be affected by it somehow. Fear of death is but one outcome. You could even wrap this one up into traumatic experiences because most people don’t recover from a loss 100%. There’s always a piece that mourns and hurts for that person.
Aging. People who are getting up there in years may find themselves reflecting on the lives that they’ve been able to live. Faced with death, some people can’t overcome the fear of the unknown and what may come. They may not be ready to leave this life. The media is filled with stories about seniors who accept their death with grace, wisdom, and quiet dignity. But, hey, the truth is not everyone has grace and wisdom. Some people rage and rage against the dying light.
These are some of the most common reasons that a person may develop a fear of death. However, there are also some ways you can combat those feelings and push through them.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you if you often find yourself worrying about death. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
1. Encourage a more healthy perspective of death.
A healthy perspective of death? How can there be a healthy perspective of death when it is the end of this life that you know?
The truth is that this is all temporary. Every bit of life and existence is fleeting. Every success and failure in life will move in on its own time and depart when it is ready. Of course, there are ways to improve your chances of long-term success. But anyone who’s experienced a great loss unexpectedly can tell you that sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.
Life changes. It’s the one promise that life makes us. Jobs come and go, relationships come and go, friendships come and go—and life comes and goes. It’s a natural part of the order of life.
Every one of us gets an allotted time on this planet before we move on to whatever is beyond. But, of course, that might be nothing at all. Maybe it will be some afterlife preached about by religion. It could also be something no human mind has ever come up with. But whatever it is, it will likely be similar to how you felt before birth.
Instead of mourning the end of your life that hasn’t come yet, contemplate the transitory nature of life. Yes, your life will end sooner or later. It’s as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
2. Let your worry about death fuel your life.
The anxiety of death often stops people in their tracks. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, you can use your obsession with death as fuel to live the kind of life you want. You only get this one life. Change the narrative of what you tell yourself about death.
Instead of, “I’m going to die. I’m going to avoid life.”
Replace it with something more like, “Because I’m going to die someday, I’m going to do the things that speak to my soul. I’m not going to tolerate situations that are bad for me. I will not waste my time with things that don’t matter. I will live my life to its maximum potential—whatever that may be.”
Death anxiety doesn’t need to be paralyzing. Granted, trying to push through those feelings to better embrace your life will be extremely uncomfortable. But hey, pushing your boundaries is the key to improving. No one makes a meaningful change in their pocket of comfort.
3. Change the habits your death anxiety causes.
The problem with trying to heal from anxiety is that the whole process is counter-intuitive. Anxiety causes you to want to avoid the source of your stress. So, you get into the habit of finding ways around the discomfort to be comfortable. Makes total sense, right?
Well, self-improvement isn’t comfortable. The real way to improve anxiety is to confront your nervous habits and find your way through them. This is where a mental health professional may be valuable because you might have to nail down the source of the anxiety. You can develop anxious habits and fears of a thing that happened in your past, develop the habits associated with the anxiety, but then heal from the original source.
But you’re left with the habits that helped you cope at the time. Those habits won’t serve you in the present or future. For example, you get in a bad car accident. And because you were in that bad car accident, now you’re afraid to get behind the wheel again. But is that sustainable? Maybe if you live in a place with good public transportation.
But unfortunately, those places can be few and far between in the United States. Live in a rural area? Forget about it. Even in some urban areas, you still have to drive 20 minutes to a grocery store unless you want to live off of dollar store canned foods.
The anxiety and habits formed because of the anxiety may have helped you at the time, but they can continue to alter your life if you let them.
4. Avoid chronic worrying.
The act of rumination is to sit and dwell on a negative thing after it ceases to be useful. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about negative situations and problems that you’re dealing with in a limited way. However, it becomes a problem when you’re constantly thinking about it, even foregoing or avoiding other activities, because you are fixated on the problem.
At some point, thinking to problem-solve just stops bearing any meaningful fruit. You just wind up going in circles, returning to the things you were originally troubled with.
Those thoughts need to be disrupted. The easiest way is to have something else to direct your mental and emotional energy toward. If you are fixated on your death anxiety, try to shift your attention to something else. You can try doing puzzles, playing a game, watching some things you find funny, partaking in your hobby, or spending some time with a loved one.
5. Don’t avoid your anxiety by making others deal with the problem.
One unhealthy way to deal with anxiety is by handing its source off for someone else to deal with. In the case of death anxiety, let’s say you have a loved one pass away. You’re having a hard time dealing with that and the responsibilities accompanying that death. Maybe you need to get their affairs in order by requesting death certificates, taking care of bills, and otherwise taking care of their belongings.
But you can’t because you avoid it all due to your death anxiety. Instead of participating, you may try to put that work onto someone else so you don’t have to deal with it. But, again, this avoidance will not help—it will only reinforce the anxiety that you’re already experiencing. Plus, it’s not fair to the other people who need to be involved in funeral planning and managing the death.
In this situation, chances are pretty good you will need professional help to work through it. You can’t expect to just shove aside your grief and loss as a means of dealing with it. Instead, you may need to rely on a neutral source of support to find your way through it.
An estate attorney can also be useful in getting all of the paperwork taken care of and providing guidance through the overall process. Even though we just discussed not putting the responsibility off onto another person, a lot of what you deal with after death is bureaucratic and legal. There’s nothing wrong with paying a professional to help you find your way through that mess of red tape. Trying to figure it out on your own while dealing with anxiety and grief is especially difficult.
6. Validate your feelings about death.
Validation of emotions can be a complicated subject. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what that entails. Simply put, validating your feelings is accepting that you have them. You don’t run away from them, you don’t deny them, and you don’t try to avoid them. You look at your feelings and say, “Yes, I am feeling anxious about death, and it is okay for me to feel that way.”
Everyone experiences bad feelings from time to time. That doesn’t mean the feelings are bad. Bad feelings are typically just telling you that there is something wrong that you need to address. And when you address it, those bad feelings will often go away. But, of course, addressing those negative feelings means more than just validating the feelings.
The way to validate your feelings is to remind yourself that it’s okay to have those feelings. An easy way to do that is to imagine what you would tell someone you care about going through the same thing.
“It’s normal to feel bad or anxious about death. Trauma and anxiety can be a part, but it’s not all. And you won’t always feel this way.”
What you should avoid is invalidation disguised as “tough love.”
“Suck it up, cupcake! Everyone has problems! You’re not special!”
That’s not tough love. That’s just being a jerk to yourself or whoever you’re saying it to.
7. Utilize coping skills for anxiety.
Death anxiety is a type of anxiety. It’s right there in the name. The good part is that strategies and techniques for managing anxiety can also help with death anxiety. Here are a couple of common methods.
Meditation: Meditation has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and various other mental health problems. The idea is that anxiety is a fear of what could be. Meditation helps to bring you back to the present moment and focus on the here and now. It is often necessary to find a quiet area where you can focus on the act of meditation. Of course, people meditate in different ways.
A simple method is called “box breathing.” You inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and repeat. As you do so, you focus on breathing and counting in your head 1, 2, 3, and 4 with each side of the box. In doing so, you’re focusing your mind on the here and now. Here’s a GIF to help you:
Exercise: Exercise is an easy way to break up anxiety’s drastic thought processes. Not only that, but exercise also provides a great boost to other areas of health. It helps produce many of the chemicals your body needs to stay healthy. Exercise also facilitates better sleep because you’re tired. That causes your brain to sink into the deeper stages of sleep to recover and rest.
Any kind of exercise is good. Just get out and walk for 15-20 minutes if you can.
Fear of death is totally normal. We’re all facing this great unknown that will be a massive step into something we don’t understand. To some, that means stepping into the darkness and ceasing to be. To others, that means transcending to another existence after this one. But whatever comes, it’s something we will all face sooner or later.
Do seek help with your death anxiety if you feel you can’t manage it or it’s messing up your life. You don’t want to waste your years on this planet hiding away from the inevitable. You will end up missing all the opportunities that make life worth exploring and living.
Still not sure how to to stop thinking about death? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
Speak to a therapist about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to unpack why you feel so anxious about death and dying before providing tailored advice so you can move beyond those fears and worries.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.
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- How To Face Your Fear Of Death And Make Peace With Dying
- Talking About Death: How To Discuss Death In Different Situations
- 10 Of The Most Comforting And Beautiful Poems About Death