Overcoming Death Anxiety
June 4, 2020
Although death is an inevitable part of life, most people don’t like talking or thinking about it. But for some, the dread and fear surrounding death is so intense that it interferes with their ability to live a healthy life. Here are ways to cope with your fear of death, and move beyond death anxiety to death acceptance.
What is Death Anxiety
Death anxiety, or thanatophobia, is characterized by a fear of one’s own death or a fear of the dying process. Death anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways. While older adults may be confronted by overwhelming thoughts about their own mortality, people of all ages can experience death anxiety. Some may have an excessive fear of losing their loved ones. Some may obsess over the ways they might contract a terminal illness. Others may frequently visit their doctors and request medical tests or body scans, out of fear that they have a chronic disease. Still others may worry about leaving loved ones behind after they die.
Feeling uneasy about the end of life is completely natural. Fear of the unknown and what happens after death is a legitimate concern. But when negative thoughts about death and dying prevent you from living your normal life, it may be necessary to address your anxiety towards death.
How to Cope
The first step to cope with the fear of death is to recognize that fearing death is often a normal part of the human experience. When we accept that death is natural and inevitable, we can come to terms with it and find peace. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s book No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life is a practical place to start for those looking to overcome their death anxiety. He uses guided meditations and personal stories to help readers live a life free of fear.
People experiencing death anxiety will often avoid talking about it, which in turn negatively affects their mental health. But talking about our fears with our loved ones can be a powerful and healing strategy to overcome the fear of death. If you’re not sure how to break the ice, The Conversation Project offers free toolkits for starting conversations about death and dying. Attending a Death Cafe is another great way to discuss death in an open and supportive environment.
Another helpful way to feel more comfortable with death is to practice rituals. Whether you are religious or not, rituals can help create a sense of meaning and comfort to prepare for your own death as well as the death of your loved ones. You may choose to contemplate the loved ones you have lost and light a candle for them, or practice a death meditation to ease your mind about the inevitability of death. Diving into your family’s religious traditions and exploring new spiritual ideas can also help you move away from death anxiety toward death acceptance.
Finally, focusing on living in the present moment and enjoying every day that you are alive can serve as a powerful tool to curb death anxiety. One of the best pieces of advice from others who have conquered their death anxiety is to focus on living authentically, passionately, and well.